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NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Watkins Glen

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Go Bowling At The Glen
The Place: Watkins Glen International
The Date: Sunday, August 4
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 220.5 miles (90 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 90)
2018 Race Winner: Chase Elliott

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Zippo 200 At The Glen
The Place: Watkins Glen International
The Date: Saturday, August 3
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200.9 miles (82 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 82)
2018 Race Winner: Joey Logano

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Regular season starts to wind down at Watkins Glen

The scenic, historic Watkins Glen International Raceway in upstate New York is always a favorite venue for race fans and drivers alike. And this week’s stop at the iconic road course comes at an important time for its defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner, Chase Elliott, whose looking for his first top-10 run since Pocono, Pa. in June.

Elliott, 23 earned his first career Cup victory at Watkins Glen last summer – leading a race high 52 laps and finishing a dominating 7.56-seconds up on the field. And just as it lifted him to a three-win, championship-contending season then, Elliott could use another boost in Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

It’s been seven races since the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet last earned a top-10. He secured a Playoff berth with his victory at Talladega (Ala.) in May and followed that win with an impressive run of four consecutive top-five finishes. But since that last top-five (a fourth place at Pocono on June 2) he’s had three DNFs – at Sonoma, Calif., Daytona Beach and this past weekend at Pocono’s second race. He led 400 laps in the opening 13 races but has led only nine laps since.

This could well be a turn-around opportunity for Elliott, who is ranked eighth in the championship, but only two points up on ninth place Aric Almirola heading into the road course weekend.

Elliott has never finished worse than 13that The Glen, earning 13thplace finishes in both previous starts before last year’s victory. And although he doesn’t have any previous top-five finishes at Watkins Glen while racing in the Xfinity Series, he did earn his first big NASCAR win a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at the Bowmanville, Ontario, road course in 2013.

Elliott was 37that the season’s first road course race in Sonoma, Calif. in June, his day ending 30 laps early with an engine problem.

Watkins Glen provides ups and downs for reigning champion

Joey Logano earned the only Monster Energy Cup Series road course victory of his championship career at Watkins Glen in 2015 (and also won the Xfinity Series race on the same road course that year) and answered that with a runner-up showing the next summer. However, this venue has also presented great challenges along the way as well.

Last year, Logano’s No. 22 Penske Racing Ford had contact with another car while racing hard on the second lap. He pitted and the team discovered a broken oil cooler, but when the Penske crew brought the car off pit lane for repair, Logano was officially sidelined and suffered his worst finish (37th) of the season (he was also 37th at Phoenix).

He rallied to his first Monster Energy Series championship despite the Watkins Glen setback, but Logano heads to upstate New York this week eager to reclaim his New York mojo. He has led the championships standings 10 of the season’s 21 weeks – including the last seven consecutively.

His nine top-five finishes are third-best in the series and his 14 top-10 finishes are second most to Kyle Busch’s 18. Logano’s seven stage wins are second to Busch’s eight. He leads Busch by six points entering the weekend.

He’s had only three top-10s in the last six races, however, stumbling with a 23rd place run at the Sonoma, Calif, road course and a 25th at Daytona.

In terms of road course racing, Logano has five top-10s in 10 starts at Watkins Glen and four top-10s in 11 races at Sonoma. He finished 10th in his ROVAL debut at Charlotte last year.

Road Course Aces

Beginning in the 1980s, NASCAR’s top road course racers such as Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd spent time at the 2.54-mile, eight-turn Watkins Glen International Raceway matching high expectations with high trophy hoists. And then beginning in the mid-1990s, a new group of road course stars arrived. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart – who have nine Glen wins between them – quickly proved to be the perennial favorites and ultimately the track’s all-time winningest Cup drivers there.

But with the latest generational transition of talent, the traditional road courses at Sonoma, Calif. and this week’s famous Watkins Glen, N.Y. venue, along with the new Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, have undergone a sort of “ringers” re-set. And with a renewed emphasis on this particular skillset by all the drivers, this form of racing has never been more competitive from pole position to the last row on the grid.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are the winningest Cup road course racers among the current field of drivers. Busch has two wins at both Watkins Glen (2008 and 2013) and Sonoma (2008 and 2015). Truex has four wins as well – one at Watkins Glen (2017) and three of the last four at Sonoma (2013, 2018-19). Logano is the only active driver to sweep both road course trophies in a season (2015).

