Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After William Byron Dominates at The Glen

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

Sometimes drivers show up out of seemingly nowhere to win a race. And sometimes they show up fast, start on the front row and dominate the second half of the race to surprise nobody and win.

William Byron chose the latter route at Watkins Glen International, leading 66 of 90 laps to take the checkers in Sunday’s (Aug. 20) Go Bowling at The Glen. Byron led a total of three times, taking over for the last time on lap 58 before cruising to the finish to take the win over Denny Hamlin.

It’s Byron’s ninth NASCAR Cup Series win and his first career road course victory. Byron also leads the playoff standings with five wins in 2023.

And don’t forget Chris Buescher. Buescher didn’t get much mention on the broadcast after starting 13th, but he’s a strong road racer. And by the end of the day, there he was. Buescher finished seventh for his third top 10 in four races, a span which includes two wins. He finished 11th last week, just missing a month-long top 10 streak.

When Buescher was toiling away in underfunded rides, and even in the first year of RFK Racing’s rebuilding process where he won one race, he was often overlooked. Now, he’s forcing people to pay attention — he’s now seventh in driver points, ahead of three former series champions. It’s time to start taking him seriously.

What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

Caution-free affairs generally go by pretty quickly, and with just one yellow flag before the final lap, the race felt short. But was it too short? The Cup teams had to go just eight laps further on Sunday than the Xfinity Series on Saturday, something that doesn’t quite seem like a bigger test for the Cup teams.

Should the Cup race have been longer? 

Yes, absolutely. But there are a couple of ways to make that happen. One, NASCAR could simply add another 15 laps or so. That’s a quick and simple solution that would force more pit strategy and make the race a better test.

The other option, perhaps the more interesting and the greater test of the two, is to keep the race at 90 laps but run the section of the track known as “The Boot,” a four-turn extension to the short course run by NASCAR. The Boot entrance is just past turn 5, the Carousel turn, and is a tight section of track that would add two to three more passing zones. The long course was raced by IMSA in the 1960s and Formula 1 in the 1970s, but NASCAR has always skipped the technical section of racetrack. 

Cup races are supposed to be hard. Adding an additional 360 turns during a 90-lap race seems like a pretty good challenge.

Where… did the other key players wind up? 

Pole Winner Denny Hamlin led the first three laps but gave it up to Michael McDowell on the fourth, with Byron squeezing by to take second as well. Hamlin got off to a better run after his first pit stop, taking the lead back after McDowell’s pit penalty before giving it back to Byron. Hamlin hung on in second to the checkers, but never really had a shot at Byron.

Defending race winner Kyle Larson rolled off fifth on Sunday and was running in the top five when the caution flew with 35 to go, but a speeding penalty meant Larson had to drop to the rear of the field on the restart. He did a good job of working his way forward, but he couldn’t overcome the lack of track position and a spin on the final lap, finishing 26th.

Playoff bubble driver Bubba Wallace started 12th with a 28-point cushion over 17th place. He finished eighth in stage one, good for three points, and ninth in the second stage for a couple more.

Wallace faded a bit at the end, as he was caught on track when the caution flew for Chase Elliott and was forced to pit under caution and line up behind the cars who had pitted just laps before. Still, he finished a solid 12th, and even with Ty Gibbs’ solid fifth-place finish, Wallace leaves The Glen with a 32-point lead over Gibbs in the race for the final playoff spot. He still has to hold his breath for one more week, though.

Point leader Martin Truex Jr. took the green in 19th, and in typical Truex fashion, didn’t make a ton of noise all day but was in good position when it counted, finishing sixth. Truex resembles Matt Kenseth in his race approach by sneakily placing himself near the front and being ready to pounce on any mistakes by his competitors.

Most Popular Driver and two-time Glen winner Chase Elliott started 15th and moved into the top 10, but from there, the forward momentum stalled. Elliott ran as high as seventh before halfway, and he settled into the back half of the top 10 by halfway. But with 35 to go, a couple of laps before his planned final stop of the day, Elliott ran out of fuel before the Bus Stop, rolling to a stop and bringing out the first (and only) caution of the day.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Fuel Mileage Miscommunication Costs Chase Elliott

Elliott lost a lap getting back to the pits for gas, and with the race staying under green until the final lap, he never had a chance to get back into the mix with a 32nd-place finish. He’s got one more shot at Daytona, a track where he has four top 10s in 15 starts but an average finish of just 22nd.

Last week’s winner Michael McDowell was looking to pick up where he left off. Starting third, McDowell took the lead on lap four and dominated the first stage. However, he clipped a fourth pit box during his first green-flag stop, drawing a penalty for driving through too many boxes. The pass-through dropped him to 17th.

He worked his way back into the top 10, only to have another pit road penalty. Again, he worked his way into the top 10 until the engine on the No. 34 expired after 74 laps, ending his day at the very back of the field in 36th.

When… was the moment of truth?

