The Headline(s): What difference does a year make? None at Watkins Glen International. Capping a dominant run from the pole that saw him win both stages of the Go Bowling at the Glen, Chase Elliott snapped a two-month cold streak with his second consecutive win at the road course, keeping a hard-charging Martin Truex, Jr. at bay for the entirety of the race’s final stage.
— Dawsonville Pool Room (@DawsonPoolRoom) August 4, 2019
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 4, 2019
The race would stay green despite the spin and saw Busch battle back from 10th into the top five by the end of stage one, with Aric Almirola battling through a broken shifter to stay in the top 15 and the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Hamlin and Truex passing outside pole sitter Byron. While Elliott comfortably won the stage, the fireworks came in the back of the top five, with Busch retaliating and pushing Byron into the grass in the bus stop chicane to end the stage. At the egging of crew chief Chad Knaus, Byron went after Busch under yellow (more on that later)… and got it wrong.
William Byron went to express his displeasure with Kyle Busch…
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 4, 2019
With Elliott coming to pit road, the lead was handed off to Kyle Larson for the start of the second stage. Larson would hold the lead until pitting on lap 29, allowing Elliott to retake the point until a lap 33 caution when Reed Sorenson dropped fluid over much of the track. Elliott had a clean restart on lap 37 but was in for a fight with Truex for the stage win, a battle that was derailed on lap 39 when Bubba Wallace spun off the track into the tire barriers in turn 5, ending the stage under yellow.
The start of the final stage on lap 44 marked the beginning of a 40-plus lap battle between Elliott and Truex for the race win. Despite numerous incidents (Ryan Newman cut a tire and Blaney went off course around lap 50, while Daniel Hemric spun after contact with Ty Dillon entering the bus stop on lap 52), the race would stay green until lap 61, when simultaneous incidents saw Jimmie Johnson hit the tire barrier in turn 5 after contact from Blaney, and Busch dumped on the frontstretch after contact from Wallace exiting turn 7.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) August 4, 2019
As both Elliott and Truex had made their final stops before the lap 61 yellow, the two restarted as the leaders on lap 66, with the two making contact on the initial lap. But Truex failed to make the pass.
Though Truex showed significant strength both entering and exiting the bus stop, Elliott’s strength of drive off, both from the carousel and through the esses, mitigated Truex’s gains on the rest of the track. Elliott was error-proof over the final 10 laps, driving away to victory.
Why You Should Care: If there’s one person I miss seeing and hearing in the press box on the Cup tour, it’s Monte Dutton (and not just because of his uncanny ability to estimate the size of NASCAR crowds). So reading Dutton’s latest column prior to the weekend’s races, it was hard not to see the generational gap that he described on display at the Glen.
For one, check out the battle for the race win.
Given the prowess that father Bill Elliott displayed on the road courses for decades of Cup racing, it may not be surprising to see the younger Elliott so adept to Watkins Glen. But watching him run picture-perfect lap after lap Sunday with a snarling Truex breathing down his neck (remember Truex made contact with Elliott in turn 1 and the esses on the lap 66 restart) was truly worthy of a Hendrick Motorsports organization that’s no stranger to road course strength. Jeff Gordon was arguably the greatest road racer of the last 20 years, while Tim Richmond’s 1987 win at Riverside is still one of the great performances ever seen turning a stock car left and right.
Such a display is a strong case for the optimism that Dutton espoused in his Friday column. Sadly, much of what made headlines for this new generation outside of Elliott’s checkered flag was not so encouraging. For one, look at the drivers Dutton listed as showing signs of personality: Alex Bowman, Jones, Daniel Suarez and Hemric. While Jones did score a career-best road course result in finishing fourth, Bowman was the invisible man on a day when Hendrick cars were involved in everything good, bad and ugly at the Glen, Suarez finished 17th after a bad tire rub and Hemric 35th after crashing exiting the bus stop. Non-factor is their word of the day.
More distressingly, the headlines that this new generation made were petulant.
Let’s start with Byron, who had reason to be upset about Busch dumping him on lap 20. Byron did nothing wrong racing with Busch on lap 2 to warrant being spun. Having said that, allowing veteran crew chief Chad Knaus to goad him into going after Busch under yellow, and then destroying the front end of his car because Busch saw him coming and brake-checked him was a laughable display. A seven-time champion crew chief losing his cool. A sophomore driver again having his hand held to the point his crew chief had to tell him to use a bumper. And, brake-check or not, wrecking one’s own car under yellow. As much as Busch deserves anything he has coming to him on a racetrack, it was good to see Byron get comeuppance for a pathetic display that occurred under yellow. Never acceptable.
Wallace’s scrap with Busch was slightly less laughable, but that’s only because Wallace had already wrecked his car in a lap 39 solo accident. In this case, Busch actually had cause to make contact with the No. 43 car, as Wallace drove Busch down on turn 7 exit the width of the frontstretch before Busch doored Wallace’s machine. Wallace then finished the incident, spinning the No. 18 down the frontstretch.
