Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Martin Truex Jr Slows Down Just Enough to Win Watkins Glen

Who’s in the headline Martin Truex Jr. won four races in 2016, but admitted in post-race interviews that they learned a lot more about winning during that season. He feels like they have everyone doing better jobs this year, and the result is a championship caliber team that has the most wins in the series. Truex has a huge stockpile of playoff points and is in fantastic shape to be in the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Toyota counterpart Kyle Busch won the first stage and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez scored his first career stage win with the stage two victory.

What happened – Kyle Busch dominated early after winning his third straight pole, going on to win the first stage. He had a loose wheel after the pit stops proceeding the first stage and that put him behind the field for the rest of the day. Suarez was being run down by Truex as the final lap of the second stage was winding down. Suarez threw a big block to stay in front through the final two turns to win that stage. The race went green for the final 37 laps, which led to fuel being a factor for much of the field. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney had to pit from the lead in the last few laps due to fluctuating fuel pressure. Truex saved fuel and let cars pass him in order to make the end of the race. Busch also had to pit with five laps to go, returning to the track and managing a seventh-place finish.

Why you should care – In the end, you can have all of the different strategies you want, the Joe Gibbs Racing team put on a clinic at Watkins Glen. Between their four cars and the two cars of their satellite organization, Furniture Row Racing, they claimed the top four spots, five of the top seven and six of the top 10 finishing positions. Three of the four remaining positions in the top 10 went to Fords, with the Chevrolets of AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher serving as the top two finishing cars for the bow ties. The Chevy camp may have several winners in the playoffs, but if they don’t find some speed soon, they are going to be on the outside looking in when the final four races of the playoffs come around.

What your friends are talking about – Two of the biggest personalities in the sport, especially behind the wheel, got together on lap 44 heading into the Inner Loop. In the end, it most likely cost both of them a shot at the win, although Keselowski came within a couple of gallons of fuel of pulling off the win. The JGR camp has the fastest cars in the series right now, while the No. 2 team consistently puts themselves in position with strategy. This won’t be the last time this season that Keselowski and Busch duel it out for a win.

Kurt Busch is a free agent at this point in time. Stewart-Haas Racing did not exercise their option by the deadline this week to retain him for 2018. The team still expects Busch to be back in the fold for next season but sponsorship is going to dictate that scenario. Danica Patrick is in a similar situation at this point. Sponsorship will determine whether or not she returns to SHR in 2018.

The overtime line rule was changed this week. After backlash from fans and teams over recent race finishes, especially at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR made a change to the rule. The start/finish is now the overtime line, which means that a leader must complete a full lap in order for the race to be complete. There is no limit to the number of attempts at an overtime finish based on the current rule.

Andrew Murstein, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, wants to see owners agree to a spending cap in the Cup Series. He had dinner with Brian France in New York and said the head of NASCAR was receptive to the idea if he could present more details. In a time where 20 or more cars finish on the lead lap routinely and we have 14 unique race winners in the first 21 races, there are better areas to spend effort than saving multi-millionaire owners money in the name of parity.

Erik Jones and his crew chief were penalized after post-race inspection at Pocono Raceway. The No. 77 was found to have rear suspension out of compliance with the NASCAR rule book. Jones’ crew chief was suspended for two races and the team was docked 25 driver and owner points.

Boris Said‘s Cup career has come to an end. After racing in the No. 33 car at both road course races this year, Said is retiring from Cup racing. Said ran 54 Cup races in his career. His best finish was a third-place run at Watkins Glen in 2005. He also started on the pole and finished fourth at Daytona in the July 2006 event.

In sad news, Harry Scott Jr. passed away suddenly this past week. Scott was a longtime owner in multiple NASCAR series. Scott teams scored championships in the K&N East Pro Series with four different drivers. There were no details released on the cause of Scott’s death. Teams sported a commemorative decal on the A-post of their cars this weekend in Scott’s memory.

Local racer Terry Evans, who has 30 feature wins at Myrtle Beach Speedway, passed away this week as well. Evans was injured in an accident on July 21st heading home from a test session at the speedway. He is survived by his wife Cassie, mother Annette, father Terry (Bimbo), sister Tara, uncle Paul and cousin Eric.

Who is mad – Kyle Busch had the fastest car all weekend, but strategy and timing conspired against him leading to a seventh-place finish. His win last weekend has him in the playoffs and he’s got a car that is going to be in contention for its second title in three years. Unfortunately for Busch, his luck has been terrible this season. If the team can turn things around in the final 10 races to prevent the bad breaks, Busch will be in contention at Homestead. If they can’t, he might be out before the third round. Busch did earn kudos this week for sticking around to sigh autographs after a Super Late Model race in Wisconsin when his car was disqualified from the win for being too light.

