CONCORD, N.C. – Let's go road course racing for the second week in a row. This week, it will be Watkins Glen International hosting Hendrick Motorsports and the NASCAR Cup Series.
As for the track itself, Watkins Glen hosted three races in the sport's top division (1957, 1964 and 1965) before becoming a regular stop in the series in 1986. Upon that return, it was the original road course ace from Hendrick Motorsports, Tim Richmond, that captured the checkered flag. Since then, the series has made a stop every season, minus 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the track has become a fan favorite in the upstate New York area. With elevation changes and high-speed corners, the track offers unique character that drivers will not see at any other road course.
PHOTOS: See every road course race winner for Hendrick Motorsports
Since Richmond's victory in 1986, Rick Hendrick's team has earned nine additional victories, led by vice chairman Jeff Gordon with four wins. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have each earned two victories at "The Glen," with those victories coming in the last four races contested at the track in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Ricky Rudd also earned a lone triumph for the team during his career. As a group, Hendrick Motorsports has won the last four races contested at Watkins Glen.
Returning to the track this week will be the No. 17 HendrickCars.com entry in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Driven by Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports will look to earn their first victory in the division since Tony Stewart went to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway in 2009. This season, the car has been driven by William Byron (Circuit of The Americas), Larson (Sonoma Raceway) and Elliott (Pocono Raceway). All three drivers have earned top-three results in their respective starts.
Yes, Elliott lies outside the playoff picture at the moment. However, if there was a track that he and the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team would want to race at needing a victory to reach the postseason, it would be this one. In his last four starts there, the Dawsonville, Georgia, native has not finished outside the top-four spots. Back in 2018, his first career victory in the Cup Series came at Watkins Glen and he followed that up with a dominating performance en route to the 2019 victory. Sitting at 80 points below the cutline with two races left to close the regular season, it's unlikely that Elliott will be able to point his way into the playoffs.
RELATED: Elliott aims to build on strong road record at Watkins Glen
Can Larson make it a three-peat at "The Glen" this weekend? Of the four road courses races run in 2023, the driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy has earned 138 points, which is the second-most of any Cup Series driver. Headed into the weekend, the Elk Grove, California, native is riding a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes on road courses and four straight top-10s at Watkins Glen. With four wins on tracks turning left and right in his career, another victory could certainly be in the cards for Larson.
While Bowman's best finish at Watkins Glen is 14th (on three separate occasions), the No. 48 Ally Racing team is showing speed on road courses in 2023. Last weekend's trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course saw Bowman finish fifth and earn his second top-five finish on a track of this nature this season. As for points, the team enters in a similar position to Elliott. It will likely take a victory to earn a spot in the playoffs. In an effort to get extra track time this weekend, Bowman will pilot the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday afternoon.
RELATED: Bowman hopes extra seat time boosts playoff push at Watkins Glen
While Watkins Glen has not been Byron's strongest track historically speaking, the driver of the No. 24 Valvoline Chevy will head to New York looking to change that narrative. Despite a 14th-place finish at last weekend's road course race, Byron showed considerable pace as he made nearly every pass under the green flag. Earlier in the season, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native took home the pole position at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, before finishing fifth. That stands as his best finish on a road course in his Cup Series career. If you believe in trends, Byron has finished in the top 10 in every other start at Watkins Glen (across four starts).
This track is the home track for No. 24 crew chief Rudy Fugle and the Livonia, New York, native would like nothing more than to perform well there.
"Watkins Glen (International) is pretty big for me," Fugle told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week. "It’s my home track and I grew up not far away from there. So, it’s important to go out there and run well for me. It’s a super fast and historic racetrack. There are big braking zones and the bus stop puts on it’s own event basically. It’s just amazing to watch them go through the bus stop. You have to be good everywhere at this track. It’s very technical. This car will want to swing the back through the carousel, and you need to be able to get the rear tires underneath you before you get into turn six and seven because they make a lot of speed. You have a lot of speed then down the frontstretch and into turn one, which makes that a big passing zone. That place always packs out so you know there will be a ton of fans. I’m excited to get there."
Here's what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
Group practice for the Cup Series will take place on Saturday, Aug. 19, and start at 12:30 p.m. ET on USA Network. Group qualifying will begin immediately after practice at 1:30 p.m. ET with coverage also available on the USA Network. Bowman, Byron and Elliott are in Group A, while Larson is part of Group B.
Xfinity Series practice will take place on Saturday, Aug. 19 at 10:30 a.m. ET with coverage on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying will immediately follow practice and take place at 11 a.m. ET with coverage also on the NBC Sports App. Bowman will be part of Group B for qualifying.
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 220.5-mile Cup Series main is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 20 at 3 p.m. ET with coverage on USA Network. A post-race show will take place on Peacock. Since this is a road course, there are no cautions for stage breaks. Stage one ends on lap 20 and stage two ends on lap 40.
The Xfinity Series race kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 19, with coverage on USA Network. Just like in the Cup race, there are no caution for stage breaks. Stage one ends on lap 20 and stage two ends on lap 40.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
Both races will be broadcast on the MRN Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO WATKINS GLEN
Data provided by Racing Insights
2: Finish for Bowman the last time he piloted the No. 17 entry in the Xfinity Series. He'll aim to do one spot better on Saturday and take home his first victory in the division since 2017.
3: Stage victories earned by Elliott at the New York track. This is the most stage victories at Watkins Glen by any driver in Cup Series history.
4: Wins on road courses from Larson in his career. This mark puts him tied for third among active drivers in terms of wins on serpentine layouts.
5: The last time Hendrick Motorsports won five consecutive races at a track was from 2012-2014 at Pocono. A victory on Sunday would equal that mark for Rick Hendrick's team.
2,688: The number of laps Byron has run in the top five this season, which is the most in the Cup Series.