Kevin Harvick joins Busch and Truex as the only other driver with Cup wins at both The Glen (2006) and Sonoma (2017).

Championship points leader Joey Logano is the only active driver to score a season sweep in both the Monster Energy Series and Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen (2015). The Penske Racing driver has a series-best four total wins at the track, including three of the last four Xfinity Series race victories (2015-16, 2018).

Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott secured his first career Cup win in last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen and is poised to join a very elite foursome to win back-to-back races at the track. NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin (1993-95) and Gordon (1997-99) both won three consecutive races. Stewart won back-to-back in 2004-05. Australian Marcos Ambrose (2011-12), who no longer competes in the Monster Energy Series, is the only driver in the last 10 years to win consecutive Cup races at the track.

Ryan Newman (2005), Kurt Busch (2006, 2011) and Brad Keselowski (2013) all won Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen but are looking for their first Cup victory there.

Among those drivers ranked in the bottom half of the championship top-16 standings – Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Eric Jones, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman – only Blaney (Charlotte ROVAL, 2018) and Bowyer (Sonoma, 2012) have won a Monster Energy Series road course race.

Regular Season Championship

Their manner of performance has varied at times – checkered flags versus consistent excellence – but Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch have made the regular season Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title, an intriguing “race within the races.”

Logano holds a six-point edge on Busch atop the points standings entering this weekend’s Watkins Glen race. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford has led the standings for the last seven weeks and for 10 weeks total on the 21-race season.  The lowest he’s been ranked is fourth – following races at Martinsville, Va. and Texas.

Busch, the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has led the points for nine weeks, and been second to Logano for the last seven weeks. In that seven-race stretch, Busch has been as close to Logano as a single point (following Sonoma, Calif,) and as far off as 18 points (after races in Chicago and Daytona) during this time period.

Their statistics on the season are equally as competitive. Logano has two race wins, won two pole positions, has nine top-five and 14 top-10 finishes through the opening 21 races. Busch has four wins, 11 top-fives and 18 top-10s. Neither driver has suffered a DNF.

The leader of the points standings following the regular season finale at Indianapolis will receive a 15-point bonus to start the Playoffs as the regular season champion, while second in the points earns 10. Additionally, each win throughout the season is worth five Playoff points and a stage win nets a single Playoff point. So, as it stands now Busch would receive 28 points (for his four wins and eight stage wins) and Logano would receive 17 bonus points (for his two wins, seven stage wins).

The regulars season champion 15-point bonus is significant for either of these two competitors, who have consistently dominated the top of the season standings.

And both drivers have been good at this week’s venue, in particular. Logano has four wins here – one in the Monster Energy Series (2015) and three in the Xfinity Series (2015-16, 2018). Busch has a pair of Cup wins at Watkins Glen (2008 and 2013) and one Xfinity win (2017).

The pair come into the weekend off ninth place (Busch) and 13thplace (Logano) showings at Pocono last week.

“Watkins Glen has obviously been a really good place for me over the years and a place I really enjoy,’’ Busch said. “We’ve just got to keep coming to the track and executing like we have.

“There are a lot of factors in strategy that affect a road course race and hope we can execute like we have been and get another win. Certainly, the bonus points from that and trying to win the regular season championship could be a big deal in the playoffs.’’

Youth served

Last week three drivers aged 26 or younger finished in the top-five at Pocono Raceway last weekend. Erik Jones, 23, finished runner-up for this third consecutive top-three effort. William Byron, 21, finished fourth – his third top-10 in the last five races. And Kyle Larson, then 26 – he turned 27 on Wednesday, July 31 –  was fifth, his fourth top-five on the year.

This week 23-year old Chase Elliott returns to Watkins Glen as defending race winner. It was the first Monster Energy Series victory of Elliott’s promising career and he answered it with two more wins in 2018 and another at Talladega, Ala. this year. Not only is Elliott the defending race winner of this week’s event, Jones was fifth at The Glen last summer, Larson was sixth and Byron was eighth.

Six racers aged 27 or younger are currently ranked among the Cup Series’ top-16 and eligible to transfer into the playoffs in September – eighth place Chase Elliott, 10thplace Ryan Blaney, 25, and Alex Bowman, 26.

Byron, Jones and Larson are currently 11-14thin the championship with five regular seasons races remaining. Larson has a 25-point edge on Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer who are tied in 15thand 16thposition. He holds a 37-point advantage over 17thplace Jimmie Johnson, the first driver ranked outside the playoff cutoff.

