By Cole Cusumano
NASCAR is back in a New York state of mind with its returns to Watkins Glen International, following a brief hiatus due to COVID-19. The 2.45-mile road course, nestled in the lush landscape of the Finger Lakes Region will welcome fans at full capacity, although the sanctioning body is re-implementing face masks for indoor areas at each venue starting this weekend.
The Glen has a history of producing wild racing and some of the most vicious yet unpredictable moments, which is why the absence of practice threw many for a loop. Given the large time gap between competition in certain series and the postseason within reach, it should be a memorable weekend in New York.
NASCAR Cup Series
Watkins Glen serves as the fifth stop at a road course this season for the Cup Series. The last two trips to the 2.45-mile track were headlined by none other than Chase Elliott, and it would come as no surprise to see that trend continue.
Rolling off 11th on Sunday, Elliott has two victories at road courses this season, with the opportunity to tie Tony Stewart on the all-time wins list at these types of tracks with eight. He may have his work cut out for him, as Team Penske will occupy the top-three spots, led by Brad Keselowski.
There have been 14 different winners this season, leaving Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick in danger of missing the playoffs with four regular-season races remaining. All eyes will be on them and guys like Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto as they try to claw their way to a shot at the Championship.
Trending on Twitter: Ross Chastain soaks it all in after it was revealed he will drive the No. 1 for Trackhouse Racing in 2022.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
The Xfinity Series has a bit more of a buffer before the playoffs than the other two National Series, but all the focus should remain on that and who can serve as Austin Cindric’s worthiest opponent in the hunt for the Championship.
Michael Annett has been cleared to return from his stress fracture and is welcomed back to a skinny 32-point lead in the final transfer spot for the postseason. With seven races remaining and drivers like Riley Herbst and Brandon Brown ready to pounce, there really can’t be an acclimation period for the JR Motorsports driver.
Erik Jones will be competing for Jordan Anderson Racing, while Dillon is behind the wheel of the No. 23 for JD Motorsports in the Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey 200.
Michael Munley makes his NASCAR debut taking over the No. 6 for JD Motorsports.
Trending on Twitter: Noah Gragson is business in the front and party in the back as he gears up for the postseason.
NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series
The Truck Series returns to The Glen for the first time since 2000 and it will be the site of the regular-season finale. Stewart Friesen is in possession of the final transfer spot, with Derek Kraus, Tyler Ankrum and former Champion, Johnny Sauter, hoping to play spoiler.
There will be a rather loaded field consisting of names like Kaz Grala, Josh Berry, Sam Mayer and Paul Menard. Will Rodgers and Taylor Gray are among three drivers making their Truck Series debut in the United Rentals 176.
Ross Chastain was initially going to race the No. 45 truck for Niece Motorsports, but the NASCAR rulebook prohibits drivers vying for points in Cup or Xfinity from competing in the final eight Truck Series events. Instead, his younger brother Chad Chastain will be making his debut.
Trending on Twitter: Ross Chastain has some memorizing to do with the NASCAR rulebook.
Watkins Glen returns with a double-header on August 7, beginning with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series United Rentals 176 at 12:30 p.m. ET, followed by the NASCAR Xfinity Series Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey 200 at 4 p.m. ET on CNBC. The NASCAR Cup Series caps off the weekend on August 8 with the Go Bowling from The Glen at 3 p.m. on NBCSN.