By no means has Hendrick Motorsports been out to lunch in the four road-course races this season. However, the team is still looking for its first win of the 2022 season when turning left and right — having won 10 of the previous 13. When the green flag drops in Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen, Hendrick cars will occupy three of the top four positions.
Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:
Starter 1: Chase Elliott
Starter 2: Kyle Larson
Starter 3: William Byron
Starter 4: AJ Allmendinger
Starter 5: Tyler Reddick
Garage pick: Austin Cindric
NEXT IN LINE: Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Daniel Suarez.
RISING: The fact Michael McDowell was able to squeeze into the top five in qualifying says all you need to know about his road racing expertise. Even more, he broke up the Hendrick Motorsports trio at the front of the field. His third-place starting position is the best pure qualifying effort of his Cup career.
For the most part, Justin Haley has struggled with raw speed on road courses this season. He has three top-20 efforts in four starts, but the No. 31 Chevrolet has been a non-factor for the top 10. Of the first 25 weekends of the year, Saturday ranks high among best days at the track for the team, with Haley running 12th in practice and 13th in qualifying — his best qualifying effort since April at Talladega (11th).
FALLING: Earlier this week, Ross Chastain was in my lineup. However, I elected to take him out with the No. 1 Chevrolet having to start 18th. While it’s likely Trackhouse will improve on Chastain’s car throughout the race, many drivers believe track position will be key on Sunday.
Toyota’s struggles on road courses in 2022 have been well-documented. However, Christopher Bell showed speed in the series’ last outing at the Indianapolis Road Course, running inside the top five for the majority of the race. The No. 20 car was 16th in practice on Saturday at Watkins Glen and blew an engine and wasn’t able to qualify. Bell will have to start from the rear Sunday, as will Kyle Busch, who was the lone Toyota driver to make the final round of qualifying.
Ryan Blaney vs. Kevin Harvick: Neither driver had a good Saturday. Harvick turned the 24th quickest qualifying lap, while Blaney was two spots behind in 26th. In practice neither was much better — in fact, Harvick was worse — as Blaney ranked 17th and Harvick 31st. All that to say, it’s a tossup. But based on Blaney needing to score stage points, that might pay off for you in the long run.
Chase Elliott vs. Tyler Reddick: Reddick was one of the drivers who said Hendrick had improved on road courses entering Watkins Glen. With the No. 8 team winning the last two road-course events, it’s understandable to go with Reddick. That would, however, undermine Elliott’s recent track record at The Glen, posting two wins and a runner-up result in his last three tries. The choice here is Elliott.
Chris Buescher vs. Michael McDowell: This, too, is a pairing of equally matched Fords. While McDowell had stellar qualifying speed, Buescher’s race craft has been slightly better in the road courses this year. Either way, both drivers are on a streak of three straight top-10 finishes on road courses.
Harrison Burton vs. Todd Gilliland: Of all the drivers in the Cup field, Gilliland ranks high on the list of underrated drivers on road courses. He cruised to the Truck Series win at COTA last year, which caught the eyes of Front Row Motorsports. The No. 38 car was better than Burton in both practice and qualifying, so Gilliland should finish significantly better.