New voice from the pit box for seven-time champ Johnson

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will have a new leader atop his pit box this weekend at Watkins Glen International.  Cliff Daniels, 31, a race engineer with the team, will replace Kevin Meendering as crew chief on Johnson’s famous No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

The team announced the news on Tuesday, making the personnel changes immediately with only five races remaining in the regular season to get the certain NASCAR Hall of Famer into Playoff contention. Currently Johnson sits in 17th place in the championship standings – 12 points out of 16th place. The top ranked 16 drivers will be Playoff-eligible following the Sept. 8 race at Indianapolis.

In addition to remaining Playoff eligible, Johnson’s team is looking for its first victory since Dover, Del. in June 2017. He won a pole position at Texas this spring and has eight top-10 finishes, however he finished a disappointing 30th place at Pocono, Pa. last weekend.

“We have great confidence in Cliff’s ability to win races with Jimmie and the team,’’ said Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick this week in announcing the personnel moves. “He’s a natural leader and tremendously talented from both a technical and communication standpoint.

“Cliff’s familiarity with Jimmie and the No. 48 team culture will benefit us a ton. He will bring the spark that’s been our missing ingredient.’’

Meendering will stay with the team in a “senior competitive role,’’ the team’s announcement said.

Statistically Speaking

A look at the competition highlights for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season shows a well-balanced, highly competitive statistical analysis.

Eleven drivers representing five teams have won pole positions through the opening 21 races of the season. Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports lead all teams with six pole positions each.  SHR driver Kevin Harvick is tops with four. Hendrick driver William Byron and Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon each have won three pole positions.

Denny Hamlin’s victory Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway extends a streak of different winners. Eight different drivers have won the last eight Cup races, including four first-time victors – Alex Bowman (Chicago), Justin Haley (Daytona), Kurt Busch (Kentucky) and Harvick (New Hampshire).

The average number of lead changes per race is 18.29 through the opening 21 races. It’s the most since 2015 (18.57). The average number of race leaders (9.24) is the most since 2014 (10.90).

The green flag passes for the lead are up 40.8 percent over last year with increases in 13 of the 21 races to date – including six of the seven 1.5-mile tracks. Green flag passing, in general, is up 30.5 percent compared to 2018.

Track Countdown

The 2019 Monster Energy Series regular season schedule wraps up with five unique venues – providing opportunities for a wide variety of drivers to win their way into the Playoffs. Below is a look at the five remaining facilities in the regular season:

Watkins Glen International – The Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York hosts this historic 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course. Of note – all of the active previous winners at The Glen have found Victory Lane in 2019.

Michigan International Speedway – The Irish Hills provide the backdrop for this spacious, smooth and speedy two-miler that features 18 degrees of banking in the corners. Kyle Larson’s three wins each at Michigan is the most among active winners who haven’t won in 2019. Ryan Newman has a pair of wins there, while Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer have one apiece.

Bristol Motor Speedway – Thunder Valley sets the scene for the half-mile, high-banked short track featuring variable banking (from 24 to 28 degrees) in the turns. All the active former Bristol winners are already victorious in 2019.

Darlington Raceway – “The Track Too Tough To Tame” is an egg-shaped 1.366-mile track with 25 degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2, and 23 degrees of banking in 3 and 4. Jimmie Johnson’s three wins top the list of drivers who have bested the challenge of the unique configuration and he is the only active former winner at Darlington who has not won this season.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway – While Pocono is a triangle that modeled Turn 2 after Indianapolis, the “Brickyard” is basically a 2.5-mile flat rectangle, featuring short straights between the turns, which are all banked at nine degrees. Jimmie Johnson’s four wins at the famed track are most among active drivers and are second-most all-time (to Jeff Gordon’s five). Joining him on the list of active Brickyard winners who are searching for their first win this season are Paul Menard and Ryan Newman (one win each).

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media rotations

Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Chris Buescher, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric and Team Penske’s Joey Logano will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Raceway in advance of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Go Bowling at the Glen (3 p.m., ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Ryan Newman, 41, of South Bend, Ind., is involved in one of the tightest position fights for a Monster Energy Series championship berth. The veteran is ranked 16th – tied in points with 15th place Clint Bowyer. They hold a 12-point edge on 17th-place Jimmie Johnson in the standings. Newman has four top-10 finishes in the last six races and was 14th at Pocono, Pa. on Sunday. The driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford has yet to win at a NASCAR Cup Series road course and is 0-for-17 at The Glen. He has three top-10 finishes including a career-best runner-up in 2002. His last top-10 showing was eighth in 2006. He was 19thlast year.

