Defending Cup Champion Headlines Way Too Early Favorites for Watkins Glen

Chase Elliott

Getty Chase Elliott celebrates a win at Watkins Glen.

The NASCAR Cup Series is in the midst of a two-week break but will return to action on Aug. 8. The drivers will head to Watkins Glen International in New York for the first time since 2019. There are several big names in contention for the win, but a former Cup champion sits atop the list of way too early favorites.

Chase Elliott, the defending champion, is the most recent winner at the New York road course. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, held off Martin Truex Jr. on Aug. 4, 2019, after leading 80 of the 90 laps. He locked the victory, one of three on the year, and boosted his playoff points.

This 2019 victory was Elliott’s second consecutive trip to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. He also captured the checkered flag on Aug. 5, 2018, once again holding off Truex. The two men will now return to the site of their previous battle and face off big names to watch.

Elliott Has Continued to Rack Up Wins at Road Courses

Along with being the most recent winner at Watkins Glen International, Elliott will headline the list of favorites due to his overall success at road courses across the Cup Series circuit. The driver of the No. 9 continues to rack up wins, regardless of where they take place.

In 2020 alone, Elliott has captured wins at Circuit of the Americas and Road America while holding off several top drivers. He took the lead from Kyle Larson late in the first-ever NASCAR race at COTA, holding on until heavy rainfall brought the event to an early end. Weeks later, he led 24 laps at Road America and built up a lead of more than five seconds over runner-up Kyle Busch to capture his second win of the season.

This win gave Elliott seven trips to Victory Lane at NASCAR’s road courses. He is now only two behind Jeff Gordon’s all-time record with three more races at road courses. The Cup Series will head to Watkins Glen on Aug. 8 and then Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course on Aug. 15. The playoffs will also feature a race at the Charlotte Roval on Oct. 10.

The 2017 Champion Will Fight for His Fourth Win

Elliott will be the favorite to capture the win at Watkins Glen, but Truex will not be that far behind him. The 2017 Cup Series champion is the last driver not named Chase Elliott to reach Victory Lane at the New York road course. He captured the win in 2017, one of eight during a dominant season.

In addition to winning at Watkins Glen, Truex is also on a streak of top-10 finishes at the track. He took second in 2019, second in 2018, won in 2017, and then finished seventh in 2016. In total Truex has 10 top-10 finishes in 14 starts at Watkins Glen, and he will look for another when NASCAR heads back on Aug. 8.

A win will be critical for Truex considering that has struggled in recent months. He started the year off strong with three victories, but he finished outside the top 15 three consecutive weeks after winning at Darlington. Truex finished 19th at Dover, crashed at Circuit of the Americas, and finished 29th at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Since Memorial Day weekend, his best finish is third at Sonoma Raceway and third at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Despite failing to win a race in recent weeks, Truex is safely within the playoff picture. He is tied for the second-most wins in the Cup Series with Alex Bowman, ensuring that no other driver can knock him out of the Chase. However, he needs to gain some momentum before the playoffs begin, starting with Watkins Glen International.

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