What to Watch For: IndyCar at Watkins Glen (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The Verizon IndyCar Series has the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi on tap today. It’s the second-to-last race of the season, as the series makes its return to Watkins Glen International.

There’s quite a bit to look over ahead of today’s race, a 60-lapper from the 3.37-mile permanent road course.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

You might remember that before NBCSN was NBCSN, it was VERSUS. So fittingly, “versus” is a perfect descriptor for so many of the key story lines in today’s race.

REDS VS. BLACKS

Seeing four of the six drivers in the Firestone Fast Six run that session on Firestone’s black primary tires was an interesting move. Both the blacks and the Firestone red alternates seem to hang on well and there didn’t seem to be a sizable step difference between the two. As ever, what tires you run and when will make the difference on Sunday.

POWER VS. PAGENAUD

It’s a 28-point gap between Will Power and Simon Pagenaud going into today’s race. With double points in play at the Sonoma Raceway finale in two weeks, first to second is separated by 20 points… which would leave Sonoma as a simple winner-take all if a Pagenaud-led gap out of today’s race is 20 points or less.

“I’ll definitely remind Will before the race that he’s got a lot more to lose than I have,” said polesitter Scott Dixon, who starts next to Power on the front row.

DIXON VS. THE FIELD

The weekend has been one of those old “Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio” type beatdowns thus far, and wife Emma has been here to see it. Or, one of those old “Scott Dixon at Watkins Glen” type of weekends that occurred from 2005 to 2007 when he won three straight here.

But as Dixon noted after qualifying, he’s still not accomplished the end goal of the weekend: victory. He looks to complete a dream weekend on Sunday after leading all pre-race sessions.

“Toronto and Mid-Ohio were sort of like this… so we have to keep our heads down and see where it all falls,” Dixon told me after qualifying. “This season, at many of the places, we’ve had the speed but not capitalized on it. We did job number one, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Dixon’s got two streaks on the line going into the last two races, and they run concurrently. Every year since 2006, Dixon’s won at least two races in a season, and finished in the top three in points. Right now, he’s won only once (Phoenix) and sits sixth in points.

Here’s Dixon’s latest domination, in warmup times.

WGIwarmup

DRIVERS VS. EXHAUSTION

The word of the weekend from the drivers has been “physical” because the G-loading is crazy, as are the speeds. Average speeds in qualifying run from the low 140s to Dixon’s pole speed of 147.008 mph.

The race is only 60 laps, but will be quite a test of strength and endurance given the amount of downforce and speeds these cars produce.

VETERANS VS. THE KIDS

The top five on the grid are all 35 or older and debuted in 2005 or earlier. Max Chilton is best of the younger generation this week in P6 and looks for his best finish on a road or street course this season; it’s currently 14th. Then Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin, RC Enerson and Josef Newgarden roll off from ninth through 12th. Those from 13th on back will need a bit of help via strategy to leapfrog their way to the front, most likely.

PASSING VS. NOT REALLY PASSING

With so many high-speed, mid-gear corners (many in fourth gear), one of the big questions today is what corners will serve as the key passing opportunities. Turn 1 could be a spot, as is into the Inner Loop (Bus Stop), and then at either the toe (Turn 7) or heel (Turn 8) of The Boot. But passing might be optimistic.

OFF SEQUENCE VS. STANDARD SEQUENCE

A three-stop strategy seems the likeliest course of action for the 60-lap race. Two stops could be possible with a lot of caution and a lot of fuel saving. Four stops could be possible if a car runs better on reds and wants to short pit.

STARTING GRID

The full starting grid and Firestone tire selection is below.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)