5 things I’m watching in Sunday’s Verizon 200 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio Network)

AJ Allmendinger, Ty Gibbs, Daniil Kvyat

I’m watching the 3 wildcard drivers here. Each has a great storyline in themselves.

A day after winning for the 1st time in 3 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, AJ Allmendinger will attempt to go 2-for-2 in the NASCAR Cup Series on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He won last year’s inaugural Verizon 200 in dramatic fashion. Can he go back-to-back?

In 4 starts on the 2.439-mile road course, he has 3 top 2’s and a 4th place result in the other. He qualified 20th for Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio Network).

I’m also watching to see how Ty Gibbs does in his 1st true NASCAR Cup Series race weekend. Yes, last Sunday in Pocono was his 1st career Cup start but that came in a last minute change. He had no seat time in the Next Gen prior to last weekend’s race. He finished a respectable 16th.

Now, how does he do when he gets to handle this No. 45 Toyota for an entire race weekend? He qualified 26th but the grandson of owner Joe Gibbs is great on road courses.

Gibbs currently leads the NASCAR Xfinity Series with four wins this season, the most recent on a road course – Road America on July 2. He also has Xfinity wins at the Daytona Road Course (2021) and Watkins Glen (2021).

Then you have Daniil Kvyat who’s making his Cup debut on a road course. The Russian has done nothing but drive on these tracks. He starts 36th.


Chase Elliott on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Hendrick Motorsports

Heading into COTA back in March, it was an early test to the Next Gen’s parity. We’ve seen it prior, but would it also end Hendrick Motorsports’ road course reign. Prior to COTA, HMS had accumulated 9 road course wins in the last 11 tries including being 1-2 on that very track in 2021. They’re since 0-for-3 with this new car on 3 different tracks?

Can they pick up a victory in Sunday’s race? They led 43 of the 95 laps a year ago but didn’t take the win due to late race cautions ruining their strategy.

Also, they’re finding their groove again on road courses.

Chase Elliott was 4th, 8th and 2nd respectively on the 3 road courses run this season. Kyle Larson was 29th and 15th at both COTA and Sonoma, but he was also 4th in Road America too.

Elliott also has 5 straight top 2 finishes on the season including 3 of the 5 being wins. Larson has 3 top 5 finishes over the last 5 weeks too.

HMS has been the top NASCAR team on these hallowed grounds and looking for a 1st win on the road course on Sunday. However, only Chase Elliott made it to the final round of qualifying. He’ll start 8th. Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman each start 22-23-28 respectively.

For a season that’s seen 5 straight race winners on the year having qualified in the top 5 including 11 straight from the top 10, it doesn’t bode well from any one within that HMS camp not named Chase Elliott.

The furthest a race winner has started this year is 19th. 3 of the 4 HMS cars start behind that.


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – JULY 30: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Team Penske

They went 0-for-3 in the NTT INDYCAR Series on Roger Penske’s track this year. Can 1 of their 3 NASCAR Cup Series drivers give the Captain something to cheer about when leaving the grounds of his work home on Sunday?

All 3 qualified in the top 6 on Saturday.

Ryan Blaney was 4th in COTA, 6th in Sonoma and 11th in Road America to make me start to believe in him on road courses again. He also had a top 5 here last year at that too and rolls off 6th on Sunday in his No. 12 Ford. Austin Cindric is a road racer by nature and was 8th, 5th and 7th respectively in the 3 road course races run this season at that. He also won the Xfinity Series race on this very track here a year ago too and was not only quickest in practice on Saturday morning, but also qualified on the front row in 2nd. Joey Logano has struggled on these tracks though in 2022. His 3 road course finishes in 2022 are 31st, 17th and 27th respectively. However, he starts 5th.


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – JULY 30: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Peanut Butter Toyota, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Which Manufacturer Has A Leg Up?

