Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2015 Cheez-It 355 at the Glen

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

The unsung performer of the week was tough this time around. Kyle Busch played the strategy as well as he could and drove his wheels off for the rest of his second-place finish, but that was far from unexpected, and unexpected is what this section is about. It’s hard to praise Sam Hornish Jr. for his ninth-place run after he set off a massive chain reaction on a lap 50 restart, putting a couple of Chase hopefuls at the back of the field. The rest of the top 10 finished about where they should have… except maybe Jimmie Johnson, who crossed the line in 10th. The six-time champ is not very good at Watkins Glen in general and he had damage during the race as well as a spin late. For most of the day, Johnson looked like he’d be lucky to score a top 15, so a top 10 was a strong outcome for the driver, whose team has been behind the 8-ball lately. Johnson also lucked out on one other area this weekend: NASCAR said that they’ll likely run the 2015 rules on the intermediate tracks during the Chase, and Johnson has four wins with that configuration, while struggling with other packages NASCAR introduced at Kentucky and Indianapolis.

What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?

Road courses just aren’t like other tracks. They require a different strategy for pit stops and fuel mileage, and there can be any number of different approaches as some teams opted to try a two-stop strategy and others went with three (or more; Johnson made a total of six stops for repairs and still grabbed a top 10).

Fuel strategy bit a few teams who were expecting a late-race caution that never came, and you can’t blame them for expecting it as it’s been the norm in recent years. Mileage is beyond the drivers’ control after a certain point, though not beyond the teams’ control in general. Making your bed and having to lie in it is all part of the game, and the drivers did what they could with the hand they played. Fuel… it’s the other four-letter f-word.

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

AJ Allmendinger won the race a year ago and got off to a great start in defending it as he captured the pole and led the first 20 laps of the race. But then the No. 47 began to fade. A mechanical gremlin on lap 51 sapped the power from the No. 47, which rolled to a stop on track and had to be pushed to the pits. Allmendinger did get it refired, but lost a lap. He got the lap back on a subsequent caution, and was working his way back through the field, looking to at least end the day in the top 15, but his fuel tank ran dry seven laps shy of the finish, and the splash of gas that got him to the end cost him in the form of a 24th-place result.

When… did it all go sideways?

Watkins Glen certainly wasn’t kind to several drivers hoping for a last-ditch Chase bid for those trying to get in the show on points. Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola rubbed on lap 11, and while there was no wreck, it caused a tire rub for Almirola. That resulted in a lengthy pit stop for the No. 43. Both drivers bounced back for a decent finish (Biffle came home 14th and Almirola 16th), it wasn’t enough to give either on much Chase momentum.

Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray both got into trouble on a lap 50 restart. When Hornish missed a shift, it started a big chain reaction, and Kahne and McMurray took the brunt of the damage. Both lost laps making repairs to crunched front ends, leaving McMurray in 40th and Kahne 42nd for the day.

Both Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have excellent records at Watkins Glen, but both are struggling this year. Gordon is in position to squeeze into the Chase on points, but Stewart’s only hope is to win. Stewart got off to a good start to the weekend despite news that he was being sued in a civil suit for the death of Kevin Ward Jr. last year. He qualified third and looked like he might finally be turning things around, but a broken seal sent Stewart off the track with drive train problems after just 56 laps, resulting in a last-place finish. Brake issues plagued Gordon and forced him to pit road for lengthy repairs. He finished, but it wasn’t pretty at four laps down in 41st. With four races left until Chase time, Gordon and McMurray are still inside the cutoff. Biffle, Almirola, Kahne and Stewart need to find some small miracles.

Why… did Joey Logano win the race?

Two reasons: one, Kevin Harvick ran out of fuel in front of him, and two, Harvick wasn’t able to wreck him afterward, though he certainly appeared to try. When Harvick ran out of fuel coming to the checkers, he took a couple of swipes at Logano, apparently trying to spin the No. 22 in hopes of coasting to the checkers ahead of him, a pretty dirty move under the circumstances (and one that would not have worked in any case as Busch also beat Harvick to the line.

