Saturday’s (Aug. 4) Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International had a little bit of everything — rain, pit strategy and domination by Team Penske, as Joey Logano won for the third time in his last four starts at the famed road course.
As stage 1 came to a close, Logano decided not to pit, instead winning the stage. At the beginning of stage 2, the No. 22 team had to come through the field, though the skies decided to open up, which shuffled the running order up. He finished sixth in the second stage.
During the sprint to the finish, Logano needed a rash of late-race cautions to catch him up to Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson, who had pulled away from the field. On what turned out to be the final restart of the race, the No. 22 made it three-wide entering Turn 1, edging head of the No. 12 and Ryan Preece.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 4, 2018
Logano led the final eight laps, en route to his second checkered flag of the season.
“It comes down to the end of it like the last few years, it seems like it’s the two of us battling it out like crazy,” Logano said after the race. “I was working as hard as I can there. It was a fun battle. These XFINITY cars have a really good package around this race track for some racing because there’s just enough draft to keep the leader from pulling away.”
It wasn’t supposed to rain on Saturday in Watkins Glen, NY, but then again, we are speaking of New York.
As the race began, a cell began to build up around Rochester, NY, 80 miles northwest of WGI. However, that cell became bigger, and as Stage 1 came to a close, spotters could see the rain closing in on the action.
After the yellow flag came out on lap 26, the rain hit the racetrack, NASCAR had teams come to the pits to put on rain tires and a windshield wiper. And for the rest of the stage, strategy became an issue for some teams.
A handful of laps were ran in a downpour. However, a caution for Vinnie Miller brought out the red flag, and the rain began to lighten. When the yellow flag was displayed, many teams came to the pits to put on fresh rubber, getting away from rain tires.
For the final two laps of the stage, those cars, led by Brad Keselowski, eased around the track because it was still damp. The No. 12 raced up to seventh, while Preece was next in line in 10th.
The last time the XFINITY Series ran in the rain was at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August of 2016 when Justin Marks dominated. However, that race probably would have been better had it been run with boats because it was too much rain. Saturday’s event at The Glen had just enough rain to tease fans, though it was still good, hard racing.
Both drivers were out of the racing groove and Tifft spun in front of Haley, who had already been into the outside guardrail. However, the No. 24 drove into the No. 2, as Haley had nowhere to go.
Here's a look at the incident involving the 2 and 24.
Neither were able to drive their machines back to pit road. pic.twitter.com/nVwpMikFnR
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) August 4, 2018
This was the only multi-car incident on the day, and it dropped Tifft to 10th in the championship standings after finishing 26th at Iowa Speedway last weekend. On Saturday, he finished 37th.
WGI was Haley’s third and final scheduled XFINITY race of the season for GMS Racing. In the trio of events, the 19-year-old had a best finish of 12th at Iowa. He crossed the checkered flag first at Daytona, but passed Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler below the yellow line, thus the victory was taken away. The No. 24 finished 18th at the World Center of Racing before placing 38th at The Glen.
Rain played a huge role in the race, but so did tire barriers.
It started from the beginning. On lap 4, Tommy Joe Martins lost his brakes heading into Turn 6, where the car wouldn’t turn. The No. 78 went straight into the tire barriers, and Martins described the incident as being the “most disappointed he’s been in a long time.”
Yes, the problem started from a brake failure, which Kaz Grala, Spencer Boyd and others had issues with in qualifying. But when Martins drove into the tire barrier, it destroyed the race car, damaging all of the front suspension. When getting towed away, the right front tire of the No. 78 was detached from the car and the rescue crews had to go retrieve it, an all around mess.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 4, 2018
On lap 35, four laps into green flag racing in the rain, Vinnie Miller locked up his front wheels going into Turn 1, where his JD Motorsports Chevrolet wouldn’t turn, driving through the tire barriers.
When you use a mushroom at the wrong time in Mario Kart.
