Tempers flared, rivalries were formed, and rain fell in a continuation of a season filled with drama, tension, and damaged racecars.
And that was just the IndyCar race.
But this is a NASCAR column, so we’ll discuss what happened in Watkins Glen. Rain, bent sheet metal, rain, short tempers, rain, and, well more rain. And fog. Lots of fog and visibility issues plagued the Cup Series race, which was moved to Monday following a downpour that began during pre-race ceremonies and continued for hours. The Nationwide Series even saw a little bit of a drizzle, but nothing substantial enough to stop the race. However, it was all definitely worth the wait with Marcos Ambrose becoming the fifth different first time Sprint Cup Series winner in 2011, a trend that I hope to see continue.
However, I’m hesitant to give Ambrose a spot in the “Hot” section. While Ambrose’s win was well-deserved, the Tasmanian native hasn’t been running very well this season and only shows true competitiveness on the road course tracks. Once the series hits Michigan, Ambrose will be forgotten and disappear from the spotlight most likely for the rest of the season.
These next drivers, on the other hand, will definitely carry the momentum with them to Michigan.
*Kyle Busch* – Busch could have easily won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen, but a faulty restart on a green-white-checkered finish proved to be his demise in both races. Though the Nationwide Series finish can be excused (brother Kurt Busch over-drove the corner, and Kyle lifted to avoid hitting him), there was less excuse when Busch got loose heading into turn one and lost the lead.
However, I did pick him to win both races so the obvious conclusion is I jinxed him and he would have won otherwise.
In all seriousness, though, with the exception of Loudon, Busch has been up front and competitive for the last couple of months and not just in the Nationwide or Truck Series. Remember, it was only five races ago he won at Kentucky and now, haters beware, he has the points lead. Actually he’s tied with Carl Edwards for the points lead, but is given the tie-breaker by virtue of wins.
There’s no reason to think this streak won’t continue through Michigan either. Busch led 59 laps and finished third when the series raced there earlier this season, and momentum is on his side. Speaking of momentum…
*Joey Logano* – I’ve been tough on this guy before, but I really felt for him in Pocono. Unlike his first career win at New Hampshire back in 2009, Logano wasn’t just lucking into this win. He’d been up front the entire day and would have rightly earned the victory had NASCAR decided to call the race when the skies opened past the halfway point. Obviously we know now that NASCAR decided to wait it out and get the drivers back on track, and a flat tire would eventually lead to a 26th place finish for Logano.
It was a potential victory gone awry for the 21-year-old driver, but Monday at Watkins Glen Logano followed it up with a 5th place run just a couple of spots behind teammate Kyle Busch. Though he never led any laps, a top 5 finish at a racetrack that has never been kind to Logano spoke volumes. The performance bumped him up three spots in the standings to 17th, but he’ll need at least one victory and a few more top 5 runs to have a shot at the wild card spot. Last year, I would have said no way. But 2011 has been the year of the underdog, and in the last few weeks Logano has shown he is certainly capable.
*Honorable Mention:* *Martin Truex Jr.* snagged his first top 5 finish of the season and 7th top 10 all year, moving him into the top 20 in points. Another potential wild card player, perhaps?
*Ron Fellows* – While I’ve grown to enjoy road course races, the one term I get sick and tired of hearing before the green flag even drops is “road ringers”. Very rarely do any of these road-course only drivers actually accomplish anything of note in the race, and usually end up ruining someone else’s day (see Boris Said). Yes, there are drivers in NASCAR who excel on the road courses and not much else (see Marcos Ambrose), but they are still in the racecar every weekend doing the best they can and ultimately running for points.
Fellows, on the other hand, is an exception to that rule. The Canadian born driver has only competed in five races in the Nationwide Series in the past two seasons, but only has one finish outside of the top 10 in those five races (a blown engine in Montreal last season put him back in 30th).
The only statistic that still allows doubt is laps led, since he’s only led six total laps in his last five races combined, all of them coming at Road America. Still, at least when teams put him in their car, it pays off and most of the time he brings it home in one piece. The same can’t be said for other so-called “road ringers.”
*Aric Almirola* – 8th, 5th, 4th, 5th, and 5th- those are Almirola’s last five finishes. Need I say more?
I was disappointed with Almirola’s performance at the beginning of the Nationwide Series season, where his results were much too ho-hum for a veteran driver in that kind of equipment. Almirola has been in this sport much longer than young guns like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier, yet both drivers have been in Victory Lane at least once while Almirola was only occasionally finishing in the top 10.
I don’t know what changed at JR Motorsports to propel Almirola to the performance he’s shown in the last several weeks, but it’s moved him up to fourth in points. If this trend continues, we may very well see that No. 88 Chevrolet in Victory Lane before the 2011 season comes to a close.
