It’s not often that a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race turns into a fuel mileage affair, but that was case on Sunday at Watkins Glen. The difficult thing about fuel mileage races for these drivers is that they have spent their entire careers being told and trying to figure out how to go as fast as they can. So when it comes time to take it easy on the gas pedal, or let off a little earlier and tap on the gas a little later when getting in and out of the corners, it’s just not an easy thing to do. Maybe Martin Truex Jr. learned how to make it a little longer on a tank while driving between stops on the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway in his home state? Nonetheless, he ended up parked in victory lane Sunday due to his fuel saving skills.
Truex has been fast all year and it seems like more often than not it’s either him or Kyle Busch that have the fastest car on race day. And even though this was a road course race, it certainly appeared that way again on Sunday. However, give Truex some credit for realizing early enough that he needed to back off and save fuel knowing then-leader Brad Keselowski would have to pit and thinking that the young Ryan Blaney maybe isn’t adept at the fuel mileage game just yet. It turned out to be the right call and was especially satisfying for Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn, who lost a close friend earlier in the week. A win doesn’t come close to replacing the loss of someone close, but it was not hard not to be happy for Pearn and Truex, along with Truex’s girlfriend Sherry Pollex, whose been fighting her own battle for cancer and who was able to enjoy the moment in Victory lane too.
What a difference two weeks made for Kasey Kahne. The driver of the No. 5 put himself in the playoffs with a win at Indianapolis, but now just two weeks later he found that his contract won’t be renewed by Hendrick Motorsports for 2018. That’s not really a surprise given Kahne’s overall performance in recent years. The win at Indianapolis broke a 102-race winless streak. While that was part of the problem, the real issue is that it has been rare to see Kahne even compete for wins in the last three seasons. Once that happens, the sponsors start drying up as well. The combination of lack of competitiveness and lack of money makes the decision pretty simple for any team owner.
Give credit to Watkins Glen and track officials and staff there for making it the place to be for NASCAR fans in recent years. The track sold out for the third straight year and while this year’s race wasn’t as quite as thrilling as some have been in the past, it still had the fuel-mileage drama at the end and the Kyle-being-mad-at-Brad drama, too, and that’s always a fun to listen to and watch, even when you are not a huge fan of either. The point here is that Watkins Glen must be a fun place to watch a race (I haven’t been there yet) or the people wouldn’t keep paying the money to go or return there. I’m not convinced that other traditional tracks using their road courses will make for the same type of races we get at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, with their hills and undulations. It helps make the racing on those tracks unique and difficult to copy. A good reason for fans to go.
It seems things can’t get worse for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the track. He didn’t have a chance on Sunday due to a mechanical failure that took him out after 20 laps. In terms of his on the track results, Junior’s farewell tour has been pretty disappointing for his fans. He has just three top 10 finishes in the 22 races this season. He is 23rd in points and needs a win to make the playoffs. It would be a great story if that win happened in the final regular season race at Richmond, where he has been good before. Give Junior credit for handling his tough season with class. Maybe a good break will come his way sometime soon.
I’ve been highly critical of NBC’s coverage of NASCAR at times, but give them credit for coming up with a great way to cover a road race. Much like we hear on the radio broadcasts, NBC placed announcers at several different corners around the track to give us a different viewpoints and perspectives on what was taking place. It was refreshing because instead of the announcers watching what is on the monitor in front of them (they would have no other choice on a road course), we got to hear reactions to what they were seeing right there on the track. It would be interesting to see how that concept would work for TV on the big tracks like Daytona, Talladega, Indianapolis and Pocono. They wouldn’t need five or six different announcers out there, but maybe ones in the middle of the corners at each of those tracks would work. Nonetheless, it worked Sunday and it was good.
While NASCAR has been saying so long to Junior for the season, Sunday was the final ride for one of the road-course specialists, who worked hard to try and not be known as that, in Boris Said. Before the full-time Cup drivers caught on to the road racing style, it was not unusual for Said to take inferior equipment and put it in the top 10 on the road course. One of his most notable finishes was fourth at the July Daytona race in 2006. He also had a fourth-place finish at Sonoma. Said has been a bit of character, even with his old Said Head fan club being a thing a few years ago. But he’s a good character and I will miss seeing him run with NASCAR’s best, even if it is just for a couple of races a year.
The Cup series heads to the second Michigan race next Sunday and it’s a place that has been good to Junior in the past, so yes, there is a little hope there for Junior Nation. But I’m going to say that the encumbered Joey Logano ends a disappointing season with a legal trip to victory lane this week. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick is Trevor Bayne . . . just because back in the day it was hard not to pick a Roush driver to do well at Michigan.