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FYI WIRZ: NASCAR drivers turn right at Watkins Glen, playoffs straight ahead

Dale Earnhart Jr's No. 88 car getting work during practice at Daytona International Speedway.
Dale Earnhart Jr's No. 88 car getting work during practice at Daytona International Speedway.
Dwight Drum at Racetake.com

Only five races remain before NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup eligibility is set, and NSCS drivers needing a win are keenly aware. They will get the rare opportunity to turn right as well as left at Watkins Glen International for the Cheez-It 355 At The Glen. Many have an intense hope for Victory Lane.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races road courses only twice a season, but the upcoming event at Watkins Glen, New York, has historic local support. Even more evident is that this race is one of five events crucial to drivers who won’t make NASCAR’s version of playoffs, unless they pull off a win.

Only 11 NSCS drivers have wins this season. It’s expected that only one or two more drivers without wins will join that elite group. With so much on the line, coupled with a challenging road course, the exciting race should please fans around the 2.4-mile course. TV viewers can catch the twisting action on ESPN at 1 p.m., Sunday.

Top NSCS drivers shared their thoughts about WGI before left and right turns have competitive significance.

NSCS point leader Jeff Gordon seems to have mastered road course difficulty. He talked WGI recently. .

“While Sonoma is a finesse track, Watkins Glen is a track where you have to be aggressive and attack,” Gordon said. “It’s a very challenging track, but it’s fun and it’s fast.”

Recent Pocono winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., analyzed road course challenges.

“I definitely have more confidence going into the Glen then I do Sonoma,” Earnhardt said. “Sonoma is a much more technical track and a lot more challenging for me as a driver. When we run the Glen, it’s straightaway then turn, straightaway then turn.”

Brad Keselowski is having a banner year so far and could be strong heading into Chase territory again.

“We have had some great races at Watkins Glen,” Keselowski said. “Most of them have involved intense battles over the final few laps of the race. I truly enjoy this circuit as the layout seems to favor my driving style quite well.”

Kyle Busch shared a technical opinion.

“Just understanding the dynamic of the car a little bit more and what you can do with it,” Busch said. “How much you can throw it into the corners and throw it around through the corners and all of that stuff. It just kind of takes time to figure all of that out.”

Carl Edwards has road course momentum on his side. He explained.

“I love road racing and coming off the win at Sonoma we feel like this is a great opportunity for our team to go get some bonus points before the Chase starts,” Edwards said. “It’s a fun race track. The fans are great. It’s a cool area of the country to visit.”

Winless driver Ryan Newman is fifth in the points, but he is in need of a visit to Victory Lane to ensure a Chase spot. He talked WGI and Pocono.

"Watkins Glen is so much faster than Sonoma Raceway,” Newman said. “I think Pocono was a nice warm up to this race because of the fact that we had to shift. It couldn't have fallen at a better place on the schedule when it comes to preparing for this race.”

Greg Biffle is one of the winless drivers needing points and a win. He defined difficulty of WGI.

“Road racing presents a tough set of scenarios,” Biffle said. “You have to be careful with the gear box, the braking and staying on the race track. So those are three challenges of road racing to start with. I like Watkins Glen.”

Matt Kenseth has claimed the new elimination Chase format with emphasis on wins has nothing to do with driver outlook. He may be way off on that, as he and his JGR team have run well, but haven’t clenched a checkered flag in 2014. Kenseth might make the Chase without a win, but it would be folly to count him out of Victory Lane before the Chase. He pointed out a good point about WGI.

“Everyone always loops together Sonoma and Watkins Glen since they’re both road courses, but they’re both unique,” Kenseth said. “I like Watkins Glen, but the chicane is a tough part. The guys who do well generally seem to have that chicane figured out.”

It’s likely one NSCS driver will figure out the chicane, and keep an edge that avoids gravel pits and many nearby bouncing cars to be first over the final line. If that fortunate driver was winless before winning, Chase competition may even be more interesting.

Fans may be winners too this race weekend, as road courses add a speedy dimension that accents turning.

NASCAR might want to bring more of these meandering contests to crowds in the future. Many fans and drivers prize the action.

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.