*Honorable Mention:* Following up a third-place run at Iowa Speedway in the Nationwide Series, *Elliott Sadler* finished 10th in Watkins Glen for his best career result at the track and his 15th top 10 showing of the season.
*Clint Bowyer* – You probably haven’t given much thought to Bowyer lately, but he’s been hanging tough between 10th and 12th in points the last few weeks trying to maintain at least some hope for a spot in the Chase. Unfortunately for Bowyer, 11th in points won’t do him much good without a victory, with Denny Hamlin ,Brad Keselowski, and Paul Menard as the three drivers between 11th-20th in points with something to show in the win column. Bowyer, on the other hand, has a glaring goose egg.
The way it stands now, Keselowski and Hamlin have the two wild card spots, but with 15 different winners in 22 races this season, the field is as competitive as ever and the checkered flag is up for grabs for any of the 43 drivers on any given weekend, Bowyer included.
That being said, of the four races left before the Chase begins, Bowyer is a heckuva short track driver and should excel at Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. If he can get a win at either of those tracks and survive in Michigan and Atlanta, he _might_ be able to squeeze into the Chase. That’s assuming that other wild card hopefuls don’t add to their win totals between now and then too.
*Dale Earnhardt Jr.* – The only top 10 finishes Earnhardt has had in the last six races were the two events at Pocono, but otherwise his “top 10s” column has been stagnant. Yet unlike Bowyer, Earnhardt has remained in the top 10 in points for most of the season, but this recent downgrade in performance has slipped him closer and closer to that Chase cutoff point.
A 15th place finish at Watkins Glen moved him up to 9th in points, and gave him a 36 point cushion over Bowyer. As NASCAR’s most popular driver sees his Chase chances go in and out of focus, finishes like Sunday may be enough to keep him in the Chase this week. Next time, however, he may not be so lucky.
*Honorable Mention:* *Justin Allgaier* has finishes of 12th, 29th, and 27th in the last three races, and currently sits 5th in points, 80 spots out of the lead.
*Boris Said* – Alright, folks. Hold on tight because I have a rant to deliver.
As I said above in the Ron Fellows piece, I really get sick and tired of hearing about road ringers. I’m fine with the fact that some of them just enjoy racing in NASCAR and road course racing is their best opportunity, but I don’t place Boris Said in that category. Yes, I’m aware that Said has helped many drivers with their road course skills, but somehow he fails to show any of his own. You’d imagine with all the hype surrounding Said every time the series turns right, he’d be up front contending for the win every time he was on the track but that’s not the case
First off, Said has _never_ won a Sprint Cup Series race, and has only finished in the top 10 one time in his last 13 starts (this is dating back to 2008). He does have one win apiece in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, but that’s hardly commendable for a driver supposedly of his caliber.
I’m sure by now most of you have seen the incident he caused on the last lap of the race on Sunday, an accident that could have been avoided had Said used some common sense. Instead, a driver who usually does around two races a year, took out two drivers in a very harsh manner, one of which went airborne and flipped through the air. Not cool, Boris. Not cool.
Not to mention the pissing contest he had with Greg Biffle after the race, where he accused Biffle of being a “scaredy-cat” but failed to remove his own helmet when he tried to fight back.
I’ve had a hard time taking Said seriously in the past, and all that confrontation did was lessen any respect or credibility I placed on him at all. Reading comments on Twitter, Facebook, message boards and comments sections, I’m not alone in this. If he wants to race in NASCAR, fine, but maybe he should use the common sense he is apparently teaching younger drivers.
*Denny Hamlin* – Hamlin took one of many nasty hits we saw on Sunday, and again brought up the fact that tracks need to invest in SAFER barriers on all parts of the track. How there are some tracks who don’t see them as necessary yet still host a NASCAR race is beyond me, but eventually they’ll figure it out. Hopefully before someone is seriously injured in the process—Oh wait!
Maybe we should force WGI executives to take a long, hard look at Brad Keselowski’s busted ankle and see if that is something they want happening in a race at their track. I think not, and thankfully they’ll have an entire year to fix it.
Unfortunately for Hamlin, the DNF was yet another in a long line of post-top 10 runs as he continues to slide down through the points. Hamlin has only two top 10s in the last nine races, and he’s currently hanging onto 12th in points. Fortunately, his win at Michigan earlier this year has earned him a wild card spot which, by the way, is where the series is headed this weekend. His finishes may not show it, but there may be hope for this Virginia native yet!
*Honorable Mention:* *David Reutimann’s* terrifying crash at Watkins Glen left him in 29th in the final running order, his third consecutive finish outside of the top 20. Reutimann’s Chase chances remain slim and none, as he sits 26th in points , 86 markers out of the top 20.
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