The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Watkins Glen Race Recap by Mike Neff -- Monday August 12, 2013

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Watkins Glen Race Recap

Mike Neff · Monday August 12, 2013


Key Moment – The caution flew with 29 laps to go. Kyle Busch was on pit road, Marcos Ambrose was not. As a result, Busch restarted with the lead of the race while Ambrose, who had the dominant car, fell back to 12th.

In a Nutshell – Marcos Ambrose dominated the first two-thirds of the race. The luck of the caution flag caught Ambrose out and resulted in Kyle Busch leading when the race restarted while Ambrose had to start mired in the pack. Busch had a difficult fight with Martin Truex Jr. shortly after that restart but, after repelling that challenge, assumed the point and held onto it through a couple of late race restarts.

Dramatic Moment – When Busch took the lead as Ambrose went to pits on the caution that ultimately cost Ambrose the race, Busch had to face Martin Truex Jr’s attack for the lead. The two went side-by-side through the esses and into the Bus Stop. Truex has a slight advantage as the two entered the first part of the Bus Stop but Busch drove it hard into the corner, bounced it off of the side of Truex and managed to pull ahead for good. The fact that both drivers did not wreck was a testament to their driving ability.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Jeff Gordon used to strike fear into the hearts of the competition whenever the schedule went to a road course. Unfortunately for Gordon, he’s become just another driver on road courses over the last few years. He hasn’t won on a road course since 2006 and hasn’t won at Watkins Glen since 2001. This race Gordon crashed early, by himself, in an area of the track where people seldom wreck, just because his car got loose behind another car. Gordon is still a good driver and a superstar in the sport, but he’s definitely not the driver he was 10 years ago.

Red flags are certainly not something you want to use excessively but, at the same time, burning up lap after lap under the caution flag when the race is within 20 laps of the finish is senseless. When the safety crew gets to the scene of an accident, they should be able to assess if it is going to take more than three laps to clean it up. If that is the case, NASCAR needs to throw the red and not waste the more exciting laps of the race diving around at slow speed on glorified parade laps.

It is telling that, in today’s super aerodynamic sensitive world of stock car racing, the most exciting races on the schedule are the road courses and the short tracks, the only places where aerodynamics don’t make much of a difference. Perhaps, if enough people keep putting the pressure on NASCAR to eliminate the aero dependency we can start seeing some better races on the oval tracks as well.

During the race on Sunday, it was announced that there will be a new tire for the Atlanta race. Technically it is just a new right side tire. The new right side tire will be a hybrid compound with the inside of the tire being comprised of the compound from Michigan with the outside of the tire being made up of the compound that has been run for a couple of years at Atlanta. This is a interesting development of passenger tire technology coming into auto racing vs. auto racing technology influencing the passenger tire market.

After Max Papis was in the No. 14 this weekend for Tony Stewart, the discussion has turned to who will be in the top ride at Stewart Haas for the remainder of the season. Rumors are flying that Austin Dillon might be in the seat. Regan Smith has thrown his hat in the ring. The feel good story would be to see Scott Riggs get in the ride after he put in time for Haas before they were a championship caliber team, as well as doing several tests for the team this year. There is even discussion about Kyle Larson filling in. Larson did drive for Stewart’s dirt team at one time but it is a bit early for him to be jumping into a Cup car. Whoever it is, they’re going to have a microscope on their performance and best show some signs of brilliance or they’re going to get raked over the coals.

With everyone clamoring for more road course racing in the Cup series, why don’t we take full advantage of the course at Watkins Glen? The drivers in the series, for the most part, have shown that they can run road courses just as well as they can run ovals. The boot will add a couple of different passing opportunities which is the thing that everyone looks for on road courses. There is no doubt the fans at Watkins Glen would love to see it and most of the other fans of the sport would love to see it too.

Tony Stewart my not have been in a car this weekend but his driver, Donny Schatz, did it again at Knoxville, Iowa. Schatz took the win in the Knoxville Nationals, the Daytona 500 of Winged Sprint Car racing, for the seventh time in eight years. Schatz raced his way into the A-Main by winning the B-Main. He then started 21st and took the lead with nine laps to go, cruising to the impressive win. Schatz has also finished in the top two at Knoxville in 11 of the last 12 Nationals.

