Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Watkins Glen: There’s Trouble in Hendrick Paradise

What happened?

On a late restart, Kyle Larson moved Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott to take the lead and held off AJ Allmendinger to earn his second NASCAR Cup Series victory of 2022 at Watkins Glen International. Joey Logano, Elliott and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top-five finishers.

It was Larson’s second straight win in Sunday’s (Aug. 21) Go Bowling At The Glen.

How did it happen?

Elliott had the race all but wrapped up with less than 10 laps to go. The Hendrick driver had led 24 laps before lap 80 and was well ahead of second-place Larson. However, as many NASCAR races have taught us this year, it’s never over until it’s over.

The first late caution occurred after sports car veteran Joey Hand spun in turn 1 and ended in the tire barriers on lap 80.

Despite the stoppage, Elliott remained unfazed as he kept the lead from the clutches of a field hungry for extra playoff points two races before the end of the regular season.

Unfortunately for Elliott, it was a fleeting effort, as Loris Hezemans ended up in the gravel with only seven laps to go to bring out the final caution.

The restart came with only five laps left of green flag racing. All the No. 9 seemingly had to do was clear the field out of turn 1. With HMS teammate Larson restarting alongside, there appeared to be just minimal risk of a turn 1 incident costing Elliott the victory.

Turns out Larson had other ideas.

With Larson cleared and pulling away from Allmendinger, Elliott could only watch and try to pull damage control. In the end, he climbed back into fourth when it was all said and done but his chances for the win evaporated.

Instead, Larson went on to win his second consecutive victory at the New York-based road course.

Who stood out?

While there was no new surprise winner at the Glen, Michael McDowell truly looked like he was going to play that Cinderella role for the majority of Sunday’s race.

The sports car racing veteran not only hovered in the top five for the entire 90-lap feature event, but he actually took the lead for eight laps, easily the fastest car on the track early on.

Of course, that was during wet conditions, an experienced road racer’s bread and butter.

As the track dried, McDowell pitted for increasingly faster slick tires and lost the lead in the shuffle. While other drivers and underdogs faded, however, McDowell remained inside the top five.

By the time the penultimate caution waved with 10 laps to go, McDowell was running third behind leaders Elliott and Larson waiting to pounce in case the two HMS drivers raced each other too hard for the top spot.

Alas, on the ensuing restart, McDowell lost positions and fell out of the top five.

On the final restart, McDowell still wasn’t able to gain any ground, ending his Sunday efforts with a sixth-place result.

It wasn’t the win the Front Row Motorsports team needed to qualify for the playoffs, but it was another excellent result for the team in what has been the No. 34’s most successful year.

The result marked the Arizonian’s 10th top-10 result of 2022, which is double his career record of five set one year ago. With that, this year has already proved to be McDowell’s most successful of his long Cup career, despite the fact he likely won’t qualify for the playoffs. His only chance of doing so now is with a win at Daytona International Speedway next weekend.

But hey, he’s won there before….

Who fell flat?

There were six foreign-born drivers competing in Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, the most in Cup Series history.

Only one of them finished in the top 25.

It was pretty harsh to expect drivers competing in underfunded race teams to challenge for race wins, of course. It would have been almost ludicrous to expect Daniil Kvyat to be running inside the top 10 in Team Hezeberg’s secondary car. Heck, even expecting primary driver Hezemans to run up front would have been pretty farfetched.

But, you know, with all of the attention the six were getting during the weekend, it would have been nice to see one of them aside from Suarez making a headline.

First, let’s talk about the most famous one.

Kimi Räikkönen may not have the NASCAR experience, but he did have a successful organization supporting him throughout the weekend in Trackhouse Racing Team.

It was probably the most anticipated debut of the 2022 Cup Series season and the 2007 Formula 1 World Champion was running rather smoothly to start. While Räikkönen started deep in the field, the Iceman ended his first career Cup stage in 19th after making his way through traffic.

Before long, Räikkönen was actually inside the top 10.

For a while, it was fun to watch the former Scuderia Ferrari driver make his way through the field and mix it up with the best in stock car racing. In fact, he really seemed like he belonged.

Sadly, Räikkönen’s day was cut short in a crash through the backstretch chicane.

It wasn’t an incident of his making, but it was still a tragic way to see the end of the Iceman’s efforts. He would wind up credited with a 37th-place result.