That whole episode kind of played out like a Twitter troll throwing shade, hoping that @realdonaldtrump would take the bait and bring an army of followers (and to be fair, Wallace earned plenty of social media plaudits for his antics). But watching Wallace poke the bear was again, laughable. Watching a driver who hasn’t scored a top-10 finish use his wrecked car to spin the points leader, and then go as far as to say he did it to “get respect on the track” comes off a lot like Danica Patrick every time she got into tussles on track. Scoring a top-20 finish with a car in one piece seems a more surefire way to gain “respect.”
That’s not to say it was just the new generation throwing tantrums on the track, the frustration of results fading obviously setting it. Besides Knaus’ tirade on the pit box, his former driver Johnson sounded borderline unhinged in describing his post-race anger at Blaney.
Jimmie Johnson was pretty upset with Ryan Blaney after their on-track run in. After their talk here, Johnson said Blaney was “quivering” and “scared shitless” because he didn’t know what to say during their conversation. #nascar pic.twitter.com/N3Zpd4x9Cl
— John Haverlin (@JohnHaverlin) August 4, 2019
I don’t really see Blaney quivering in that video. Besides, when has any racing Blaney ever been known for being verbose?
Payback from Justin Allgaier?
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 3, 2019
The generational gap was on display at the Glen. Less a changing of the guard, more the new guard raging and the old guard leaving kicking and screaming.
Drivers Who Accomplished Something
Elliott. See above for how impressive a drive he had. More importantly, the No. 9 for the first time in months looked like the flagship for the Hendrick camp.
Joe Gibbs Racing for the second week in a row proved as an organization to be lightyears ahead of the field. Truex was literally the only car in the field in the same league as Elliott’s, with his runner-up result his third consecutive top 10. Hamlin’s third-place finish was his fourth consecutive top five and his best at the Glen since 2016. Jones’ fourth-place finish was his fourth consecutive top five and his career-best at the Glen. Even Matt DiBenedetto got in on the action, besting Brad Keselowski late to score his third top 10 in the last five races and a career-best at the Glen.
As for Busch, finishing 11th despite the damage that comes with two on-track squabbles is impressive enough. Brake-checking Byron under yellow was the backhand move of the season. And during Saturday’s Xfinity race, prior to breaking a suspension piece, Busch was so dominant over the rest of the field that even eventual runner-up (and road race ace) AJ Allmendinger admitted that the rest of the field essentially had their heads down when it came to winning the race. There are few drivers who can go through a weekend with two broken cars, no trophies, no top 10s and still be the dominant force in the garage. Rowdy is one.
For the second week in a row, Blaney rebounded from in-race trouble that has plagued his 2019 season, only to deliver a solid finish (fifth). Kevin Harvick scored his third consecutive top 10 finish. Larson finished eighth, padding his lead over the playoff bubble to 46 points by being the only driver not named Elliott or Truex to lead more than one lap on Sunday.
Lastly, a shoutout to the ever-consistent Michael McDowell, who scored his fifth consecutive top-20 finish at the Glen.
Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing
Byron and Wallace. See above.
Newman’s eventful second half of Sunday’s race (a flat tire on lap 50, followed by contact in turn 1 that sent Austin Dillon spinning on lap 68 resulted in a 25th place finish. That’s the worst for the No. 6 team since Kansas in May, and it dropped the rocket man from the playoff bubble to below it based on the tiebreaker with Johnson.
Speaking of Austin Dillon, his spin on lap 68 was almost a mercy kill, given the struggles the No. 3 team had all race long prior to it in the bus stop. But Dillon was hardly immune to struggles on Sunday that plagued Richard Childress Racing, and even their satellite team at Germain Racing. Lap 52 saw contact between Hemric and Ty Dillon send Hemric into the wall at the bus stop, with Hemric relegated to 35th a week after a top 10 run at Pocono. Ty Dillon was the only top 30 finisher amongst this camp of Chevrolets.
It’s hard to say who had a worse day on Sunday, Sorenson or his Spire Motorsports No. 77 team. Besides bringing out the caution on lap 33 for dropping fluid, Sorenson and team were penalized six times on pit road, including a speeding penalty that saw the No. 77 too fast in nine different segments. Sorenson finished dead last in 37th, his worst finish since Talladega last spring.
Insights, Opinions and Fake News
While Spire Motorsports was the worst offender on the day, the reverse pit road at Watkins Glen proved truly treacherous for backmarker teams Sunday. Chastain got caught speeding on pit road in the No. 15. Josh Bilicki drove away from his pit box in the Rick Ware Racing No. 52 with the gas can still attached. And Corey LaJoie’s No. 32 team was busted for differing violations twice on pit road before being parked by NASCAR late, apparently for failing to meet minimum speed (author’s note: the original tweet stating the team was parked had been deleted).
