NSCS Preview – Milestone Starts To Be Made

Watkins Glen International is home to the Cheez-It 355, race No. 22 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. This weekend is the second time that the series visits a road course, the first was at Sonoma Raceway back in June. The 2.45-mile road surface consists of seven turns (11 total, NASCAR only utilizes seven) with banking in turns six through 10.

The group-qualifying format will help to set the grid for the 90-lap, 220.5-mile race. There are 40 Cup drivers on the roster so no eliminations will be made.

Not only is Joey Logano last year’s Cup race winner, he also won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race a year ago. In previous starts, not counting the victory a year ago, at WGI, the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford has finished fifth in 2011, 32nd in 2012, seventh in 2013 and sixth in 2014. The Connecticut native has already proven to be a contender on road courses this season as he finished third at Sonoma. So far this year, Logano has won the June Michigan race as well as earned eight top-five and 13 top-10 placings.

2014 race winner AJ Allmendinger hasn’t had the best season but he is a favorite at ‘The Glen’. Like he did two years ago, the driver of the No. 47 Kroger/Kingsford Chevrolet is hoping to crash the Chase party. “It’s no secret, I love this racetrack,” Allmendinger said in a JTG Daugherty Racing advance. “I love road course racing.”

This may be the only opportunity Allmendinger has at cracking into NASCAR’s playoff system. ““Obviously, for a win you’re going to take whatever risk you have to,” he said. “We just have to go out there and do our jobs.”

No one thought this would happen but as he continues his subbing duties for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon will reach his 800th career start this Sunday. The No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet fill-in driver will be the ninth in NASCAR history to pass 800 starts. Gordon joins Richard Petty, Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte, Dave Marcis, Mark Martin, Kyle Petty, Bill Elliott and Darrell Waltrip in accomplishing this feat. Gordon is no slouch on road courses either. The Hendrick Motorsports driver and NASCAR on FOX analyst is the all-time leader in road course wins, earning nine.

Brad Keselowski currently leads the Chase standings with four wins. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford finished seventh at Watkins Glen a year ago and 14th at Sonoma this season. In 21 races this season, the Michigan native has earned a total of nine top fives and 13 top 10’s.

Another milestone-start will be made this weekend by Matt Kenseth at 600. The No. 20 Dollar General Toyota driver already has wins at Dover and New Hampshire this season along with four top-fives and nine top-10 finishes. Kenseth finished fourth at WGI a year ago. ” I think with it being a road course it makes it (the track) unique,” Kenseth explained in a Toyota advance. “It’s really fast for a road course – it’s really flowy. It’s got quite a bit of room compared to Sonoma. They repaved it, so I’m really not sure, but typically on repaves it’s hard to pass and it’s already hard to pass there so you always work on getting balance and speed out of your car, but you also work on fuel mileage and strategy to try and be upfront after your last pit stop.”

A week ago, Chris Buescher snapped a 118-race winless streak for Front Row Motorsports at Pocono Raceway when the rookie snatched his first ever Cup win in his career. With the victory, the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity champion is on track to make the Chase. However, the No. 34 CSX Play It Safe Ford driver is on the outside looking in as far as the Chase standings go. Buescher enjoys a race on a road course. ” I am really excited to be here at Watkins Glen,” he said in a Ford Racing media advance. “It is a race track we have run really well at and I just in general like road racing. I think it breaks up our schedule and is something different for us all to do. We are not road course ringers out there for the most part. There are a handful of them out there that do pretty exceptional compared to others though.”

Currently sitting 31st, Buescher needs to gain only six points to remain playoff eligible. He is optimistic he can get the job done. “I absolutely think we can get into the top-30,” he said. “We really shouldn’t have been out of it. It has just been some circumstances that have gotten us a little off track and from my standpoint, I was trying to add it up and my stock car racing career starting at 16 when I started racing ARCA, I have had three cars that we have had to throw away or at least front clip. That is a rather small number and we have gone through four this year alone. In that circumstance we have just had really bad luck on superspeedways this season. Trevor (Bayne) when we were on our way to Utah to do a road racing class earlier this week said, ‘Man, it just looks like you just need a whole lot of bad luck to get one day of good luck.’ It kind of turned out that way.”

Note the TV network changes for this weekend due to Olympic coverage. Qualifying for the Cheez-It 355 will be held tomorrow at 12:15 PM ET on CNBC, MRN and Sirius XM Channel 90. Race coverage will began on Sunday at 2:30 PM ET on the USA Network as well as both radio outlets.

Katie Williams
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