Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 Watkins Glen Race Recap

The Key Moment – This one wasn’t over until the checkered flag was thrown. Wow.

In a Nutshell – I’m still not a fan of NASCAR road course racing but I liked Sunday’s race a whole bunch. Fenders banging, tempers flaring, the old bump and run and a wholesale change in the running order… what’s not to like?

Dramatic Moment – That entire last lap was about as wild as anything I’ve seen on a race track in many a moon.

We’ll give Kyle Busch some style points for his three-wide kamikaze pass to take the lead on the final restart as well. Marcos Ambrose’s eyes were wide as saucers when he saw what Busch did.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

A few drivers were pretty hot after the race and stated categorically NASCAR should have thrown the caution when it became apparent that there was oil down all over the track. I’m not sure how that would have worked. The leaders had already taken the white flag so a green-white-checkered finish wasn’t an option. Cleaning up a race track that large would probably have taken an hour and they’d likely have missed some spots anyway. All the drivers were racing under the same adverse conditions with varying levels of success so the playing field was level.

Today, Monday, August 13th, marks the 23rd anniversary of Tim Richmond’s passing. “(Don’t know who Tim is? Or want to take a trip down Memory Lane? Check out this two-parter on his career.)”:https://frontstretch.com/mmclaughlin/30721/ Anyone who ever watched Tim race on the road courses knows he was among the best ever. Richmond scored the first win of the modern era at Watkins Glen from the pole and also won the last race of his career at Riverside.

I’m not too sure what to make of AJ Allmendinger’s explanation of how he came to fail that drug test. If you missed it, Allmendinger says he was tired one evening and a friend offered him a pill he described as a “dietary supplement” to help perk him back up a little. If that’s true, the ‘Dinger is an idiot, and this fellow he was with wasn‘t much of a friend. If it’s not true, obviously he’s a liar. It reminds me of some old Bob Dylan lyrics from days of yore: “Now the rainman gave me two cures/Then he said, ‘Jump right in’/The one was Texas medicine/The other was just railroad gin/And like a fool I mixed them/And it strangled up my mind/And now people just get uglier/And I have no sense of time”

Kyle Busch might be facing some fines this weekend. Yes, Busch was seventh (NASCAR rules only require the top-three finishers in an event to remain on pit road and make themselves available to the TV and radio networks. They are also required to address the press in the press box after the race.) But Busch was one lap from victory, positioned to win until turn 2 of the final lap. Afterwards, he decided to get out of his Toyota and then get out of Dodge. The way I see it, any such penalty for those infractions probably would have paled compared to the penalties that likely would have resulted if he had in fact spoken his mind in the immediate aftermath of the race. And no, Kyle, that’s not the finger they had in mind for the Finger Lakes 355.

There was some confusion after the race due to Brad Keselowski’s comments claiming that it was Busch’s No. 18 car oiling down the track. Keselowski later admitted on that Twitter thing that he was mistaken. He’d seen brake smoke from the No. 18 and it was actually Bobby Labonte’s No. 47 that was dropping fluids.

Class, compare and contrast Kyle Busch’s post-race conduct this week with Jimmie Johnson’s last week. Johnson had also just lost a race he thought he had in the bag, but was able to address the issue of what happened with composure and class. (Even if he wasn’t going to admit that he cut down that right rear tire body-slamming the No. 17 car on the frontstretch before they’d even reached the corner. Oddly enough, after Sunday’s race at the Glen, Johnson said when he first hit the oil he felt he had a tire going down. I think maybe somebody’s a little phobic about flats.)

With the Olympics finally over, NASCAR is ready to fall back on their old standby excuse for disappointing TV ratings next week, the NFL.

Johnson’s No. 48 was painted what was said to be Cortez Silver this weekend. Cortez Silver was one of the loveliest colors Chevy ever added to their palette, especially when gracing a ’69 Camaro Z28 with contrasting black stripes. I know that color pretty well, having owned a 70 SS Chevelle painted that hue but Johnson’s car didn’t look Cortez Silver to me. I think we used to call that color “rattle can primer.”

I noted with great sadness Dodge’s (Fiat’s?) decision to withdraw from NASCAR racing at the end of this season. While a hardcore Ford Mustang guy at heart, I appreciate Dodge’s contribution to the muscle car era wars and to NASCAR over the years. Richard Petty’s Dodge Charger was all but unbeatable in the early part of the 70s, and Dodge contributed two true works of art to the sport; the forever svelte 1969 Dodge Charger 500 and its more outrageous cousin the Charger Daytona. I’ve been mocked occasionally over the years for my heartfelt love of the Winged Warriors Mopar produced just to stay competitive in NASCAR racing and will admit they are rather ungainly from certain angles taken out of historical context. I’ve always just written off those critics as the sort who have a deep affection for their Accords or Camrys and would be just as happy doing appliance reviews for Consumer Reports as writing about racing.

It’s interesting ESPN chose not to even acknowledge last week’s lightning tragedy after the Pocono race. Had they broadcast the memorial fund on live TV it could have helped raise some much needed funds for fans and survivors who had their lives unexpectedly turned upside down. Since they didn’t, I will. You can donate funds to the PA 400 Memorial Fund, 1234 Long Pond Road, Long Pond PA, 18334.

More mechanical insights from Ms. Danica Patrick: “Water isn’t supposed to come out the tail pipes.” I wonder what grade she got in high school shop? (If DW was her instructor, no doubt an A+.) As for what grade she got in driver’s ed… well, let’s not go there.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kurt Busch had driven up to 11th place when one of the wheels fell off his little red wagon.