The pure racing side of me still says that Watkins Glen needs to utilize the “boot” section of the road course every other year because to truly test the road racing prowess of the Cup Series’ drivers, the course layouts need to change. That’s the racing purity side. But, given that NASCAR racing in 2019 has skewed far to the side of putting on the best show, the Glen needs to keep the boot off the circuit. The current stock car configuration of Watkins Glen is the best there is anywhere in America for hosting stock cars and put on two shows worth watching in two days. Besides, Sonoma showed all too well what experimenting with a road course can do to screw it up…
That’s not to say that there’s not items to address (or not) with the circuit at the Glen. For one, as Frontstretch alum Nick Bromberg brought up, there’s something not quite right about turn 5 exit being literally three lanes off course from the drop of the green flag.
Something should be done with this runoff area off the carousel. The fastest way around Watkins Glen shouldn’t involve going off course lap after lap. pic.twitter.com/4R7Y3eeA6t
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) August 4, 2019
Our solutions, however, differ. I have no issue with the direction the cars take exiting turn 5. My question is: can anything be done to remove the curbs on the driver’s side of turn 5 exit?
The other more controversial proposal that came up on social media circled around the grass in the bus stop, which filled the grills of numerous drivers that went off course Sunday.
— Andrew Higginbotham (Higgy) (@ThePyrofretnic) August 4, 2019
This one’s a no-brainer: leave the grass where it is. There’s a reason it’s hazardous to go off course on a road course. Namely, there should be a penalty for drivers that can’t stay on it. ESPN went as far as to note that Formula 1 racing has suffered for removing so many hazards from its courses that drivers seldom face a penalty for getting off-track. Anything that moves NASCAR in a direction that involves quiet hybrid engines and race seasons where one driver wins 67% of the races in a season is the wrong move. Even if Hungary and Germany were good races.
There was a surprising amount of social media uproar about the Canadian national anthem being played prior to the start of Sunday’s race.
I’m just here for the “Why is NASCAR playing the Canadian National Anthem” tweets. I thought it was cool 🤷🏼♂️ #Canada #USA #NASCAR #WatkinsGlen #GoBowlingAtTheGlen #NationalAnthem pic.twitter.com/NhJxw1KBGU
— Alex Wright (@AlexWright1028) August 4, 2019
While this is not a new practice (until this spring, Michigan International Speedway played it prior to races), it’s not something that the Glen did last year for the Cup race. Which begs the question, why add it this year?
Last note on Watkins Glen, congratulations on five consecutive announced grandstand sellouts. Two important notes here for those advocating that a second date for the Glen is needed. One, let’s keep some perspective. The Glen’s seating capacity is under 40,000, among the smallest for any NASCAR track hosting a Cup race. Second, the Glen gets one bite at the apple with only one race date a year. One date a year makes their race a must-see event, and the crowds on hand showed that. Kudos to the Glen for a job well done, and a lesson learned for NASCAR’s schedule makers. Sometimes less is more.
Since leaving Kyle Busch Motorsports, it’s safe to say that Byron has accomplished far more in his career than Wallace. But having said that, when it comes to behaving like their former owner, maybe Bubba was the better student?
Some people are better at it then others lol https://t.co/obcS2XMkib
— Jim Utter (@jim_utter) August 4, 2019
2005, Kyle Busch wrecked underfunded driver Anthony Lazzaro on the cooldown lap. 2012, he pouted about being involved in one of the greatest finishes in recent memory while Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose slapped fives and celebrated their slip-sliding final lap. Today, he picked fights with two drivers outside the top 10 in points for relatively minor scrapes. What is it about Rowdy and the Glen that brings out such petulant behavior?
Best Paint Scheme: Landon Cassill. Two straight weeks for the StarCom Racing team to take this award.
Be sure to check out Whole Harvest if you’re ever in the Saratoga Springs area! 🤤 pic.twitter.com/9cM13R1nDx
— StarCom Racing (@StarcomRacing) August 1, 2019
And this time, it’s not sarcastic.
New England’s Speed Learning Certificate: Austin Dillon. When the leaders were running him down in the closing laps, Dillon yielded to Elliott and Truex headed to turn 7, as opposed to being a moving chicane that tried to obstruct Harvick at New Hampshire.
How It Rated: It wasn’t as good as Saturday’s race, but we’ll call Sunday’s event a spare to make the best of a 7-10 split.
What’s the Point(s): Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Hamlin, Harvick, Keselowski, Joey Logano and Truex have locked into the playoffs by winning races in 2019. If the playoffs were to start today, Almirola, Blaney, Byron, Jones, Larson, Clint Bowyer and Johnson would point their way in. Johnson currently is tied on points with Newman, but his best finish of third (summer Daytona race) trumps Newman’s fifth.
Up Next: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to Michigan for their second trip to the Michigan International Speedway. Coverage from the Irish Hills begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.