As for the other international stars, the German Mike Rockenfeller finished second highest behind Suarez in 30th. Hezemans at one point was also running in the top 15 before he spun on lap 84, giving him a 33rd-place result. Teammate Kvyat would finish 36th, a whole 32 laps off the pace.

Finally, there was Englishman Kyle Tilley, who finished last as a result of a steering failure on lap 15.

It was fun to watch so many new drivers from various cultures come to try out a mostly American form of motorsport in stock car racing. That’s why these results seem all the more tragic.

With rumors looming of one day having an international Cup race, it’s sorely necessary to have international eyes looking at the sport of NASCAR. Having drivers like these will do just that, and hopefully, there will be more. Bwoah.

What did this race prove?

When it comes to the playoffs, there are no teammates. Not even at Hendrick.

One year ago, Larson was absolutely dominating the Cup Series field week in and week out. With 10 wins in 2021, Young Money had easily paced the Hendrick stable last year over his three teammates.

That meant outperforming Hendrick’s former poster child: 2020 Cup champion Elliott.

After winning five races in 2020, Elliott won only two the next year while his newest teammate earned five times that amount. With that in mind, one can see why the driver of the No. 9 may feel threatened by fresh HMS talent.

Was he actually feeling the heat? Well, at least not publicly he wasn’t. But there’s no doubt Elliott knew he was no longer top dog at HMS.

In 2022, at least early on, the roles have been reversed once again. Elliott has already wrapped up the regular season championship and its 15 extra playoff points, which will no doubt carry him ever so closer to the Championship 4 round of the playoffs. His four victories lead the series and, like Larson last year, Elliott has a comfortable gap over his competitors heading into the postseason.

But with the success the No. 9 has had this year, there’s still that pesky No. 5 car to deal with. On Sunday, that was more prevalent than ever.

After the incident between he and Larson in turn 1 on the final restart that likely cost Elliott the victory, the Georgian had choice words for team owner Rick Hendrick while his HMS counterpart celebrated his win on the frontstretch. The message appeared negative, even if his terse words in his interviews were saying otherwise.

It isn’t the first time Elliott and Larson have tangled this year, either, and with how rivalries have turned out in 2022, maybe Elliott has finally had enough.

What does that mean heading into the playoffs, however? Only time will really tell.

Maybe nothing will happen. After all, Elliott did congratulate his teammate in all of his public-facing interviews. However, he’s also said he’s looking forward to the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway (next month… not next week).

Did Elliott actually forget that next week is Daytona? Or did he mean something else?

Better than last time?

With rain spicing things up in the beginning of Sunday’s race, it appeared it was going to be a wild card event at the Glen.

Sunday saw an immediate improvement over last year’s race, as NASCAR waited for the right moment when the track was wet enough to make the opening stage interesting but not chaotic.

It certainly diversified the front of the field, too, as the 2022 edition of the race saw 12 lead changes with nine different drivers. That’s up in comparison to last year’s event that saw only eight lead changes among seven drivers.

However, things started to calm down as the stages went on and the usual suspects of the Cup Series field started to make their way to the front. Once they did, the Glen appeared to perform the same as every other road course has in stage racing with leaders pitting with two to go before each stage, leaving some lucky team with little chance of winning to score an extra playoff point before eventually pitting and being relegated to the rear of the field.

With late race cautions making things interesting at the end, Watkins Glen certainly proved to be a track where the unexpected could take place once again despite its stage racing “strategy”.

Paint scheme of the race

In terms of paint schemes, it may not have been the most vibrant in the field, but that doesn’t mean Trackhouse Racing Team’s newest entry didn’t look cool.

In fact, you could say it looked ice cool.

However, this week’s paint scheme of the race isn’t about how it looks. It’s about what it represents.

Trackhouse’s Project 91 has now opened the door for the best racers across the world from a multitude of genres by providing them a team to compete with. While there have been plenty of F1 drivers trying their hand at NASCAR racing in the past, Räikkönen’s entry on Sunday will likely be the first of many in this new chapter of star power drivers entering the sport.

For that reason, this paint scheme could have been the first in what will be a new chapter in NASCAR.

What’s next?

With only one opportunity left for drivers to win their way into the playoffs, NASCAR heads to the wild card track of Daytona.