SPEED is going away. Starting August 17th it is being replaced by Fox Sports 1. While there is going to be some motorsports coverage, there are some staples that are going away. Speed Center is no longer going to be on the air. The Sunday night program that would give racing results and highlights from all forms of motorsports is officially done. Also, Wind Tunnel, the ultimate race fan call in show hosted by the Big Ol’ Television Wind Bag Dave Despain, has aired for the last time. Not sure if the decision was Despain’s, the networks, or a combination. When the show was cut back to once a week it was mostly Despain who wanted the schedule to back off. It very well may be that this was just the right time for Dave to start enjoying the retirement he was ready to begin nearly 11 years ago when the show started. Whatever the case, the Tunnelheads are going to be hard pressed to find a replacement.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Marcos Ambrose had the race in the bag until Aric Almirola went for a spin while Kyle Busch was on pit road and Ambrose was still on the track. As a result, Ambrose ended up back in traffic and couldn’t make the kind of time he was making while he was in the lead. After restarting 12th with 29 laps to go, he only clawed his way up to 10th before a lap 7 restart when he was caught on the outside heading into the esses. As he got loose, Max Papis was behind him and tried to stay off of him but eventually got into his right rear, spinning Ambrose into the guardrail and ending his day.

Kasey Kahne, not really known for his road racing prowess, although he does have a win at Sonoma in the Cup series, was soldiering to a respectable top 15 finish when he was bumped on a late race restart, spun in the esses and was drilled by Dale Earnhardt Jr., ending his race early.

Speaking of Earnhardt, the driver of the No. 88 was looking for a respectable day at a road course, and was doing a admirable job. He was in the top 12 when Kahne spun in front of him and he had nowhere to go. The contact with Kahne tore the right front off of Earnhardt’s car and caused him to go from maintaining his points position to losing double digit points to the drivers around him in points.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

While the caution for Almirola was the kiss of death for Ambrose, it was a 10 the hard way for Kyle Busch. Busch was on the pit lane when Almirola went into the tire barrier to bring out the caution that caught Ambrose out. From there it was just a matter of Busch surviving not one, not two but four restarts over the final 27 laps of the race.

Brad Keselowski sailed into turn one on lap 14 and almost didn’t come out. After spinning off of the racing surface into what used to be a giant litter box, Keselowski blended back into the pack in 22nd position. Fortunately for Keselowski, it was early and he had time to regroup. Similar to Busch, Keselowski was on the pit road when the caution flew for Almirola’s entanglement with the tire barrier. As a result, he made it all of the way back to the front and finished in the runner-up spot yet again.

Casey Mears started the race in 30th position. He clawed his way forward for the early part of the race and was in the high 20s when he got caught out on a caution that dropped him deep in the pack. Fortunately for Mears he was one of the last drivers to make it onto pit road before the caution flew for Almirola, which allowed him to restart in the top 12. Mears used that good fortune and some driving talent to maintain his position on the track and ultimately came home with a 12th place finish.

Worth Noting

The victory for Kyle Busch is his 27th of his career in 315 starts. That has given him a three race edge over his brother Kurt who was tied with his younger sibling coming into the 2013 season for 28th on the all-time wins list. Busch is now alone in 24th, one win behind Rex White and Matt Kenseth for 22nd. Just for a means of perspective, 50 wins will put a driver in the top 12 on the all-time list. There aren’t a lot of people between Busch and the top 12, but there are a lot of wins.

This was Busch’s second win at Watkins Glen and his fourth top 5 in nine career starts at the road course in the Finger Lake Region of New York.

Busch has three wins and 10 top 5s in 2013.

Brad Keselowski finished second for the first time this season and for the third consecutive year at Watkins Glen. Keselowski has seven top 5 finishes in 2013.

Martin True Jr. came home in third place for his fourth top three finish of the year and his fifth top 5. This was Truex third career top 5 at Watkins Glen.

This was the first time in six races at Watkins Glen that Marcos Ambrose did not finish in the top three.

The top 10 by Manufacturer:

Toyota – 4
Ford – 3
Chevrolet – 3

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took home the Rookie of the Race award again.

2010 was the last race at Watkins Glen where the driver leading the most laps scored the win. Juan Pablo Montoya took home the trophy that day.

The Blue Deuce has crossed the line in second the last four years in a row at Watkins Glen. Brad Keselowski had run second three years in a row and Kurt Busch was in the ride the previous year (2010). That is rarer than if Marcos Ambrose had pulled off the triple this season.

What’s the Points

Jimmie Johnson came home in eighth place this weekend, only losing two points in his quest to lead the points into the Chase. Clint Bowyer maintains the second spot in points without a win but with twelve top 10s and only one DNF. Carl Edwards managed to hang on to his third place in points thanks to his fourth place finish. Kevin Harvick had a quiet 13th place finish at Watkins Glen and that allowed him to continue to sit fourth in the points. Kyle Busch is the first driver to make a move in the points this week. His win, combined with Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s misfortune let Busch move into the fifth spot in points.