Chris Buescher, 26, of Prosper, Texas, is hoping to reclaim some mid-season magic. He has four top-10 finishes on the season, including a best of sixth place at Charlotte in May. But his only top-10 in the last eight races was a 10th place at Kentucky three races ago. He was 16th last weekend at Pocono, Pa. The driver of the No. 37 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet will be making his fifth career start at Watkins Glen, where his best previous showing was 11thin 2017. He did have some success in the Xfinity Series on road courses, including a third-place finish at Watkins Glen in 2015 and a 2014 victory at Mid-Ohio. He started 20thand finished 20thin the 2018 Cup race at the track.

Daniel Suarez, 27, of Monterrey, Mexico, is fighting for the final Playoff position. He’s ranked 18thin the championship standings following a 24thplace finish at Pocono last Sunday. He has only one top-10 in the last six races – a fourth place at Michigan. He won the pole position, led a season-best 52 laps and finished eighth at Kentucky three weeks ago. Still, Suarez is on pace to turn in his best statistical showing in three fulltime Cup seasons. He already has seven top-10s through 21 races and his previous best 36-race full season total is nine top-10s. The driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has been on road courses, in particular at Watkins Glen, where he finished third in 2017 and fourth last year. He also has a fourth-place finish there in the 2016 Xfinity Series race.

William Byron, 21, of Charlotte, seems to be getting hot just as the Playoffs are approaching. He finished fourth at Pocono, Pa. on Sunday – his third top-10 in the last five races. His 180 laps led through the opening 21 races in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is already triple that of his 2018 rookie season and Byron is poised to make his first championship run, ranked solidly 12th in the standings. In his only Cup race at Watkins Glen last year, Byron started 16thand finished eighth – one of four top-10 finishes on the year. He finished 10th at Watkins Glen in his only Xfinity Series start at the track in 2017.

Daniel Hemric, 28, of Kannapolis, N.C., earned a big season boost last weekend at Pocono where he earned a seventh-place finish – the second top-10 of his Cup rookie season. He had a string of five top-20 finishes this summer in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, including a 15th place effort at the Sonoma, Calif. road course in June. This will be Hemric’s Cup debut at Watkins Glen. He has finishes of 11th and 16th in two previous Xfinity Series starts there.

Joey Logano, 29, of Middletown, Conn., continues to pace the points standings. The two-time race winner holds a six-point advantage over four-race winner Kyle Busch and has topped the championship ranking for the past seven weeks. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford has nine top-five and 14 top-10 finishes on the year, but is coming off a 13thplace showing at Pocono, Pa. on Sunday. He’s had three top-10s in the last six races, but also suffered his worst finish of the year (25that Daytona-2) in that time. Logano arrives in upstate New York, however, a former winner at The Glen. He led only the last lap to beat Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in 2015 and then finished runner-up the following the year. Logano won last year’s Xfinity Series race at the track but was involved in a collision on the second lap of the Cup race and was first out, suffering a 37thplace finish.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Xfinity Series “Big 3” go road racing at Watkins Glen International

After banking 13 of the first 19 races of the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, the “Big 3” (Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer) turn their sights to the first of four road courses the series will compete on this year – Watkin Glen International – for the Zippo 200 at The Glen on Saturday, August 3 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In last season’s four road course events, Cole Custer proved he is the best of the trio at turning both left and right. In the four events he posted one top five and three top 10s; as compared to Bell’s one top 10 and none from Reddick.

Of the three drivers, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer has the most experience at the 2.45-mile, seven turn road course. He has made two series starts at The Glen, posting one top 10 (sixth in this race last year) and an average finish of 9.0.

Both Bell and Reddick made their series track debuts at Watkins Glen last season. Bell started 11th and finished ninth; while Reddick qualified 27th and drove his way up to an 11th-place finish.

Also keep in mind, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer have now become just the second duo of drivers in series history to win five or more races each in the first 19 events of a season – a feat the series hasn’t seen in 35 years; when Jack Ingram and Sam Ard both won seven races each in the first 19 races of the season in 1984. If either Bell or Custer wins this weekend their legend will just grow as only six drivers in series history have won six or more races in the first 20 races of the season – Tommy Ellis (six wins, 1983), Sam Ard (seven wins, 1984), Jack Ingram (eight wins, 1984), Larry Pearson (six wins, 1987), Chad Little (six wins, 1995) and Kyle Busch (six wins, 2009; eight wins, 2010; six wins, 2011; eight wins, 2013; seven wins, 2016).