Clint Bowyer had a car that could have won the race on Sunday. He went into fuel conservation mode before anyone else and felt like he had saved enough to make a run at the top spot late in the race. Unfortunately for Bowyer, his position in points dictated that he take the conservative approach and avoid potentially running out of fuel and killing any chance of pointing into the playoffs. The depressing part for Bowyer is that Matt Kenseth, the driver just ahead of him in points, finished second in the race and third in the second stage, so Bowyer lost 11 points to Kenseth in an effort to not lose a bunch of points. At this rate, Bowyer has to gain seven points per race over the next four to be tied with Kenseth for the final spot and that is assuming there are no more new winners over the next four races, which is a long way from a sure thing.

Who is happy – Suarez is the JGR driver no one is considering as a threat to win a race. At this point, people need to change that opinion. Suarez laid down his best finish of the season this weekend and his fourth straight top 10. Suarez is going to tracks for the second time and has shown he is a very quick study. If he manages to steal a win in the next four races he could be the Cinderella story of the year.

JTG Daugherty Racing finished ninth and 11th Sunday and were the two highest finishing Chevrolets in the race. For a small team to outrun the big Chevrolet teams and many of the other cars from the bigger organizations, it has to be a great feeling for all of their employees. It was the best chance they had for a win and probably won’t make the playoffs now but it is a time to celebrate nonetheless.

When the checkered flag flew:

For the 11th time in 427 career Cup starts Martin Truex Jr. was the first driver to see the checkered flag.

This is Truex’s fourth triumph of 2017.

Truex’s victory at Watkins Glen was his first career win at the track.

Eleven wins ranks Truex alone in 58th on the All-Time win list.

Matt Kenseth finished as the first loser for the first time this season. Kenseth has six top five runs in 2017, but this is his best finish of the year.

This is Kenseth’s best career finish at Watkins Glen as well.

Kenseth’s runner-up run is the 30th of his career. That ties him for 25th on the All-Time second place finish list with Ricky Rudd.

Daniel Suarez scored the first top three finish of his career with his podium run at Watkins Glen.

This was obviously his first career top three and the first of 2017 for him.

Rookie of the Race was Daniel Suarez. That is his eleventh such win of the year. Erik Jones has eight and Ty Dillon has three.

Twenty two races into the season there have been fourteen different winners this year. With four races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are four new winners, someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners. For now you have Martin Truex Jr. who has the most wins of the year with four. Jimmie Johnson has three wins, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., have two wins, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Busch each have one. In the fourteen winners Joey Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph being considered encumbered at Richmond. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory.

The remaining three drivers in points and their position:

  1. Chase Elliott
  2. Jamie McMurray
  3. Matt Kenseth

The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:

Martin Truex Jr – 34

Jimmie Johnson – 16

Kyle Busch – 14

Kyle Larson – 13

Brad Keselowski -13

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 10

Kevin Harvick – 8

Ryan Blaney – 8

Denny Hamlin – 7

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Austin Dillon – 5

Kasey Kahne – 5

Chase Elliott – 2

Matt Kenseth – 2

Joey Logano – 1

Clint Bowyer – 1

Daniel Suarez – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

We’ve been hearing it for several years now. Road courses are the new short tracks. While that might not be totally accurate, they excitement they have generated the past few years has been on par with some of the best short track races. Add in fuel mileage strategies, which you rarely see on short tracks, and you had a race that was up there with the best of the year. The end result was five ice cold Hop Warrior Imperial IPAs from Rooster Fish Brewing.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The series heads back to the Irish Hills of Michigan next weekend. The coverage from Michigan International Speedway begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN Sunday August 13. The action can also be streamed on NBCSportsLive. You can also listen on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com, and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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You quote lack of sponsorship for a couple of drivers (not to mention Ganassi losing target, Hendrick’s need to find sponsors, Roush not being able to fund Bubba Wallace in Xfinity, etc.) , then downplay cost saving due to Lucky Dog and Extra Caution (Stage Racing) allowing 20+ cars finishing on the lead lap. There is a soon to be major sponsorship void in the Cup Series. Cost-cutting would be hard to enforce, but well worth looking into for the health of the sport.


I’d like to be within earshot when Brian tells Mr. H that he has to cut his spending and lose some of his advantage.

So Kyle is cheating in Super Late Models as well as the Busch series. He’s picking up some habits from his Cup team’s owner. I bet he’s still got it on his win list. When he lost the Snowball Derby to Erik I guess he wasn’t cheating enough. Makes people wonder about his win there.