Track position is always important, but getting — and keeping — it on a road course is an extra challenge. While in the end, McDowell’s finish is pinned on his expired engine, the race itself changed completely when McDowell was penalized on pit road at the start of stage two. 

McDowell picked up right where he left off a week ago, when he won in dominating fashion on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He took the lead on lap four, won the first stage handily and had a solid pit stop under green. If not for the penalty (and a second one later), the race might have been a repeat of Indy.

Even after both pit issues, McDowell was strong enough to race his way back into the top 10, though without cautions, he might not have raced for the win. But did the early pit penalty breed McDowell’s other issues?

It’s hard to say, but pencil in a solid “maybe.” Had McDowell held his easy lead, perhaps the pressure would have been a tick lower on the next stop. Did the engine issues stem from overdriving to get back to the front? It’s possible (though it looked more like an electrical problem at first glance).

Sunday’s race was the perfect example of how one mistake can change the race not just for one driver, but for the field. Perhaps a different winner than we might have seen, perhaps a different battle or a caution when there wasn’t one. If McDowell had the car it looked like he did, that one corner of a pit box may have been the reason Byron won the race.

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

The clock is tolling the 11th hour when it comes to the playoffs with just one race left for a driver outside the current top 16 to steal a playoff spot. At most tracks, it would almost be a formality, with the playoff contenders protecting their positions. But the race isn’t at most tracks. It’s at Daytona International Speedway.

And at Daytona, anyone can win. That’s good news for the drivers underneath the cut line, who can grab that spot with a win — if they can avoid trouble, that is.

It could be a sleepless weekend for Wallace as well as drivers like Elliott, Daniel Suarez and AJ Allmendinger among the others in similar positions.

Daytona has been the scene of some wild races, with attrition making it anyone’s game at the end. Picking a winner is as much throwing names at the wall and seeing who sticks as it is looking at past results and current streaks.

In other words, there’s one last regular season chapter to write, and it might change the entire ending.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: A One-Berth Playoff After Watkins Glen

How… come NASCAR lets drivers overshoot turn 1 every lap?

The wide paved area to the outside of the turn is certainly inviting to drivers. They don’t have to brake as hard or be as precise on their lines. A driver can get loose and slide through the corner, pushing the car on his left even further off track. 

Generally, overshooting the turn hurts a driver racing for position, but when half the field is doing it every lap, it’s definitely not a deterrent.

And it should be. Drivers should be rewarded for driving smarter, staying on the racing surface. Accuracy should be a demand and not an afterthought. Changing that area would mean fewer finishes like the Xfinity race on Saturday produced, with leaders using the competition and the “eight tires is better than four” adage to ensure they made the corner.

To that end, that runoff area needs to be less attractive as an option. Whether that comes from roughening the surface so that tires will take more of a beating or adding a gravel bed doesn’t really matter, but racing should be done on the intended surface. It’s supposed to be hard.  

About the author

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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gbvette

IMSA didn’t race the long course in the 60’s! The Glen long course was added in 71. IMSA was formed in 69 and their first race at The Glen was on the long course in 72. Just about every professional and amateur race series uses the long course, except NASCAR. I think 10 or 12 years ago Tony Stewart said NASCAR should run the long course, after he got to drive it in Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car.

I don’t like cars overshooting turn one (or the exit of The Loop), but I don’t like artificial track limits like F1 has either. If it’s paved drivers will use it, if they don’t want them using it then install taller curbs, gravel pits, more and deeper rumble strips, etc. Something more then a painted line to keep drivers from using it.

Carl D.

The race at Daytona next weekend has the potential to be an exciting one, but I’m afraid the carnage will be of epic proportions. With that in mind, I’m glad 15 of 16 playoff drivers are already locked in. I’m pulling for Almirola next weekend. A little salt in Bubba’s wound.

janice

it would be cool to see aj win next week.

but you know what the continual story line will be.

hopefully mother nature cooperates. some storms swirling in the atlantic.

WJW Motorsports

Let’s get creative and combine the global drive to remove land-mines by re-planting them outside turn one. That should bring some more eyeballs to this sports entertainment product! Also, “Lying Believing in to your self when approaching your weaknesses and the world for political and financial gain can be a scary thing, but if you surround your self with the right people that are pushing the agenda, you to believe, it can happen.

janice

ok i swear i heard, one time, when jr was screeching about michael mcdowell, refer to him as michael waltrip.

i did laugh when elliott ran out of gas cause they miscalculated the amount of fuel in the “reserve” tank.

the world survived when jr didn’t make the chase. at least elliott has a cup championship, which is more than jr has.

WJW Motorsports

Remind me, are they still docking points for bad language, or was that just a special Dale Jr. rule?

KU

Watkin’s Glen use to be must see TV but the new car “broke it”. I don’t know why but the racing there was fantastic. Hope NASCAR figures out what to do.

DoninAjax

It will take an hour and a half and 20 destroyed cars to run the last 20 laps on Saturday.

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