Who’s in the headline – Weekend sweeps seem to happen quite frequently these days, with some of the winning drivers from the Cup Series running the companion races that are scheduled on many race weekends. Surprisingly, this weekend featured the first time such a sweep took place at Watkins Glen. Joey Logano had never run a road-course race in the Xfinity Series before Saturday. Following that win, his team pitted him late enough in the going of the Cup race that he could make it to the end if the race ran predominantly green. For the second time in as many weeks, that is what happened, and Logano passed fuel-starved Kevin Harvick‘s car in the final corner to grab his second victory of the weekend.
What happened – AJ Allmendinger looked poised to recapture the magic from last season with a start on the pole. He led the first 20 laps, and 21 total, but ran into an electrical issue while trying to save fuel under a caution period. Martin Truex Jr. took over the lead from Allmendinger and led for five laps, but he also had an issue late which forced him to an unscheduled pit stop. Brad Keselowski led 27 laps as the race crossed over the midway point, but their strategy ended up catching Keselowski out and he finished in the seventh spot. Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Truex pitted on lap 51 and tried to stretch the fuel to the finish. Harvick took the lead on lap 61 after the final restart of the race and did his best to save enough fuel to make it to the end. He came up one corner short and Logano passed him in the final corner to lead his only lap of the event for his second win of the season. Kyle Busch was able to get by the unpowered car of Harvick right before the finish line to score a second-place finish.
Why you should care – Another win by a previous race winner means that at least one driver without a win will make it into the Chase. Jamie McMurray had a rough finish to his race, coming home in 40th, but he is still the highest driver in the points standings without a win and looks poised to make it into the Chase on points. Kasey Kahne finished 42nd, one week after crossing the line 43rd at Pocono. The net result is he is 51 points behind Clint Bowyer for the last spot in the Chase right now – that is more than a race with four events left. Kahne is basically in a win or miss the Chase situation while driving for the biggest and best organization in the sport. Busch’s finish puts him 30th in points, six ahead of Cole Whitt. He is one point behind 29th and 31 behind 28th. Provided he doesn’t have a disastrous run at Michigan, like he did on the last trip, he’ll be solidly in the Chase.
What your friends are talking about – Not just your friends but more of the uninformed national media will be back on the racing kills people bandwagon after the family of Kevin Ward Jr. chose this weekend to file their wrongful death lawsuit against Tony Stewart. Try as they might to tell you that it is about some altruistic endeavor for the memory of their son, in reality it is purely a money grab attempting to extort cash and attention. There was no reason to make the announcement on Friday other than the fact that the media was in the area and had no race to report. The family, or lawyer, knew they’d get the most bang for their buck. The entire situation has gone from sad to ridiculous. Stewart would go out of his way to help the family if they would just look past their egos and reach out to him. Instead there are now going to be facts that will come out that will tarnish the image of their lost son/brother even more than the marijuana evidence already has.
For those who aren’t aware of it, among the many “official” sponsors of NASCAR is DraftKings, the Official Daily Fantasy Sports Partner of NASCAR. As much as NASCAR likes to try and make itself like the stick and ball sports, this appears to be one situation where they have distanced themselves dramatically. Gambling is as taboo in baseball as steroids. While the NFL is somewhat in bed with the gambling world, it is still taboo for there to be any official link between gambling and the sport. DraftKings is an open gambling operation that is somehow avoiding the downfall that took out most all of the major poker sites several years ago. However, they are somehow allowed to promote their gambling across all state lines and international borders, though they are still obviously a gambling site. How long will it be before some sort of organized crime link pops up in NASCAR and we see someone mysteriously run out of gas to lose a race? Oh wait a minute, that just happened the last two weeks.
The future of NASCAR, at least from a driving talent perspective, continues to look strong. Erik Jones, the rising star in the JGR stables is set to run some Cup series races in 2016. The success the youngster has already realized in the Truck and Xfinity series speaks to his talent and the fact that he will most certainly make it to the Cup level full-time in the not too distant future. How he’ll fit into the crowded JGR driver lineup is yet to be determined. With Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, Austin and Ty Dillon, and several other impressive wheelmen in the development series the racing talent is going to be there. Let’s just hope there is a series for them to run in.
Speaking of future talent to see in NASCAR races Lewis Hamilton, the double Formula 1 champion, admits that he would like to run a NASCAR race in the future. After having Kimi Raikkonen make a few starts in the Truck series, Hamilton would be yet another F1 champion to make the leap into the NASCAR ranks. It would be a huge public relations opportunity for the sport if nothing else. With the extensive reliance of the sport on engineers these days, the car might not really be that much different for Hamilton to run.
Ty Dillon dumped Regan Smith during the NXS race on Saturday. During the post-race debriefs near the cars, Smith confronted Dillon and an old-fashioned pissing match broke out. No one threw a punch and the only thing hurt was Dillon’s baseball hat. After the altercation, Smith vowed that there is no way the No. 3 will win the NXS championship this season. At least part of the verbal barbs thrown around during the spat centered on Dillon’s grandfather’s money. There have been quite a few drivers in the world of NASCAR that made it to the national touring level because of their family’s money. For some reason it seems like the Dillons receive far more grief about it than most anyone else. Whether it is because they actually have enough talent to win titles or people just have a problem with the Richard Childress Racing organization, it is hard to say. Whatever the case, it seems like it is going to come to a head in the very near future because the brothers are becoming more and more outspoken about the fact that they are in the series based on talent and not on money.
