Will Watkins Glen be the site of another first-time winner in 2017?
Thirteen drivers have recorded official wins in the Cup Series in 2017. That number is 14 when you count Joey Logano’s encumbered win at Richmond. With five races to go before the Cup Series playoffs begin, there have already been more winners this season than there were in the past three regular seasons. Though, again, because Logano’s win doesn’t really count, the official tally of 13 is tied for the most different regular season winners.
Though, again, because Logano’s win doesn’t really count, the official tally of 13 is tied for the most different regular season winners in the previous three years of NASCAR’s win-and-in playoff format.
If Sunday’s race is won by a driver without an official win, there’s an intriguing list of drivers who could be No. 14. Let’s go through some of them in order of who we think has the best shot at officially making the playoffs. Pending post-race inspection, of course.
• Joey Logano – Yeah, we already mentioned Logano’s win at Richmond. But since it doesn’t count he gets to be on this list. Logano won in 2015 at the track and has four-straight top-10 finishes. His team hasn’t had much outright speed over the summer, but that 2015 win of Logano’s was his first victory of the season. He then went on to win five more races before he was punted out of the playoffs by Matt Kenseth.
The lead-up to the 2015 win was quite different than Logano’s 2017 summer has been. In 2015, he had six top-five finishes in the previous eight races before the Glen. But who knows, maybe Logano and the No. 22 bunch have something up their sleeves.
• Clint Bowyer – Bowyer gets the nod for the No. 2 spot here because of his combination of recent history at Watkins Glen and team speed. Bowyer has three top-10 finishes in the past five years and (finally) scored his first playoff point of the season last week at Pocono. He even finished 18th a year ago; it was one of his best performances of the year for HScott Motorsports.
• AJ Allmendinger – Allmendinger and Logano are two of the four active drivers with wins at Watkins Glen. Only Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have wins at the road course.
Allmendinger won at Watkins Glen in 2014 to make the playoffs and unlike the two drivers ahead of him on this list who could potentially get into the playoffs on points, he will need to do so again if he wants any hope of being a competitor in the final 16.
Allmendinger finished fourth a year ago and didn’t lead laps at the Glen for the first time in three seasons. He’ll be a fixture near the front of the field and may even lead some laps again, but counting on a repeat of 2014 is a stretch.
• Matt Kenseth – Kenseth is on a roll of three-straight top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen. He’s never been known as much of a road course racer but he’s finished outside the top 20 just once in the last 10 races at the track. Kenseth could simply motor on to a 12th-place finish again and gain points if Logano or Bowyer have issues.
• Chase Elliott – Elliott finished 13th last season. That’s all the Cup history we have to draw on for him at the Glen. His best strategy over the next five races should be disaster avoidance. As the highest non-winner in the points standings, he’d only miss out on the playoffs with three new winners.
• Jamie McMurray – McMurray isn’t nearly as good at the Glen as he is at Sonoma. In 14 career starts he has just three top-10 finishes. He was eighth a year ago.
• Anyone else without a win – Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher, Paul Menard et al, you go here.
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