Locked In: Briscoe gets big win he’s been needing

Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi driver Chase Briscoe fought off the pursuit of the “Big 3” and won at Iowa Speedway this past weekend to lock himself into the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs with seven races left in the regular season.

Briscoe’s season has had its ups and downs, but he and the No. 98 Ford team have hit their stride in the latter stage of the year. In 19 starts this season, Briscoe has put up one win (Iowa-2), eight top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 8.9. He is currently seventh in the series standings.

In addition, Briscoe is second in the series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, just four points behind rookie standings leader Noah Gragson.

This week will be extra busy for Briscoe as the 24-year old will be competing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway on Thursday night in an attempt to defend his win from last season, and then will be making his Xfinity Series track debut at Watkins Glen International during the weekend. Though it will be the first time Briscoe has run at Watkins Glen, the Mitchell, Indiana ,native should be confident heading into Saturday as he won on a road course last season (Charlotte ROVAL).

Outsiders: Easiest way into the Playoffs is to win at this point

With the points gap between 12th place Brandon Jones, in the final Playoff transfer spot, and 13th place Gray Gaulding, in the first spot outside the postseason cutoff, reaching over 100 points (101 to be exact) it is most likely going to take a win in these last seven races for the drivers outside the cutline to make the Playoffs. The problem for them is of the 11 eligible drivers outside the Playoff cutoff, only two have won before in the series – Jeremy Clements (Road America, 2017) and Stephen Leicht (Kentucky, 2007).

Watkins Glen International has been the site of three drivers finding their first NASCAR Xfinity Series career win – Bill Elliott (6/26/1993), Ron Fellows (6/28/1998) and Marcos Ambrose (8/9/2008).

The varying experience at Watkins Glen among the 11 drivers outside the Playoff cutoff this weekend is vast. Gray Gaulding, Brandon Brown, Josh Williams and Matt Mills will all be making their series track debuts this weekend in Zippo 200 at The Glen.

Then at the other end of the WGI experience spectrum sits Jeremy Clements, who has made eight series starts at Watkins Glen, posting an average finish of 20.5. His best finish at The Glen was 11th back in 2015. Clements only series career win came at a road course – Road America –  in 2017.  His best finish to-date this season was a ninth-place finish at Daytona in July.

Ray Black Jr. made his series track debut and only start at Watkins Glen in 2016; he started 33rd and finished 20th. His best finish this season has been 11th (twice at Las Vegas and Iowa-2).

Garrett Smithley has made three series starts at Watkins Glen, putting up an average finish of 28.7. Smithley’s best finish this season was an 11th at Talladega.

Stephen Leicht has also made three series starts at Watkins Glen posting an average finish of 31.7. Leicht’s best finish this season was a fifth-place finish at Daytona in July.

Vinnie Miller made his series track debut at Watkins Glen last season; he started 40th and finished 35th. Miller’s best finish this season was an 11th-place at Daytona in July.

David Starr has made three series starts at The Glen, grabbing an average finish of 29.7. His best finish this season was a 14th-place finish at Talladega.

And finally, Joey Gase has made six series starts at Watkins Glen posting an average finish of 30.5. His best finish this season was 16th in the season-opener at Daytona.

Xfinity road racing ace AJ Allmendinger returns to the series

Kaulig Racing has called to the bullpen again and this time road racing ace AJ Allmendinger is answering as the California native will be in the No. 10 Chevrolet for the second time this season.

Allmendinger only has 12 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts in his career, posting two wins and three top fives, but what is interesting is all the fruits of his labor have all come at the road courses.

In his series track debut at Road America in 2013, while driving for Team Penske, Allmendinger put on a clinic, winning the event from the pole.

Later that season (2013), in his series track debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, again driving for Team Penske, he started on the front row and won that event as well.

Then last season, GMS Racing tapped Allmendinger to guide their No. 23 Chevrolet at The Glen, which resulted in him starting fourth and finishing runner-up to 2018 Monster Energy Series champion Joey Logano.

In his second start for Kaulig Racing this weekend, Allmendinger will be looking for redemption after in his season debut at Daytona in July, when he finished third but failed post-race inspection and was disqualified, relegating him to a last place finish.

