Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2017 I Love NY 355 at The Glen

Who… gets the shoutout of the race?

The Toyota machines of Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez are leading the headlines after Watkins Glen International, and it’s for a good reason. But fellow Toyota driver Matt Kenseth got lost in the shuffle, finishing second when the checkered flag flew, a career-best finish on a road course in his 17-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Previously, Kenseth’s best career finish at Watkins Glen was fourth in 2015. But a 14th-place average finish didn’t have the Cambridge, Wisconsin native on the radar as someone who could win entering Sunday’s 90-lapper.

The finish wasn’t only good for Kenseth’s road course confidence, but also for his playoff chances. He’s now unofficially 28 points clear of the cut line with four races remaining in the regular season. In the midst of all the silly season talk, he just keeps plugging away. And with his stealthy nature, don’t be surprised if he wins a race sooner rather than later.

What… happened between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski?

On lap 44, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch made contact entering the inner loop, which resulted in the pair spinning out and losing considerable ground.

Yes, this isn’t the first time these two have tangled at Watkins Glen. And it’s not the first time Busch has been unhappy with Keselowski, either. Busch was unhappy on the radio after the incident, going as far as saying if he caught the No. 2 car, he’d make it interesting. Having to pit due to a loose wheel right before the start of Stage 2 didn’t help matters for Rowdy, either.

After the spin, pit road mishap and varying strategy forcing the No. 18 car to pit with five laps to go, Busch crossed the finish line in seventh. Keselowski came home 15th after leading the majority of the final stage, but ducked to pit road with three laps to go. All in all, the Rochester Hills, Michigan native led 20 laps, but left empty handed.

One thing is for sure: there is no love lost between these two former champions.

When… will Dale Earnhardt Jr. be able to turn it around?

Another race weekend, another early exit, bad finish and a depressing Dale Earnhardt Jr. interview.

A broken valve train forced the No. 88 Chevrolet to retire from the event after only 22 laps, finishing dead last. Earnhardt hasn’t finished in the top 10 since Sonoma, and this was his third DNF in the last six races. This is also his ninth finish of 30th or worse this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Day Ends Early in Watkins Glen

At least next weekend is Michigan, where he has won twice, most recently in 2012. But the Kannapolis, North Carolina native doesn’t seem ready to grace Victory Lane anytime soon. Results don’t lie. And when you unload off the truck four seconds behind the leader, a lot of work is left to be done.

Where… did the defending race winner end up?

Denny Hamlin wound up fourth after a bit of a whirlwind afternoon in Upstate New York.

After qualifying 11th, the No. 11 team was forced to change the brakes and start the I Love New York 355 from the rear. Hamlin wasted no time in his march to the front. He made his way inside the top 20 before the conclusion of the first stage, which is extremely hard to do at a road course.

And at the end of stage two, he was sixth. Crew chief Mike Wheeler employed a strategy that ultimately saw him finish fourth when it was all said and done. Hamlin’s top-five run was the eighth of his season and second fourth-place finish in a row. Plus, he did it with his wife expecting their second child, having Regan Smith waiting on the sideline if needed. I don’t care who you are: that has to be in the back of your mind, even when you’re going 180+ mph.

Why… did Martin Truex Jr. win?

Simple answer: because he saved enough fuel.

Different answer: because Truex, the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team and Toyota may be the best in the sport at the moment.

About halfway through the third and final stage, the strategy picture began to look clearer. Almost every driver in the top 20 was going to be close on fuel, so they started saving. Truex Jr. wound up giving the lead to Keselowski, who ultimately pitted for fuel. Then, he gave the lead to Ryan Blaney, who ultimately ran out of fuel and had to pit.

So there he was, running slower lap times for the last 20 or so laps, saving as much fuel as he could and trying to gap the field. But when the white flag flew, Kenseth was on his bumper. The No. 78 car was able to hold him off (albeit after a left front tire lock up in turn 10), and earn his fourth win of the season. His playoff point total is now up to a whopping 34, too.

How… does the playoff picture look with four races remaining?

Relatively clear. There are three spots remaining for possible winners. Currently, they’re occupied by Chase Elliott (+39), Jamie McMurray (+34) and Matt Kenseth (+28).

Clint Bowyer (-28) and Joey Logano (-95) are on the outside looking in as of now. But what we’ve known for a couple weeks still holds true: the guys on the outside need to win, and the guys on the inside just can’t have a really bad weekend. Top 15 finishes and Kenseth will be fine.

About the author

Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.

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Bill B

Top 15 finishes and Kenseth will be fine? I don’t think so. With the points awarded for stages there can be much larger point swings. For instance if Kenseth finishes 15th next week without gaining any stage points and Bowyer finishes 16th with a 3rd and 4th place finish in stages 1 and 2, Bowyer would gain 14 points and cut Kenseth’s lead in half.

Mike vaughan

Toyota should be winning. Since nascar tilts the rules toward toyota. Nascar limited horsepower bc the toyotas were blowing up when the fords and chevrolets were making 850 hp so nasczr changed the rules to max 750hp so toyota can compete. And the rule change previously with the front splitter has given toyota a further advantage. Hard to beat nascar and toyota

Ken

On Friday at Michigan, Chevrolet is supposed to be unveiling their 2018 Cup car. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if when they pulled the cover off, there was nothing but a bunch of cardboard boxes under the cover? Then Chevrolet announce that they were bailing on NASCAR at the end of the year? What would Brian do then?

kb

Correct. I say that all the time, your facts which are correct and I am told sour grapes! Why, because it is true. How in the hell did these dominate teams not put up a fuss with that expensive rules package change, that was very obvious to make the Cup look like Xifinity!!!!!! Jesus Joe and Toys found their niche in the baby series, they were sucking at the CUP level, embarrassing engine blowups all the time..and BRIAN TINKERED WITH THE PACKAGE TO SAVE AND PROMOTE ONE MANUFACTURE AND TEAM. ABOVE OTHERS!!!!! UNPROFESSIONAL AND IRRESPONSIBLE BY BRIAN FRANCE! MOST fans see this and it does irk fans, he does not care. How could anybody not connect the dots the TOYS were going boom because their engines sucked! Talk about lowering the bar to let the winded, run out of steam quickly fat kid play with the big boys!!!! Not only did NASCAR give TOYS a huge participation trophy like the fat kid, they rearranged the whole sport so the fat kid could shine and win!!!!!!!!!!!!!

IMO~How embarrassing for the sport, the teams and the lame reason NASCAR gave. Well those idiots owners and manufacturers hopefully are ruing the day, they bent over cheeks up and agreed! WHO DID NOT SEE THIS GARBAGE COMING MILES DOWN THE ROAD?????? ONLY an IDIOT!

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