Jeff Gordon had been complaining vehemently about his car for much of the race but a final adjustment lit the afterburners on the No. 24 and he was able to work his way into the top 10. Unfortunately, he made it to the last corner of the last lap before spinning in Labonte’s oil. That spin left Gordon 21st when the pay window opened after the race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was probably well content with a solid top-10 result going late in a road course race. That’s when he spun in the oil and dropped to a 28th-place finish and from the lead to fourth in the standings. Channel you’re inner-Bill Murray and repeat after me, “It just don’t matter.” NASCAR will be re-racking the points after four more races, anyway.

Tony Stewart is always a favorite at Watkins Glen but a pit road penalty dropped him to 25th. A relentless Stewart charged all the way back to second before his car got out from under him and he spun into the inside wall at the entrance to the pits. He was able to make up some spots in his badly damaged Chevy but still finished 19th.

Polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya had a strong run going before breaking a lower front control arm bouncing his car over the curbs. (Sunday’s race was notable for an unusually high rate of mechanical attrition even by the standards of a road course.) While the team effected repairs, JPM was 33rd at the end of the race.

Part-time Cup competitor Brian Vickers lost an engine in his MWR car before he could complete a single lap.

Denny Hamlin suffered through yet another engine that went up in a ball of flames, ending his day. Hamlin had already wiped out his primary car in a practice wreck and took a hard hit at the end of last week’s race at Pocono. When it rains, it pours.

Carl Edwards really needed a win Sunday and it appeared that he might just steal one on strategy until he ran out of gas entering the pits and struggled to re-fire the car. He went on to finish 14th.

Our Canadian friends couldn’t even watch the race live on Sunday. TSN decided to show the event via tape delay. I guess if it worked for NBC with the Olympics…

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Keselowski slammed into the rear of the No. 18 car on that final lap and with the left front corner sheet metal on his Dodge shoved back into the tire, it wasn’t clear if he’d be able to complete it without shredding that tire. He did, and while he lost the win he did score a second-place finish.

Clint Bowyer began complaining his brakes were fading before the race even reached its halfway point. He still soldiered on to a fourth-place finish.

Sam Hornish Jr. certainly made his case to remain at the driver of the No. 22 Penske car next season at Watkins Glen. He finished third in Saturday’s NW race and fifth in Sunday’s Cup event.

Not a noted road course racer, Matt Kenseth is likely very happy to escape the Glen with an eighth-place finish, especially after the last lap debacle at Pocono last week.

Regan Smith managed a ninth-place finish after crafting a path through the last lap carnage.

Worth Noting

  • Ambrose’s win was the first for a Ford driver since Greg Biffle won at Texas 15 races ago.
  • The top-10 finishers at Watkins Glen drove three Fords, three Toyotas, two Chevys and two Dodges.
  • Johnson leads all drivers with 11 top 10 finishes in 22 points races this season. Three others, Biffle, Kenseth and Earnhardt have nine apiece.
  • Johnson also leads all other drivers with 16 top-10 finishes in those races. Earnhardt Jr. has 15.
  • Since winning at Kentucky six races ago, Keselowski hasn’t finished outside the top 10.
  • Bowyer has led exactly one lap in the last six races.
  • Hornish’s fifth-place finish was his best since Pocono in 2009. (He also finished fifth a few races later at Michigan that year.)
  • Biffle has top-10 results in three of the last four races.
  • Kyle Busch has failed to score back-to-back top-10 finishes since Darlington and Charlotte this spring.
  • Kenseth managed to snap a streak of three straight finishes outside the top 10. His eighth-place finish also matches his best career result at the Glen. He finished eighth here in 2003 as well, the year we won his only Cup title.
  • Smith has top-10 finishes in just two races this season. He’s finished ninth in the last two events.
  • Martin Truex Jr. now has top-10 results in the last three races.
  • Ryan Newman’s 11th-place finish was actually his worst in the last five races.
  • Kevin Harvick hasn’t enjoyed a top-five result since Dover. He hasn’t led a lap since Charlotte.
  • A 21st-place run was Gordon’s worst since Darlington.
  • Earnhardt has endured his two worst finishes of this season over the last two weeks.

What’s the Points?

Johnson leaps forward three positions to take over the points lead. He’s just one point ahead of Biffle and two points ahead of Kenseth.

Former standings leader Earnhardt dropped three spots to fourth and suddenly, the Happy Shiny people are hiding back in their caves. Buck up, ya’ll, he’s only 17 points out of the lead.

Keselowski advanced two spots to fifth in the standings with an unknown number of “Good guy points” to his credit. Truex dropped a spot to sixth. Bowyer advanced a full three positions to seventh. Stewart dropped two rungs down the ladder to eighth, while Harvick holds station in ninth. (If he doesn’t do something quick, we’re going to need to put Harvick’s picture on a milk carton soon. He’s been all but invisible the last couple months.)

Hamlin’s fiery exit from the race dropped him to 10th in the standings, the final secure spot for the Chase. In brighter news, he’s a full 40 points ahead of 11th, which is almost a full race’s worth of points. There’s just four races to go until the seeding process.

Kahne maintains his hold on the first Wild Card slot as the only driver outside the top 10 with two wins to date. It’s in the battle for the final Wild Card slot that things get interesting. Right now Newman has wrested that spot back from Gordon. Gordon trails Newman by 10 points.

Why was Kyle Busch so angry after the race? His second win of the season, which seemed in his grasp would have all but guaranteed him a Wild Card slot for the Chase. He’s currently 14th in the standings, six points behind Newman.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) — Well, I suppose it’s been about forever since I gave a race a full six-pack, but it’s time. I’m tempted to give it five beers with a Genny pony chaser because of the oil, but maybe I’m just feeling a little generous tonight looking at the week that lays ahead of me.

Next Up – It’s back off to Michigan. Anyone remember who won there last time out? I’ll have a surprise announcement later this week that will thrill some of you and disappoint a few of you. Stay tuned.

About the author

Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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