Vinnie Miller is the latest to get into the tires. pic.twitter.com/YK4fuwk0QJ
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) August 4, 2018
This caused a red flag of 10:24 so that the tires could be placed back where they belonged, after moving upward of 20 feet.
Tire barriers are used at road courses to soften the impact from the guardrail, thus it did its job. However, a driver never wants to end up in the tire barriers, something that happened more than normal on Saturday.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Brandon Jones had an eventful race, coming from the back to the front on a few occasions, though his race almost came to a close on lap 19 when spinning out of the bus stop, nudging into the tire barriers.
Jones began the race in 20th, his worst starting position of the season. He remained there through much of the stage, but with the spin, the No. 19 car finished the stage one lap down in 32nd.
Stage 2 was about redemption for Jones, racing up to 15th and in position to strike after the rain went away. But competing in the rain was an adventure for the third-year driver.
“With the rain and the spin we had, seventh is pretty awesome,” Jones said after the race. “All in all a phenomenal day, and I thought we had a great shot at it. I think we have some momentum going into Mid-Ohio.”
In the final stage, Jones continued to move through the field. After gaining a handful of spots on the final restart, the No. 19 crossed the finish line in seventh, his first top 10 at WGI.
This finish marks the first of three road courses in the next month for the XFINITY Series. Jones’ best-career road course finish prior to Saturday was a 13th at The Glen in 2016.
“I think that’s a great start, top 10. We’ll go to the next one here and be good,” Jones said.
After talking to the media, Jones admitted of not feeling well and sat against his No. 19, dumping water over his head.
— Dustin Albino (@DustinAlbino) August 4, 2018
Double Duty Interlopers
This XFINITY race at Watkins Glen might as well just been called the Cup Series Invitational, as there were eight double duty drivers.
Joey Logano started from the pole, and went on to lead a race-high 31 laps, en route to his 30th career XFINITY victory. AJ Allmendinger raced from 25th to second late in the race, where he had to serve two penalties.
— GMS Racing (@GMSRacingLLC) August 4, 2018
Aric Almirola, who was competing in his first race since the season-opening event at Daytona, had a trio of penalties, though driving the No. 98 Ford back up to fifth. Brad Keselowski was the last Cup driver inside the top 10 (tenth), though was battling Logano for the victory with three laps to go when the No. 12 wheel-hopped, losing 15 seconds.
Ross Chastain finished 20th, meanwhile picking up three stage points in the second stage. Austin Dillon placed 25th, after overcoming a plethora of problems, including two pit road penalties and a flat left rear tire. Kyle Larson had late fuel pressure problems and finished 27th, while Josh Bilicki lost power with 15 laps to go, finishing 32nd.
“Every time a car goes by you, you kind of go, ‘Ahhh, I need to go a little harder,’ and every lap it gets a little drier so you go a little bit more and a little bit more, and you’re just sliding all over.” – Joey Logano
“I am not a road racer by trade by any means.” – Ryan Preece
“The hardest part was seeing and the fast straightaways. You get so much spray… We never got to run on a damp race track where you could attack, run hard and still slip and slide. We were pretty much trying to not run into one another because the spray is so bad, you just can’t see.” – Brandon Jones
NASCAR racing in the rain is fun to watch, but can be troublesome for sure.
Friday’s practice sessions were filled with rain, seeing mostly rookie drivers attempt a lap, mandated by NASCAR. None of the experienced teams and drivers posted a time because rain was diminishing in the forecast for the Zippo 200.
But midway through the second stage, rain drenched the famed road course and AJ Allmendinger led the way. The downpour remained around the track for 10 green laps, but hadn’t it been for a Vinnie Miller drive through the tire barriers it would have been a bit more.
Team Penske dominated yet another road course race at Watkins Glen, making it three victories in the past four races for Logano.
The XFINITY Series heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course next weekend, where Sam Hornish Jr. is the defending winner. It’ll mark the second of three road courses during the month of August for the series, as Road America is at the end of the month.