Chevy stands out above the rest on road courses. The bowties have won each of the 3 road course races in 2022 and the final 6 of 2021 for 9 straight wins on these tracks. Factor in the 2019 race at Watkins Glen (2 races in 2019) and the 2 races (Daytona, Charlotte) in 2020 and you get Chevy scoring 13 wins in the last 14 road course races in general. The thing is, while they have the pole for Sunday’s race via Tyler Reddick, they only have 3 of the top 16 starting spots.

Does that open the door for a Ford or Toyota driver?

Toyota has just 1 car in the top 9 of the starting lineup and 3 in the top 18.

The good news is for them that 4 of the 6 full time cars for Toyota are locked into the playoffs. With 5 races remaining in the regular season, 2 of which are on road courses and another at Daytona. That’s not great news other than Bubba Wallace’s best shot a victory coming in Daytona. Other than that, he will struggle in Indy and Watkins Glen. Same for Martin Truex Jr. except he will likely struggle at Daytona though as well.

Truex is 0-for-33 in his Cup career at Daytona and has 6 combined top 5 finishes at Daytona and Talladega. He starts a disappointing 25th on Sunday. Wallace rolls off in 19th.

The question now is, did Toyota do much to improve their road course car between Road America and Indy?

Out of 6 Toyota drivers, none of them had a top 15 in Sonoma (18-26-27-30-31-36) and their top finisher in Road America was 13th. They went 13-17-18-27-29-35 that day. With having Indy this weekend, Watkins Glen next month and the Charlotte ROVAL in the playoffs, is this a concern for them?

They’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure this deficit out and from what it sounds, there’s not much that they can do about it.

So, how do you approach Indy on Sunday? Do you have to go off strategy and hope for some good luck while doing so? Do you elect for stage points and punt on track position in the final stage? Or, do you just temper your expectations and strive for top 15’s instead of top 5’s or 10s?

How do they also respond too after thinking they finished 1-2 in Pocono and putting to what they thought was 5 cars in the top 10 that day?

That could open the door to Ford. They have 6 of the top 9 starting spots including 5 in the top 7. Those 5 belong to Team Penske and Front Row Motorsports.


Wildcard

Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. hold the final 2 wildcard spots. They’ll start 6th (Blaney) and 25th (Truex Jr.) respectively. The top guy chasing them is Kevin Harvick. He rolls off 18th in his No. 4 Ford. Outside of Blaney, the other 2 don’t have great qualifying spots.

The good news for them though, the entire top 5 in the starting lineup already has a win this season. Just 3 of the top 11 starters are winless and 2 of the 3 belong to Front Row Motorsports.

The thing is, maybe we shouldn’t sleep on FRM.

Michael McDowell is a road course racer by nature. He won won at Road America in the Xfinity Series before and was 3rd in Sonoma and 8th in Road America this season too. He rolls off 7th.

Todd Gilliland starts 9th.

All 3 road course races in 2022 were won by a 1st time winner. Factor in AJ Allmendinger’s win here last year which was his 2nd Cup win and Christopher Bell’s in Daytona in February (2021) and you get 5 of the last 10 road races being won by a driver scoring their 1st or 2nd win on them.

Do we see another one on Sunday?

Gilliland (0-for-21) falls into that category. So does Harrison Burton (0-for-22) who starts 13th.

You do have some winless droughts though too. Brad Keselowski hasn’t won in his last 47 races but the team he’s driving for hasn’t reached victory lane in the last 184 races (July 2017) which is the last time Stenhouse Jr. won. The thing is, another RFK Racing car in Chris Buescher finished runner-up in Sonoma and 6th in Road America. He qualified 16th and hasn’t won since Pocono (216 races ago). Keselowski rolls off 12th.

McDowell was 1-for-463 after his Daytona 500 win but 0-for-56 again since.

Do we see a winless driver or a winless streak snapped on Sunday? Alexander Rossi snapped a 49 race winless drought in the NTT INDYCAR Series race on Saturday.

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