The venue is Watkins Glen International, and it’s the second-to-last race left in the 2022 Regular Season. As it stands, nine drivers have pretty much spoken for their spot in the race for the title. However, it’s not that simple as two new winners could mean that another winner doesn’t get to go for the championship.
Four weeks ago, Casey Kirwan (XSET) locked his spot in after an incredible battle against Zack Novak (Rise Esports) in the closing laps at Pocono Raceway. Novak led the field to the restart, but Kirwan was able to get alongside. The two made contact all the way to the line with Kirwan coming out on top.
FINAL CHANCE TO TURN LEFT AND RIGHT
Another second place effort for Novak means he’s going to either need a win or need nobody else new to win. Watkins Glen, however, lends itself to possibly cause chaos amongst the playoff grid. Last season, Graham Bowlin (Charlotte Phoenix) put his Stewart-Haas Esports’ No. 10 in victory lane after an intense battle late with Mitchell deJong (23XI Racing) and Bobby Zalenski (Joe Gibbs Racing).
This season, it’s a new car, a new challenge, and maybe possibly we have a new king of the road up at the plate. Those who’ve seen previous eNASCAR road races know the names Zalenski and deJong. Bowlin added his name to that list last year, but this year it’s been all about Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas Esports) at the tracks with turns in multiple directions.
Wilson won the first road race of the season back at Road America, and in dominant form, might I add. While The Glen is only the second points-paying road course on the schedule, two weeks ago was the All-Star race and sure enough, it was at a track that went left and right. Wilson won there too.
While Watkins Glen may prove to be a pack race on the road with the new NASCAR NEXT Gen cars, the same names will still likely be at the front of the field, which could be great for guys like Novak and Blake Reynolds (Jim Beaver Esports) looking to point their way into the playoffs.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
Watkins Glen has been on the eNASCAR calendar four times in previous seasons. The first time it was seen was 2014 as Michael Conti (JR Motorsports) won from the pole position. The following season, Nick Ottinger (William Byron Esports) was able to do the same. The series saw a third race in 2016 as well with PJ Stergios taking the checkers on that day.
While Conti and Ottinger are past winners, I wouldn’t likely put them in the conversation for the victory. Expect Wilson, Zalenski, Bowlin, deJong and even Kirwan to play a role in the outcome before any Team Conti cars come into play. I’d also argue some guys like Reynolds, as well as rookies like Brian Mercurio and Dylan Ault (both LETARTE Esports) to be dark horses for a possible good finish.
The front of the field might be spoken for, but I’ll be watching the guys close on points. Novak hasn’t had the best road racing success in previous attempts, and Nashville Superspeedway winner Ray Alfalla (Joe Gibbs Racing) seems to have the worst luck and numbers when it comes to these road events.
PLAYOFF BUBBLE WATCH
I’ll get back to Alfalla in a second, but it just occurred to me that we are in severe danger of seeing all four of 2021’s championship contenders miss this season’s playoffs entirely. The defending champion Keegan Leahy (23XI Racing) is only 18th in points, only nine points ahead of the relegation line. Runner-up Logan Clampitt (William Byron Esports) might not even make the relegation line by season’s end.
His technical alliance members who also made the 2021 Championship 4, Zalenski and deJong, currently sit 10th and 12th in the points respectively. However, they are 21 and 34 points behind Novak for that final points spot with Reynolds, Michael Guest (Jim Beaver Esports), Corey Vincent (Team Dillon Esports) and Garrett Manes (Elliott Sadler Esports) also in that conversation.
There also exists a possibility where one or possibly two drivers with wins could fall out of the Top 20, negating their ticket to the playoffs as a Top 20 in points is required to use a win and get in. Garrett Lowe (Wood Brothers Racing) has a much more manageable gap and should be ok, but Alfalla is riding the fence.
With two races left in the regular season, Alfalla is anything but locked in. Four-time only has four points over 21st place Taylor Hurst (Team Dillon Esports). Alfalla could fall out one of two ways – with two new winners ahead of him in the points this week and in two weeks at Darlington Raceway, or if he can’t hold on to that Top 20 spot.
WHERE TO WATCH
The race itself will kickoff at 9:00 p.m. EDT / 2:00 a.m. BST following the pre-race festivities, which kick off a half-hour earlier. The Countdown to Green begins at 8:30 p.m. EDT / 1:30 a.m. BST with the race itself starting at 9:00 p.m. EDT / 2:00 a.m. BST. Evan Posocco, Blake McCandless, Alan Cavanna, Camille Salazar Hadaway and even more familiar voices from the industry will be there to bring you all the action.
POINTS ENTERING RACE #13 – WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL
|1||10||Steven Wilson||Stewart-Haas Esports||2||314||5||7|
|2||25||Nick Ottinger||William Byron Esports||2||282||5||7|
|3||8||Michael Conti||JR Motorsports||2||264||4||5|
|5||75||Matt Bussa||Mode Motorsports||1||317||2||7|
|6||48||Graham A. Bowlin||Charlotte Phoenix||1||275||5||5|
|7||79||Femi Olatunbosun||Clint Bowyer Racing||1||273||3||5|
|8||21||Garrett Lowe||Wood Brothers Racing||1||245||1||4|
|9||51||Ray Alfalla||Joe Gibbs Racing||1||204||2||2|
|10||5||Zack Novak||Rise Esports||0||284 (+16)||5||6|
2022 ENASCAR COCA-COLA IRACING SERIES SCHEDULE
|16-Aug-22||13||Watkins Glen International||35|
|13-Sep-22||PO1 | 15||Bristol Motor Speedway||175|
|27-Sep-22||PO2 | 16||Talladega Superspeedway||70|
|11-Oct-22||PO3 | 17||Homestead-Miami Speedway||100|
|25-Oct-22||C4F | 18||Phoenix Raceway||110|