Earnhardt leads the second half of the top 10 in the sixth spot. Matt Kenseth finished 23rd but fended off the challenge from behind to stay seventh in points. Brad Keselowski made the big move, jumping four positions to the eighth spot in points and much more comfortably in the Chase hunt. Greg Biffle got off of the 10th place bubble by virtue of his 16th place finish. Truex’s third place finish has vaulted him into the last spot in the Chase.

Kasey Kahne’s misfortune has dropped him out of the top 10 but puts him first in Wild Card contention. Ryan Newman has taken over his boss’s spot in the Chase by virtue of his Brickyard win while the boss is recuperating in a hospital from a broken leg.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Since road course racing is the new excitement of the Cup Series, we’ll look at the race at Watkins Glen through those rose-colored glasses. While it wasn’t the fender-banging, grass-slinging battle royale that ended last season’s race, the excitement was still there thanks to a late-race caution. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, nose-to-tail through the final corners was better than a walkover but it wasn’t an instant classic. We’ll give this one three cold Busch Lights and hope that the development of the new tire they’re bringing to Atlanta can bring back exciting racing on ovals.

Next Up — The series heads to Michigan next week for the wide and fast two-mile oval in the Irish Hills. After just one year the track’s surface has begun to age and afford some better racing than the single groove that dominated the first year after the repave. With four races to the Chase, there will be some drivers taking some chances because they need a win to secure their position in the hunt for the title. The coverage starts at 1:00 on Sunday on both ESPN and MRN.

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08/12/2013 07:29 AM

I hate wasting an entire afternoon just to see Kyle or JJ win. I would have like to see Almirola actually put his car in REVERSE to get it out of the tires, it’s not impossible that he could have gotten out of there and not changed the complexion on the race the way he did.

08/12/2013 07:44 AM

To think that I used to hate road courses….and now they are the most exciting (for me).

That was the first Nascar race I’ve watched live since May.

They used to say ‘dega was the equalizer. Not anymore. It’s the road courses.

Awesome to see Kyle win again.

08/12/2013 07:52 AM

If I was running the show at Stewart-Haas, I’d see if I could put in a call with Budweiser and Childress to see if we could get Harvick for the Chase. Would help build chemistry, and allow Childress to put Dillon in the 29 to see if he wants to run him full-time in Cup. Would work out well for everyone involved, even though I feel it would be next to impossible to make it happen.

08/12/2013 08:18 AM

Just to nitpick, I don’t think Gordon got loose, he got tight and couldn’t get the car to turn enough to avoid the wall. Either that, or he made a rookie mistake and lost track of where he was on the track due to his being on top of the car in front. Did anyone notice that when Gilliland (I think) hit the wall entering the front straight, Gordon was behind him and almost did the same? Seems like Gordon’s luck ran out a few laps later.

08/12/2013 08:39 AM

Zero on track passes for the lead does not make for a compelling race. new car is too areo dependant.

Carl D.
08/12/2013 08:45 AM

Thee real feel-good story would be for Tony Stewart to put Bobby Labonte in the #14. We’d get to see what Bobby could do in competitive racecar. Yes, I know it’s not going to happen, but I still like the idea.

Nice to see Brad K. have a decent finish. I’d like to see him make the chase and if he can avoid a bad finish in the next four races then he will make it.

Poor Greg Biffle… never a factor and out of a chase spot. I like the Bif but he’s got to be feeling like a change would do him good. Maybe there will be a quality ride available when his contract expires after next season.

08/12/2013 08:46 AM

since stewart-haas is a satellite of hendrick, i can’t see dillon going into the 14. can see someone tied to hendrick in that car, like smith or larson but definitely not chase elliott as he’s not experienced enough. i’d like to see trevor bayne in the 14 but he’s a blue oval driver.

enjoyed the last few laps of the race. was wishing brad would get past kyle busch for the win. at least brad raced him clean. thought brad’s post-race comment was funny, he’s had enough controversy for the year.

08/12/2013 08:48 AM

stop the presses….

princess sparkle pony had a 20th place finish, finished on the lead lap.

surprised media isn’t salivating all over this fact.

Carl D.
08/12/2013 08:51 AM

Sorry… I should have fact checked a little more. Biffle is 9th in points. I was going by points as shown late in the race when they were showing him in 12th place. Apparently he gained some positions late in the race and moved up in the points. My bad.