Who is mad – Harvick managed a third-place finish with a car that wasn’t running so he can’t be too mad. However, considering that he saved nearly two laps worth of gas and the caution that has historically fallen in the last 20 laps never came, he has to feel like he had one ripped away Sunday. He was in position to win the race with two corners to go but his engine stumbled and ultimately gave out before he made it to the finish line. Harvick has still been the dominant car of the season but things have been a little tougher the last few weeks, with a last-place run at Pocono and three thirds in the other three races.
Rick Hendrick cannot be too pleased with how things turned out this weekend at Watkins Glen. Of his four team cars, Jimmie Johnson finished 10th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th. His other two cars, Jeff Gordon and Kahne finished 41st and 42nd, while his satellite team of Stewart finished dead last and the Hendrick-powered car of McMurray ended the event 40th. For the kind of money that Hendrick pours into the sport, he cannot be too thrilled with that result.
Denny Hamlin has got to feel like Joe Gibbs Racing needs to invest in some stronger hood pins. For the second time in three weeks, Hamlin has had his hood come up on his car. On the first restart of the event, Hamlin rear-ended David Gilliland and the contact damaged the hood pins on his car, resulting in the hood flying up on his No. 11 ride. While his team cut the hood off and got him back on the track, the damage was done. Hamlin ended up buried in the pack and was only able to manage a 27th-place finish due to running out of fuel late in the event after trying to stretch his gas.
Who is happy – Bowyer managed a sixth-place run on Sunday while many of the drivers he’s competing with for the final spots in the Chase had poor runs. As a result, Bowyer is now one point behind Ryan Newman, eight points behind Gordon and 10 points behind Paul Menard. With four races to go before the cutoff, Bowyer has to feel like he controls his own destiny now being close enough to the second spot in points in the Chase that he can outrun three drivers to get there.
Matt Kenseth has had a pretty good couple of weeks. He scored his first career win at Pocono and did it with fuel mileage. Sunday he was running second late in the race and wound up milking his fuel to a fourth-place finish on a road course. In a two-week stretch where he had to feel like he was going to slide down in the points standings (not that they really matter), he has actually gained ground on most of the people ahead of him.
Sam Hornish Jr. is an IndyCar champion but he made most of his hay in that series on oval tracks. In four Watkins Glen starts before Sunday, he had a fifth-place run and two finishes in the 30s. Before Sunday, he had two top-10 runs this season and is well down in the points standings. He’s been reacclimating himself to the series this year after basically two years off and the results have been slow in coming. Hornish and new crew chief Bono Manion seem to be starting to gel and better results for Richard Petty Motorsports could be just around the corner.
When the checkered flag flew:
Logano notched his 10th career victory in the Cup series in his 241st career start. This win was his first on a road course and at Watkins Glen. The triumph is the second of the season for Logano, having grabbed the first win of the season in the Daytona 500. Logano is one of 59 drivers in the history of the sport to win double-digit races. He is tied with Donnie Allison and Sterling Marlin for 57th on the all-time win list.
Kyle Busch crossed the line in second position. This was his first second-place finish of the season. This was Busch’s third career top-two run at the Glen. In 11 career starts, he’s finished outside of the top 10 twice at the track. It is Busch’s fifth top-two run in 11 starts in 2015. It is the first time that he’s finished better than ninth and not won this season. The runner-up run is the 29th time in his career that Busch has finished as the first loser. That ties him with Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte for 24th on the all-time list.
Despite running out of gas, Harvick made it across the line in third position. It was Harvick’s 13th podium run in 22 Cup races this season. It is also his third third-place finish in four races. This was Harvick’s second career top-three at Watkins Glen. Harvick’s podium run was his 92nd of his career. That ties him with Herb Thomas on the all-time list for 22nd position.
Matt DiBenedetto finished 26th to claim Rookie of the Race honors.
Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. With four races left before the Chase, all of the race winners are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events.
The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 21 races without wins and their standing in points:
9) Jamie McMurray
11) Paul Menard
12) Jeff Gordon
13) Ryan Newman
14) Clint Bowyer
Takin’ it to the Bank:
Cup winners this year have pocketed $7,724,427 in 21 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,799,786
In the Xfinity Series it has been $1,543,708 for the winners and $278,156 for last place in 20 races.
After 12 Truck races the winner has $634,145 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $117,788.
What is in the cooler
The road-course races on the schedule have become the new short tracks for the Cup series. Late-race antics have led to fender-banging, paint-swapping, tire-smoking battles that have come down to the last corner. Sunday had none of those elements. For the second weekend in a row, the race was a fuel-mileage battle that NASCAR, to their credit, let play out to the end. That meant, for the second weekend in a row, a driver ran out of gas on the final lap to lose the lead to the eventual race winner. Aside from that suspense the Watkins Glen race was rather tame compared the the last few years. The suspense of the finish boosts it a little but it still only garners four Seneca Lodge Amber Ales.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The Cup Series heads back to the Irish Hills of Michigan but the racing will be a little different this time around. NASCAR is employing the high drag package that it debuted at Indianapolis. It was less than a rousing success at Indy, we’ll see how it goes over on the wide, multi-groove surface of Michigan International Speedway. To see the action on Sunday August 16th, tune into NBC Sports Network at 2:30 p.m. ET. If you would rather listen than watch, you can hear the action on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.