Bill B

I enjoyed that race because there was a lot of green flag racing. While I wouldn’t want to see most races become fuel mileage races, a few a year are cool and seeing who was going to make it and who wasn’t produced a very compelling ending.

I don’t think a spending cap is going to be enforceable. In the NFL the spending cap applies to on field personnel which is easily monitored. Not to coaching staff, support personnel, or facilities which would be much harder to monitor. Those “hard to monitor” costs are where the larger NASCAR teams spend the bulk of their budgets. The entire business model in which NASCAR operates is antiquated and can only be sustainable when both NASCAR and the economy is booming. The economy is doing OK with respect to corporate profits, but NASCAR is not attracting fans and without fans watching sponsoring a car just isn’t worth it.

Bill B

One other note. I thought the TV broadcast was the best in years. I first attributed this to Leigh Diffey bringing some F1 sensibility and professionalism with him but have since learned that NBC made a concerted effort to emulate a radio broadcast approach. All I can say is that I noticed the difference, it was appreciated, and I hope they continue with that approach (and maybe force FOX to follow suit next year).


i did enjoy that aspect of the race. a welcomed change.

Chuck C

I believe the best part of the broadcast team was Mike “the bagman” Bagley in the esses. Every time the broadcast came to him, he painted an eloquent word picture to tell the story of the race. He’s better than Mike Joy, Rick Allen, the Waltrips and just about all of the other tv personalities. It’s a crime he’s not the lead announcer for one of the broadcast teams.


yes, i think coverage at specific parts of the track is awesome, and it tells the whole story. I only got to see some of the broadcast, but thought this was the best since last darlington.


Maybe it’s a coincidence but with announcers spread around the track there were no mysterious “debris” cautions.

Kevin in SoCal

Definitely agree. The broadcast was tons better for this race.

bud sudz

100% Agree on the broadcast. Great commentating without the ADD distractions. ESPN used to put Benny Parsons in the turns at Sonoma. Bagley did an awesome job and Klingerman held his own.

Tom B

I thought the TV coverage was terrible. A lot of mistakes. Jr was in the garage for a while before it was reported. Bagman was good. Diffey is annoying as the Waltrips. I did like how NASCAR was not caution flag happy for simple spins. This race has to be at least 100 laps or more. Fuel mileage racing is nerd racing.


didn’t na$car try a spending cap type deal a few years ago? teams always seem to get around whatever is put into place.

glad martin won. i do like him. i was thinking about him and keslowski yesterday afternoon, two drivers who drive for jrmotorsports that perform better than their former boss, who, which everyone thought, was in a top ride and equipment. sure something broke yesterday on the 88. but starting 28th didn’t help him either. i guess he’ll get coverage at michigan as he’s won there in the past. i keep waiting for the emergency playoff rule change to allow him to make the playoffs in his final year of racing.

i really wished petty or someone could find funding for bubba.

kyle busch mad, that’s a hoot!


Cost cutting, while on the surface, probably won’t receive much support from team owners. The team owners aren’t personally feeling a pinch financially and so it has no impact. In addition they have the ability to control costs through staffing, purchasing and a variety of other methods. Plus such controls may hinder their ability to adjust, read raise, prices they are asking from sponsors. And I doubt that they have any sympathy for those teams that cannot maintain the pace of spending required by the sport.
In short we will see just what the charter system was designed to achieve, the disappearance of the non charter teams, other than the odd vanity effort here and there.


The tightened rules today have stifled ingenuity something that might allow some of the lesser funded teams to keep up with the “I can spend as much as I want” teams. When technology rules, costs go up dramatically. I don’t see a cure until it all implodes.

Mike vaughan

Nascar needs to take back the rule consessions it gave toyota so they can be competitive with ford and chevy. Nascar changed the horse power rule to a max of 750 hp for toyota bc toyotas kept blowing engines at 850 like the fords and chevies had. Also since jgr wasnt winning races the first half of the year toyota cried to nascar about some splitter help which hurt the fords and chevies and now truex and kyle busch is 2/10 ths faster than any car out on the track. Hard to beat nascar and toyota.


On Friday at Michigan, Chevrolet is supposed to be holding a press conference to unveil their 2018 Cup car. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if, when they pulled the cover off the “car”, all that under the cover was a pile of cardboard boxes, and it was followed by the Chevrolet executives announcing their withdrawal from all NASCAR divisions at the end of 2017? What would Brian do then?

Kevin in SoCal

90 laps is not near enough length for a road course. They should be at least 100 laps, or preferably 300 miles.

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