● The longest season in all of professional sports is off for summer break. The NASCAR Cup Series, which began its 38-race season back on Feb. 11 with the Duel at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and ends Nov. 7 at Phoenix Raceway, gets a two-week reprieve as broadcast partner NBC covers the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Off-weekends are rare in NASCAR, and back-to-back off-weekends are even rarer. Drivers and crew members are used to taking vacations during the winter when the sport is silent, but this break allows those in the industry to enjoy a warm-weather vacation without the need for a passport and a flight toward the equator. With 22 races in the books, including a run of 14 straight, the break is needed, both for recuperation and to prepare for another 14-race stretch before the Cup Series’ 72nd season comes to a close.
● When teams get back from summer break, only four regular-season races remain before the 16-driver NASCAR Playoffs begin Sept. 5 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Those who have won a race in the regular season earn a playoff berth, with the remaining spots filled based on a driver’s point standing. There have been 13 different race winners thus far in 2021, leaving just three playoff spots open for a driver to get in on points. While winless, Denny Hamlin leads the championship standings and has a 283-point advantage over the top-16 cutoff. Kevin Harvick occupies the penultimate playoff spot with an 82-point margin. The 16th and final playoff spot is currently held by Tyler Reddick, who has just a five-point gap between himself and 17th-place Austin Dillon, his Richard Childress Racing teammate. The next closest driver is 18th-place Chris Buescher, who is 121 points outside of the top-16. The next four races are comprised of two road courses, a 2-mile oval and a 2.5-mile superspeedway. If there’s another new winner this season, that means one less playoff spot available via points.
● Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International greets the NASCAR Cup Series upon its return from summer break. The Aug. 8 Go Bowling at The Glen marks the fifth of a ground-breaking seven Cup Series races to be held on road courses in 2021. From 1988 to 2017, there were only two road courses on the schedule – Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen. The Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval was added in 2018, giving the series just three road-course venues. The initial 2021 schedule doubled that tally with Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course all being added. And when COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the series’ planned stop earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the road course at Daytona was put in its place, serving as the series’ second race of 2021.
● Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing, has made a total of 46 NASCAR Cup Series starts on road courses. He has 20 starts at Sonoma, 19 at Watkins Glen, three at the Charlotte Roval, two on the Daytona road course, one at COTA and one at Road America. He has scored two wins – Watkins Glen in 2006 and Sonoma in 2017 – along with 10 top-fives and 23 top-10s with 195 laps led.
● When Harvick scored his first road-course victory at Watkins Glen in 2006, he had to beat his current team owner to do it. Tony Stewart – the “Stewart” in Stewart-Haas Racing – had won the past two NASCAR Cup Series races at the seven-turn, 2.45-mile road course and was poised to capture a third straight win as he was leading Harvick with four laps to go in the 90-lap race. But Harvick, who had already led once for 24 laps, passed Stewart on lap 87 as the two drag-raced down the frontstretch and into turn one. Harvick held onto the lead despite Stewart in his rearview mirror, earning a margin of victory of .892 of a second.
● Harvick’s second career road-course win also had a connection to Stewart. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he gave Stewart-Haas Racing its second straight victory at the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course. The winner in 2016? None other than Stewart. It ended up being his 49th and final NASCAR Cup Series victory as Stewart retired from NASCAR racing at the conclusion of the season.
● Harvick’s last road-course win was his first in a Ford. When Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017, he became the 83rd different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race behind the wheel of a Ford. Harvick has now won 23 Cup Series races with Ford, which makes him one of only 13 drivers to win 20 or more races with the manufacturer. He is currently tied with Rusty Wallace and Carl Edwards for 11th on the all-time Ford win list.
● Harvick has four road-course wins outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. Two came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in 2007 and Watkins Glen in 2007 – and two were in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – Sonoma in 1998 and Sonoma in 2017. Harvick’s K&N Series win at Sonoma in 1998 was three years before his Cup Series debut on Feb. 26, 2001 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
● All of these statistics and anecdotes make Harvick the apple of one’s eye at Watkins Glen, which is fitting since the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion will race the No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang in the Go Bowling at The Glen. Busch Light Apple is a crisp, refreshing, apple-flavored lager with a touch of sweet on the front end and a clear, beer finish on the back end. It is available for a limited time only in 12-, 24- and 30-packs at a store near you.
● Compared to Sonoma, Watkins Glen is a power track – less finesse, more get-on-the-gas-and-go. Here’s a turn-by-turn explanation of the seven-turn, 2.45-mile road course that is Watkins Glen.
▬ Turn 1: Once drivers take the green flag, they are immediately faced with a downhill trek into the first corner. Carrying a ton of speed down the straightaway, this is a heavy braking zone in order to get the car slowed down enough to make the right-hand turn. This is one of the best opportunities to make a pass, and this turn can get chaotic very quickly, especially on restarts.
▬ Turn 2: After making it through the first turn, the drivers hop on a short straight which leads them gradually uphill and into the second right-hand corner. This turn begins the ascent through the “esses” portion of the track.
▬ Turn 3: Continuing the uphill climb through the esses, this sweeping left-hander can be treacherous as drivers begin to carry more speed up the slope.
▬ Turn 4: This corner is the final portion of the esses. Drivers complete the uphill climb and the corner starts to level off, building up more speed as they enter the backstretch of the circuit.
▬ Inner Loop, a.k.a. the “Bus Stop”: The backstretch allows the drivers to gain a ton of momentum, which leads them into another heavy braking zone and into the inner loop, better known as the “bus stop” section of the course. Hot on the brakes upon entry, this is a great place to overtake someone before making a quick series of right- and left-hand turns. Lots of slipping, sliding and spinning happens here.
▬ Turn 5, a.k.a. the “Carousel”: This is a long, sweeping right-hander. With a banking of 10 degrees, it is the steepest turn of the course, and it allows drivers to build up speed as they make their way onto the straightaway leading into turn six.
▬ Turn 6: After gaining speed while traveling down the 2,040-foot chute, drivers are approached with another heavy braking zone at the entrance of this left-hand corner. Competitors use this turn to either make a quick pass or to set themselves up for a pass heading into the final corner.
▬ Turn 7: Once they are through turn six, a short chute gives the drivers just enough time to adjust to make a good angle through the final corner. This is another chance to make a quality pass as the right-hand bend trickles drivers onto the frontstretch and down to the start-finish line.