Bill B
08/12/2013 08:53 AM

There wasn’t much (any) passing for the lead which usually makes for a boring race. Still, watching a road course with no on track passing for the lead is much more interesting than watching an oval race with no passing for the lead.
I truly believe that more short tracks and another road course or two would improve both ratings and attendance.

08/12/2013 10:06 AM

danica got a top 20 through attrition, but at least she was running.

i think ambrose wasn’t going to win anyway due to something breaking in the suspension. i also thought that it was interesting to see how mad he was in the car and then to see him composed and smiling during the interview. i wonder if that hurts his soul.

the glen is a high speed road course so i suppose some aero dependency is to be expected but i found the lack of passing due to it a bit worrysome. it appeared that “the track” put on a better race than “the car.” still i agree that i’d rather see races like that rather than cookie cutter borefests.

so, for me, the verdict is in and the gen 6 car is guilty as charged. it’s a dud. it’s only slightly better than the travesty that preceded it. it’s only slightly better looking in the front end only, it’s just as aero sensitive, perhaps it’s a tiny bit safer and nascar has even further limited the creativity of the teams to do anything to make it race better. this dog just ain’t gonna hunt.

08/12/2013 10:30 AM

I recently saw a youtube video that had clips of old races from Darlington and Atlanta (among other tracks) and you could visibly see rubber on the track, all marbled up outside the groove and building up on the front grills. Ahhh the good old days when tires actually wore. Lets be honest, tires again meant nothing this weekend compared to track position and the dreaded “clean air”. When Keselowski took fuel only early in the race and held his position I knew we were in trouble. Then watching Montoya, Ambrose and Johnson struggle to pass anyone in traffic was deja vu of most races this year. Gen6 is really fast, and speed causes extreme aero sensitivity. If the tires wore out to where the cars slowed 10-20mph over a run then setup from mechanical grip would start to take over. We need to get back to that, or stick to the slower, shorter tracks to show the product everyone wants to see. It just sucks that only 8 out of 36 races are on short tracks or road courses. Aside from Martinsville or the Lottery (Talladega) the Chase is a major YAWN.

08/12/2013 11:47 AM

The chase has been and is a complete failure for what it was supposed to do. Add to that the COT (which was DOA as Kyle told the world) and the 48 (six-time) crew apparently the only folks in the ENTIRE WORLD that can be so dead-on consistent…nothing fishy there….and what do you get?

Nothing but ESPN (the station all sports folks want to be on) saying bye-bye.

08/12/2013 01:31 PM

This was a good race. There was a lot of wrangling for position on the track. I don’t look to see a lot of wrecks, but a little rubbin’ fenders makes for good racin’. I gave this race a high four rating. nas$car needs to put a road course race in the chase. Plus, add another road course race to the schedule. Mid-Ohio or Road America would both fit the bill. I don’t like the chase, but add a little spice to it.

08/12/2013 02:42 PM

I watched most of that agonizing race yesterday. Five lead changes among five drivers? That was exciting? Whoever was able to get out in front could pull away, and nobody was able to catch him. There didn’t seem to be a lot of passing either. Even Team Dominant (JimmieChad) had trouble advancing his position. Turned it off before the checkered flag fell, mercifully ending the race, and didn’t want to watch the winner and his antagonizing antics. What was shown on TV was 90-laps of follow-the-leader. Not at all worth watching. This race wasn’t worth a half a can of flat room-temperature Coke Zero.

More road courses? No thanks! Not after what was shown yesterday.

08/12/2013 03:02 PM

Using the long course would add several good heavy braking and good passing zones. Based on the few passes yesterday, they need to do it.

08/12/2013 03:30 PM

Sorry Patty, but not everyone is sad to see ESPN go. They could care less about Nascar. Its just filler until their bread and butter football games come back on. If their coverage of IndyCar is any indication, they will do a much better job than ESPN.

08/12/2013 03:32 PM

Correction to above post: It should say: If NBC’s coverage of IndyCar is any indication…..

my apologies

Old farmer
08/12/2013 04:01 PM

Who is the driver named Martin True, Jr. that is mentioned in the column? I haven’t heard of him before.

08/12/2013 05:09 PM

We hate gimmicky “Chase” with a passion. The rest of the season for most is a few races away..let them all race till Homestead, then the true winner will be crowned.


Contact Mike Neff

Recent articles from Mike Neff:

Thinkin' Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Special Winter Sprint Car Series set for January debut at Cocopah Speedway
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