NASCAR Trucks: Drivers expecting chaos in regular season finale at Watkins Glen

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 26: A NASCAR Official waves the green flag as Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, and Stewart Friesen, driver of the #52 Halmar International Toyota, start the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway on June 26, 2021 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

On Saturday, the NASCAR Truck Series will go somewhere they haven’t gone in 21 years. They’ll head to the famed road course at Watkins Glen for the United Rentals 176, a 72-lap duel around the 2.45-mile circuit in Upstate New York. The event will be the final race of the Truck Series regular season.

Despite only a few drivers having experience on the high-speed road course, NASCAR is electing to run Saturday’s race without any practice and qualifying. Add that in with it being regular-season finale, things could get chaotic in the Truck Series this weekend.

“I hope we make it through turn one,” series points leader John Hunter Nemechek said. “There’s a lot of guys that are in the truck field who haven’t been to Watkins Glen, [and] I feel there’s a bit of inexperience there. With no practice [and] no qualifying, it’s definitely going to be a little bit different…. guys are starting to get more aggressive. I think it’s coming down to the playoff cutoff, and Watkins Glen being the cutoff race for the playoffs.

Nemechek’s five wins were enough to clinch the regular-season title and add 15 playoff points to his season total of 49. He, along with Ben Rhodes, Todd Gilliland, Austin Hill, Sheldon Creed, Zane Smith, Matt Crafton have clinched playoff spots, that group securing seven of the ten available in the Truck Series.

However, the final three spots are available for taking at The Glen. Stewart Friesen, Chandler Smith, and Carson Hocevar are currently the three in position to make the playoffs; however, an upset winner could shake the entire playoff race upside down.

“We wish we had a win to be sitting on to guarantee a spot in,” Friesen said. “I think we had the third-fastest lap time back at COTA a couple of months ago, so we have speed in the truck, it’s the same piece we’ve ran the past two or three road races with, so hopefully we can use that and stay up in the hunt”.

To have the best chance at making it into the playoffs, Friesen would need a repeat Truck Series winner or a non-points earning winner on Saturday. In that scenario, he’d need to earn just three points in the United Rentals 176 to clinch a spot in the playoffs. With AJ Allmendinger driving the No. 23 truck in place of the COVID-19-stricken Chase Purdy and road course specialist Paul Menard in the field, things seem encouraging Friesen. If a non-repeat points earner wins on Saturday, Friesen would need to earn 43 points in the race.

Ahead of Friesen in the standings is 18-year-old Carson Hocevar, who would advance to the playoffs in the event of a repeat winner or a non-points earning winner. Hocevar would need 35 points if a first-time points-earner were to win at The Glen.

Chandler Smith needs just 15 points to clinch if there were to be a repeat winner; however, he’d be unable to clinch on his own if a new driver won. Derek Kraus, Tyler Ankrum, Johnny Sauter, Austin Wayne Self, Ryan Truex, Hailie Deegan, and Tanner Gray can only clinch on a victory. Of course, Friesen, Hocevar, and Smith can all clinch on victories as well.

With so many different playoff clinching scenarios, Saturday’s United Rentals 176 at Watkins Glen should be drama-filled. Many young drivers full of aggression will likely attempt new strategies to sneak into the Truck Series playoffs.

Coming off a win in Knoxville, Austin Hill will lead the field to green on Saturday. Todd Gilliland, Smith, Crafton, Rhodes, and Nemechek round out the front three rows. Notably, Hocevar starts 9th, Friesen starts 17th, and Menard starts 39th. Allmendinger will have to drop to the rear for a driver change past the entry-list cutoff date.

Coverage of the United Rentals 176 begins on Saturday at 11:30am EST on FS1 with green flag scheduled for just after 12:30pm.