It’s not fair to say that Logano simply got lucky, though. Winning on fuel strategy has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with playing exactly the right cards at the right times throughout the race. A week ago, Logano was the driver leading the race when his tank ran dry; this week he was the driver who benefited from better strategy than the competition. It’s all part of the game, and an important part at that.

How… did the little guys do?

The Three Best

Casey Mears, Germain Racing: Mears is a good road-course racer, and this team is improving on a weekly basis now. Still, Sunday wasn’t without its pitfalls for Mears. A cut tire forced a pit stop under caution and while Mears recovered from that, the car fell off after the final restart of the day (he restarted 15th). For the first half of the day Mears easily had a top-15 car and couldn’t find the track position to go with it. Still, Mears earned his way into the top 20 in points and found himself at the top of the heap this week.

Justin Allgaier, HScott Motorsports: Allgaier earned his best starting spot of the year at the Glen and had a strong run despite some problems during the race including a lap 38 spin after contact with Johnson. Allgaier threatened retaliation, but said after the race he had spoken to Johnson and the two had agreed it wasn’t intentional. Allgaier was able to recover nicely and drive to a 19th-place finish, a much needed top 20 for his team.

Michael McDowell, Leavine Family Racing: Just this weekend, LFR said that the team would like to expand to full-time status in the Cup Series, and this weekend was certainly a boost toward that end. McDowell is an outstanding road-course driver, and he showed it all weekend long, methodically racing his way into the top 20 at the end of the day, a real shot in the arm for his program.

All the Rest

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish +/- Points Position
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 29th 18th
Had a top-15 car
+11 20th
51 Justin Allgaier HScott Motorsports Brandt Chevy 12th 19th
Best start of the year. Spun on lap 38, but was able to keep going; angry with Johnson
-7 29th
95 Michael McDowell Leavine Family Racing KLOVE Radio Ford 31st 20th
Nice boost for the team
+11 38th
35 Cole Whitt Front Row Motorsports Tweaker Energy Shots Ford 33rd 21st
Exactly the kind of day a small team looks for
+12 31st
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Kroger/Bush’s Beans Chevy 1st 24th
Ran 1-2 with Martin Truex Jr. early on, sounded defeated on radio after he lost lead; handling faded. Car lost all power lap 51, got it refired but lost a lap; ran out of fuel with seven to go
-23 23rd
78 Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing Furniture Row Chevy 2nd 25th
Slid while running third; didn’t hit anything but pitted and fell to 26th
-23 6th
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing Burger King Toyota 27th 26th
Good qualifying effort and solid race. DiBenedetto was a great pickup for this team
+1 36th
33 Alex Kennedy Circle Sport Dream Factory Chevy 35th 28th
Kennedy’s road-course experience paid off for the team
+7 40th
7 Alex Bowman Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevy 39th 29th
Solid effort all day
+10 34th
23 JJ Yeley BK Racing Dr. Pepper Toyota 42nd 30th
Made good gains
+12 N/A
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Switch Hitch Chevy 40th 31st
Decent day bit would have liked a little more
-11 35th
32 Boris Said GO FAS Racing Genesee Brewing Company Ford 38th 32nd
Damaged in lap 50 restart pileup when Hornish Jr. missed a shift; spun with three to go
+6 N/A
38 David Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Love’s Travel Stops Ford 37th 33rd
Unusually lackluster day
+5 32nd
40 Landon Cassill Hillman-Smith Motorsports Hillman Automotive Chevy 36th 35th
Trouble getting into box on pit stop, cost track position late; lost a lap after a flat tire
+1 N/A
34 Chris Buescher Front Row Motorsports Ford 32nd 37th
Good road racer, bad luck on Sunday
-5 N/A
98 Timmy Hill Premium Motorsports Chevy 43rd 38th
Is Jay Robinson in over his head?
+5 N/A
26 Jeb Burton BK Racing Maxim Fantasy Sports Toyota 41st 39th
Overall struggles for team continued; not a question of talent
+2 39th
62 TJ Bell Premium Motorsports TucTite Holsters Chevy DNQ N/A


About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Congrats Team Penske.