Big name Monsters coming to play at The Glen

The NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contenders will have their work cut out for them this weekend as three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are entered in the Zippo 200 at The Glen – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, JR Motorsport’s Ryan Preece and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney.

Kyle Busch has made 10 Xfinity Series starts at Watkins Glen, posting one win (2017), six top fives and seven top 10s. This weekend’s race will be Busch’s fifth series start this season. In his previous four starts he has posted three wins and one runner-up finish.

This weekend will be a time of firsts for the Team Penske star Ryan Blaney, who will be making his series season debut and his series track debut this weekend at Watkins Glen.

Ryan Preece has made two series starts at Watkins Glen posting a best finish of fourth last season. Preece has made three prior starts this season, posting one top five and three top 10s for JR Motorsports.

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media breakouts

Four drivers from the NASCAR Xfinity Series – JR Motorsport’s Noah Gragson, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer, Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe, Team Penske’s Austin Cindric and  – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Watkins Glen International leading into this Saturday’s Zippo 200 at The Glen at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Noah Gragson (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro)

Birthdate: July 15, 1998

Driver’s Age: 20

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Hobbies: Downhill mountain biking

Team: JR Motorsports

Crew Chief: David Elenz

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018 at Richmond Raceway; starting 11th and finishing runner-up.
  • In total he made three Xfinity Series starts last season posting two top fives and three top 10s; all while competing fulltime in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series where he finished runner-up in the championship standings.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently sixth in the Xfinity Series driver points standings, 228 points behind the standing lead.
  • In 19 starts this season, he has posted four top fives and 11 top 10s.
  • Currently leads the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings,  four points ahead of second place Chase Briscoe.

Watkins Glen Performance:

  • Will be making his series track debut at Watkins Glen International this weekend.

Cole Custer (No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang)

Birthdate: January 23, 1998

Driver’s Age: 21

Hometown: Ladera Ranch, California

Hobbies: Watching sports

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Crew Chief: Mike Shiplett

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • In 2018, he made the Playoff’s Championship 4; ultimately finishing runner-up in the final driver standings while his No. 00 Ford won the owner’s title for Stewart-Haas Racing.
  • Made the Playoffs and finished fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings in his rookie year (2017).
  • Has seven career NASCAR Xfinity Series wins (Homestead-Miami, Texas, Auto Club Speedway, Richmond, Pocono, Chicago and Kentucky); including last season’s Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway to win his way into the Championship 4 finale.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently third in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 97 points back from the series standings leader Tyler Reddick and 51 points back from second place Christopher Bell.
  • In 19 starts this season he has posted five poles (Bristol, Dover, Pocono, Iowa, New Hampshire), five wins (California, Richmond, Pocono, Chicago and Kentucky), 11 top fives and 12 top 10s.
  • Has won six stages and accumulated 31 Playoff points.

Watkins Glen Performance:

  • Has made two series starts at Watkins Glen posting one top 10 and an average finish of 9.0.


Austin Cindric (No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang)

Birthdate: September 2, 1998

Driver’s Age: 23

Hometown: Mooresville, North Carolina

Hobbies: Mountain biking, water sports, listening to music

Team: Team Penske

Crew Chief: Brian Wilson

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Ran a full Xfinity season in 2018, splitting time with Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske, making the Playoffs and ultimately finishing eighth in championship standings.
  • In 2017, he made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Road America driving for Team Penske; he started on the pole but finished 16th.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently fifth in the NASCAR Xfinity driver points standings, 207 points back from the series standings lead.
  • In 19 starts this season he has posted six top fives and 13 top 10s.

Watkins Glen Performance:

  • Cindric made his series track debut last season; he started 14th and finished 13th.

Chase Briscoe (No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi Ford Mustang)

Birthdate: December 15, 1994

Driver’s Age: 24

Hometown: Mitchell, Indiana

Hobbies: Spending time with family, online racing, watching sports

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi

Crew Chief: Richard Boswell

Xfinity Career Highlights:

  • Made NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2018 at Atlanta.
  • Ran 17 Xfinity races last season for Roush Fenway Racing (12) and Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi (five) and won the inaugural race at the Charlotte Road Course.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Currently seventh in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driver standings, 232 points back from the series standings lead.
  • In 19 starts this season he has posted one win (Iowa-2), eight top fives and 14 top 10s.

Watkins Glen Performance:

  • Will make his series track debut at Watkins Glen this weekend.