The Cup Series travels to Daytona International Speedway for what will likely be a wild Cup regular season finale on the high banks of the Floridian track. Cup qualifying begins on Friday, Aug. 26 at 5:05 p.m. ET with the Coke Zero Sugar 400 televised live on NBC on Saturday night, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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MUgrad85

Poor wittle Chase… he’s dumped people (see Atlanta summer race) but it was just racing… Larson uses him up in turn one and all of a sudden, it’s dirty driving by a teammate

Ted

Who did he dump at Atlanta?

MUgrad85

Corey LaJoie

DoninAjax

Drivers should try to win without caring who the other driver is. Elliott might want a teammate to let him win but Mr. H better not. Elliott’s sense of entitlement makes him a better fit at Reverend Joe’s.

kb

Oh please, cannot stand Larson or Elliot, however that was racing. Funny when certain other drivers do it, they are tarred and feathered and placed in the pillory because the angry villagers didn’t like who made the move! An HMS driver did it, cool! But he did it to NASCAR’S GOLDEN BOY…so should be interesting. HEHEHEHEE…

Kevin in SoCal

Yep absolutely you are 100% correct. If Elliott did that to Larson, its just racing for the win. But because the golden boy popular driver lost out, then its a bad deal and rough driving. (rolleyes)

Bill B

Larson definitely went into the turn too fast and as a result left Elliott with a choice of holding his line and having a repeat of Saturday’s Xfinity race, or going way higher in the turn and losing the preferred line. He chose the latter and Larson ended up winning. He should be upset but I’ve seen a lot worse and therefore, IMO, it was just typical road course racing. What he should be upset about is two cautions in the last 10 laps both caused by back-marker, non-regular series drivers. It sucks that guys that are just out there for a thrill have that much influence on the race results, but it is what it is.

I got tired of hearing about the “drivers from other countries” story line. BFD who gives a crap. I was hoping McDowell would win just to mess with the playoff scenario BS.

janice

i grew weary all week hearing/reading about kimi…… the of course the big deal with number of foreign drivers in the field on sunday. next week they’ll have some other anomaly to peak interest.

Bill B

Agreed. It’s not that it shouldn’t be mentioned by the media, but it shouldn’t be treated like the news of the century. On the grand scheme of things it’s a footnote.

Tom B

F1 bans Russian drivers from participating, but not NASCAR (Danil Kvyat), there for NASCAR supports Russia. You can spin anything.

DoninAjax

“with leaders pitting with two to go before each stage”

Shouldn’t that be “with leaders pitting before the end of each TV time out”?

How can a driver pit before a stage?

Jeremy

Hendricks won? See, I TOLD you the fix was in! lol

DoninAjax

Now we wait to see how NA$CAR gets Bubba and Marty in! Which Toyota will take out Blaney? Which “rules” will be subject to interpretation?

Bill B

I know the scenario of how Bubba gets in the playoffs:
Kurt Busch is declared still not ready to come back when the playoffs start. 23X1’s only option is to move Bubba from the 23 car to the 45 car. Gibbs drives the 23 for the rest of the season. NASCAR allows it because it works well for their higher level woke agenda.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bill B
DoninAjax

I just found that “rule” in the book! The ink hasn’t dried yet though.

DoninAjax

I’d bet on Little Gibbs winning in the 23 (full distance) and the usual results for Bubba in the 45.

Bill B

Wow… really going out on a limb there DoninAjax. LOL

Kevin in SoCal

Hendrick. There’s no “S”.

I didn’t see anything wrong with what Larson did. He did enter the corner too hot, locked up his front wheels, but he didn’t slam into Elliott. That’s just hard racing for the win in my book.

Bill B

Chief…. is that you in disguise?

Carl D.

Just hard racing… the guy I feel for is Dinger. It’s gotta suck to finish second two days in a row to the same driver. Geez!

Bill H

Exactly why I don’t watch NASCAR any more. If you can’t outrun your competitor, wreck him or run him off the track. They’ve turned it into a demolition derby. It’s not who can outrace the others, it’s who can survive. I’m glad it’s there for those who enjoy it, but it’s not my thing.

Echo

Was your thing watching Earnhardt do the same thing!

Fed Up

With your reference to Chase’s “choice” words for Mr. Hendrick, could you please provide us the quote; or is this just media tying to create drama. I think Chase handled himself as one would expect for a classy person should. Think what Rowdy or Denise would do.

Mike

Nothing to see here other than Chase needs to rethink being too nice of a guy. He probably should have taken the inside on the restart and controlled the corner. The whole pack went in hot, Larson locked his front wheels and Chase was there with four more tires to help Kyle make the corner.

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