Only five races remain for drivers to grab a berth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with Watkins Glen International next up.
Heading into Sunday’s I Love New York 355 at The Glen, 13 drivers have staked a claim to the playoff grid by virtue of finding Victory Lane. Kyle Busch was the latest to do so with his win at Pocono Raceway last Sunday.
While there have been 14 different winners in the season’s first 21 races, Joey Logano’s Richmond victory in April was declared encumbered by NASCAR for post-race rule infractions, thereby making it ineligible to be used as a playoff entry.
So Logano finds himself among the ground fighting for their playoff lives this weekend at The Glen. The good news is the Team Penske driver has been very strong at the upstate New York road course in recent years including finishing first and second in the last seasons.
“Very surprised. This isn’t what you expect when you start the season,” Logano said. “You go out there expecting to win the championship and the playoffs you just assume you would be there. I still assume we are going to be there. We just have to work hard to get there.”
Clint Bowyer is 10th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings and is having a stellar first season with Stewart-Haas Racing. But Bowyer is still winless and while there’s an opportunity to make the playoff through the point system, he understand the best way to ensure a chance to run for the title is by winning over the next five weeks.
He’s looking forward to The Glen and the chance to excel road course racing.
“It’s just a hell of a show for the fans, the television audience and even the drivers,” Bowyer said of road racing. “Man, they’re just so difficult. They’re so out of the ordinary. There are so many opportunities. That’s the thing about a road course, that there are not a lot of opportunities to pass, but there are a lot of opportunities.
“If somebody makes a mistake, like if you catch pit road as a caution’s coming out, there are just so many things to capitalize on one of those road courses.”
One of the sport’s best road racers will certainly be in the spotlight on Sunday in AJ Allmendinger. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver scored his first career series win at Watkins Glen three years ago to earn his first-ever playoff position.
His only way of making it to playoff appearances is to win again at The Glen and despite the pressure, Allmendinger is embracing his shot on Sunday. Allmendinger, has five top 10s and four top fives at Watkins Glen over his last six starts there. His average finishing position in 9.4. His average starting spot is 10.1 with four starts inside the top two rows in his last six years there.
“This week we go to Watkins Glen, one of my favorite places for many reasons,” he said. “Obviously, getting my first Cup win there is very special. It will be a place that no matter what I do the rest of my career will always be right at the top. Just a fun road course, very fast, I call it kind of the 1.5-mile of road courses. A lot of speed around there, especially since they repaved it last year.
“A place that I really enjoy, but more than anything every time I pull through under the tunnel there into the race track I go back to 2014, getting my first Cup win, our teams first Cup win and just what that meant. That always pushes me a little bit harder knowing that feeling in Victory Lane and wanting to experience that again. We will go there, put on a show, get that No 47 Kroger Chevy back into Victory Lane and have another giant party.”
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, Watkins Glen International
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