WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Drivers and crew chiefs spent Saturday night thinking about their strategy for the race Sunday on Watkins Glen International road course.
Depending on if they got through tech, that strategy might have to change.
Instead of running cars through technical inspection after qualifying Saturday night, NASCAR opted not to potentially still be doing tech around midnight Saturday. Instead, it has opted to do inspection Sunday morning after impounding the cars overnight.
So if a driver has his time disallowed by failing qualifying Sunday morning, the driver would start at the rear, which can significantly change strategy.
“As long as we know where we’re starting before the race, we’re OK,” said defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. Whether we know the night before or the morning of, it doesn’t really change a whole lot.
“I guess you’d probably sleep better [Saturday] knowing where you’re starting … but it doesn’t really change a whole lot at the end of the day.”
Denny Hamlin, who is on the pole for the race, said he has no plans of waking up at 8 a.m. to see if he still has the pole, he’s that confident that his car will pass tech.
And if it doesn’t, it’s not like crew chiefs aren’t used to changing strategy on the fly. A speeding penalty on pit road or a violation in prerace inspection can cost drivers their starting spot.
“It doesn’t much matter,” Kyle Busch said. “You just adjust your game plan accordingly if something does happen to awry and change your course of action overnight. … It’s going to be a quick turnaround for people to figure out their game plans.”
Last week at Pocono, there were 13 cars that failed postqualifying inspection (which also serves as a prerace inspection for impound races). While NASCAR allows postrace tolerances for heights and camber and other items, the body scan portion of the inspection is at prerace measurements because NASCAR doesn’t yet do a body scan for postrace measurements beyond checking heights.
If drivers fail postqualifying inspection, they then must meet the tolerances for prerace inspection, which in certain areas might be tighter tolerances.
“The tolerances change on a lot of the wheel alignment stuff [if you fail to prerace], which is a pretty big disadvantage from what you would have been,” said Joey Logano, whose team failed postqualifying tech twice at Pocono. “It’s not like the whole field is trying to stick it to NASCAR. That’s not the case. It just at times it seems like things are held a little tighter on certain weeks than others.
“I’m sure half the field wasn’t thinking, ‘Today is the day. Let’s all get together. Today is the day we’re going to get them.’ That’s not the case. It just seemed like it was one of those weekends where a lot of cars got busted for different things.”
Here’s the provisional lineup breakdown for the Go Bowling at The Glen race as of Saturday night. This lineup could be altered Sunday morning with a lineup likely set around 11 a.m. ET:
1. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota): Hamlin won at The Glen in 2016 and was fourth last year. His pole was a little bit of a surprise only because Kyle Busch was said to have the fastest car in practice.
2. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota): He’s one of the favorites today. He has 11 top-10s (and five top-5s) in 13 starts at Watkins Glen. He also has led 216 laps with an average finish of 9.846.
3. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet): Elliott has finished 13th in each of his two career Cup starts at The Glen. If qualifying is any indication, he’ll have a career-best finish Sunday.
4. Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota): Truex is the defending winner of the race, and he led 24 laps on the way to the win. He’s going for three consecutive victories on road courses as he also won at Sonoma earlier this year.
5. Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet): Larson typically qualifies well but struggles in races at The Glen. He was fourth in 2014 but doesn’t have a top-10 since then.
6. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22 Ford): Logano won at Watkins Glen in 2015 and has a pair of Xfinity wins at the track. He’ll be a factor.
7. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford): Almirola seeks his first top-15 finish at The Glen. Expect that to happen — he was eighth at Sonoma.
8. AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet): Allmendinger’s one Cup win came at The Glen in 2014. Since then, he has finishes of 24th, fourth and ninth.
9. Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota): Jones competed in the regional K&N East race Friday just for more laps. He isn’t a bad road-course racer — he was 10th at The Glen a year ago.
10. Kasey Kahne (Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Chevrolet): A year ago, Kahne found out during Watkins Glen weekend he was getting fired at the end of the year from Hendrick. So this weekend can’t be as bad, and it has started out well. This is his best starting spot for the season.
11. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12 Ford): Blaney was eighth at The Glen last year. He should post another top-10 finish if he stays out of trouble.
12. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford): McDowell is a force on road courses. He has a 20th, 17th and 12th in his last three Cup races at The Glen.
13. Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet): Johnson has never won in 16 Cup starts at Watkins Glen, a place where he has led just 17 laps and has an average finish of 16.2. That’s why the biggest highlight of him at The Glen is his infamous Xfinity Series crash.
14. Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford): Menard is looking for his first top-10 at The Glen. Seriously. Fourteen starts, no top-10s. And in Xfinity, he has eight top-10s at the track.
15. Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet): McMurray has finished 14th or better in four of the last five Glen races.
16. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford): Harvick won in 2006 at The Glen but has led only 37 laps and has just one top-5 since then. Still, starting this far back is a surprise.
17. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet): Byron was 25th at Sonoma. It could be a long day.
18. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford): He has led 114 laps at the Glen in a Cup car, but his best finish is second (three times).
19. Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford): Bowyer’s last two Cup finishes on road courses was fifth at The Glen a year ago and third in Sonoma in June. Don’t count him out.
20. Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet): Newman is about to make his 598th consecutive start. He’s tied with Jimmie Johnson for the longest in the series.
21. Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford): He has four top-10s in his last five starts at The Glen. He has two career Xfinity wins at the track, but still seeks first in Cup.
22. Chris Buescher (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37 Chevrolet): Buescher was 11th at The Glen a year ago. He’s no slouch.
23. Daniel Suarez (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota): Suarez was third here a year ago and is coming off a career-best second-place finish last week at Pocono. He says you’re only as good as your last race, so he’s riding momentum from Pocono. If there’s a place for him to get that first career win, it’s The Glen, but this qualifying result is surprisingly mediocre.
24. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet): Bowman won’t worry much about struggling at a road course — he now has a Cup contract through 2020 thanks to a one-year extension announced this week.
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford): Stenhouse needs as many points as he can get, and this isn’t the place for that. He has never finished better than 18th at The Glen in Cup.
26. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet): Dillon’s best finish at The Glen was his first Cup start here in 2014 when he finished 16th.
27. David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford): Ragan doesn’t really love the road courses. He has a career best of 19th at The Glen (2014).
28. Matt Kenseth (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford): Kenseth finished second at The Glen a year ago. I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, but there’s no way he wins Sunday.”
29. Parker Kligerman (Gaunt Brothers Racing No. 96 Toyota): Kligerman gets a break from the pits and his NBC work to get behind the wheel.
30. Matt DiBenedetto (Go Fas Racing No. 32 Ford): He was 17th at Sonoma, so a top-20 isn’t out of the question. He was 28th a year ago.
31. Bubba Wallace (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet): Wallace was so bad at Sonoma, he found a way to run the K&N East race Friday at The Glen. He hasn’t raced here since 2016.
32. Ty Dillon (Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet): Dillon is not a bad road-course racer. He won a truck race on a road course (no need to remind Elliott of that), and he had three top-10s in Xfinity races at The Glen.
33. Cole Whitt (TriStar Motorsports No. 72 Chevrolet): Whitt is back in this car for the road-course race after not running since Sonoma.
34. Ross Chastain (Premium Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet): Chastain was fourth in the Xfinity race a year ago and currently appears on pace to make the Xfinity playoffs. That won’t help him at The Glen, but he’s certainly riding high.
35. Josh Bilicki (Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Chevrolet): This is Bilicki’s third Cup start of his career.
36. Spencer Gallagher (BK Racing No. 23 Toyota): This will be Gallagher’s Cup debut. His father is looking to buy the team through current GMS Racing president Mike Beam.
37. Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing No. 00 Chevrolet): He could have had one of his best starting spots at The Glen, considering his best start ever is 32nd, but he’ll settle for starting at the rear and trying to gain spots through attrition.