Heartbreaker for AJ. I actually was hoping he could pull off the win. You know that pesky thing called “The Chase”

What the heck was Hamlin thinking, that he can just drive around with his car in the condition it was? Where was Dave Rogers and more importantly why did it take NASCAR so long to black flag him? Seriously???

I heard that Jimmie was very pissed off at Hamlin…Hmmm.

I am very sorry but leopards DO NOT change their spots.

Two week in a row Kyle Busch has thrown Adam Stevens under the bus publically blaming him for his “sure fire destiny to win”!!!!. Yeah o.k. Kyle..whatever makes you happy. If I was Adam Stevens I would not be happy. Most drivers say “WE or MY”..nope, not the guy singing the same old tune that has been played for years. He has NOT matured, imo. The ego has not evolved or humbled.

The other leopard is Harvick, what the hell was that about???? Don’t answer I know..Kevin being the jerk he has always been probably since his first day of kindergarten. His obsession with Logano continues. And shame on NBC for not questioning his lame moves, a non Chevy driver it would have been open season. HUSH, HUSH…don’t mention it. Too bad….people saw!


Someone needs to remind Kyle B. that he needs to stay in the top 30 until the chase begins. One bad race and he could be out again. Disappointed that NBCSN has fallen into the grove of showing leaders only and also am sick and tired of hearing about Toyota and Toyota teams. They all say how KB has grown up and changed. Wait and see how he acts when he loses a few races. He has always been goody goody when he wins.


Yup!!! But he is getting snippy about Adam Stevens in his interviews..shades of Dave Rogers…look out! I expect more of that when things start to go south for him. It is never his fault…


Which is why he will never win a championship until that changes. You need to be able to take the bad races with the good and he can’t seem to do that. Tired of hearing about Kyle Busch anyway. He has been jammed down our throats for the last 5 weeks, when arguably he shouldn’t even be allowed in the Chase anyway. Missing 10 races (or however many it was) should not make you eligible. I really hope this backfires on Nascar and guys start taking weeks off prior to the Chase due to mysterious illnesses.


…Oh I am first to admit a “SHOCKER” that a phantom hot dog wrapper or a shoe on the track didn’t result in a yellow. I still think it is premature to praise and reward NASCAR and Brian with a trip to Carvel or DQ, but it is something to think about if it continues, as it should.

Bill B

Yeah, it kind of evened out didn’t it. Last week no caution worked against him, this week no caution worked for him. Funny how that works.

Carl D.

Nascar does not throw cautions for hot dog wrappers. That’s what balloons are for.

Bill W.

Good race and a good crowd. Yes kb, Harvick tried to hook Logano, but doing so it may have cost him 2nd place.


I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought Harvick tried to spin Logano. Not surprising. But it could be that the engine powered up then. Yeah,right!

To paraphrase Yogi, bad luck will stop good driving and vice versa.

Is anyone surprised that the aero configuration during the chase helps Johnson. The Kyle Busch Show will change to The Jimmie Johnson Show during the last ten race debacle.


Don, you’re exactly right. As the only Kyle Busch fan in the world, I have immensely enjoyed this run he’s made over the summer. But, I know darned well that when the Chase debacle begins, every advantage flips back to Johnson and Chevrolet.

Harvick is just dirty.

Carl D.

I’m not sure Harvick tried to wreck Logano but he definitely put a fender to the #22 car. And yes, Ritchie, I agree he plays dirty sometimes.


Methinks Jimmie and Chad are doing their same routine they always do before “The Chase”…then look out. Sneaky sneaky…..


Go ahead and tell me my tinfoil hat is on too tight, but I am damn sure if Brad K. (the media villain) did what Harvick did they would have been all over him mentioning those moves and nothing else..Harvick a gold star for his
“good behavior” according to the media.


Punk move by Harvik.


The “Chad and Jimmie Show” will not be behind the eight ball come Chase time. Don’t really think they are now. They’re just experimenting now and still coming up with decent finishes.They will not lose two years in a row unless it is of someone else’s doing. Too bad bonehead Harvick is on the same team as Johnson or maybe we would see aggressiveness to deny Johnson a # 7. The only hope is Keselowski and that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

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