NASCAR – Centurion Boats, Watkins Glen International – Sun Aug 10

What looked to be a remarkably uneventful second NASCAR road race of the year suddenly went a bit nuts in the last dozen laps. But despite a stellar drive from Nationwide race winner Marcus Ambrose, the winner of the Sprint Cup race was ultimately never in doubt.

Grid positions were decided by points standings because of a complete qualifying wash-out, meaning Kyle Busch stated on the front row. But Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled to the inside of Busch to take the lead in the S-turns on lap 2; Jimmie Johnson also got past, and Jeff Gordon then out-braked him in in the final turn. It didn’t look like a good day for Kyle, then.

But Busch and his team mate Tony Stewart were in no rush, and gradually made their moves. Kyle passed Gordon for 3rd spot on lap 10 and Stewart passed Gordon the following lap; in fact, Gordon – so often a front-runner at Watkins Glen – was having a very poor day indeed, his car so loose that he fell further and further back as the day wore on.

It didn’t help when the team lost radio contact with him, resulting in NASCAR having to black flag him when the team needed Gordon in for urgent refueling come first pit stops around lap 30. A chastened Gordon radioed afterwards: “Sorry about that guys; I don’t know what happened. I must have pulled it loose.” Whoops. That put Gordon back to 23rd, and falling.

Once all the pit stops had cycled through, Kyle’s pit crew had done their usual outstanding service and put their boy in the lead, followed by Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Stewart and Carl Edwards, with former leader Earnhardt Jr back in 6th.

Johnson looked to be strong and biding his time – until lap 43 when he was noticeably slow. Detecting a puncture on his left rear tyre he was forced to pit, far too early to consider making it to the end without another stop. It put Johnson effectively out of contention for the win, although he continued to circulate in the top 10 till the end.

Despite a few minor spins and offs – David Reutimann off at turn 1 on lap 4 putting him back to last; P.J. Jones and Patrick Carpentier making contact and going for a spin at the same spot on lap 16; Reed Sorenson on lap 19, again at the troublesome turn 1 – there were no yellows out until lap 48, when an off by Sam Hornish Jr on the final corner dragged on a load of gravel into a dangerous spot: clean up on aisle three.

Earnhardt Jr. used the opportunity to make a pit stop, but Kyle did not and his team mate Tony Stewart was now in second. They put that situation to good use on lap 55 when Busch moved over and let Stewart lead the timings for that lap, notching up another 5pts for the number 20, before Stewart equally courteously moved aside to let Busch resume the lead.

The leaders all came in around lap 57 – a little early to be sure of making it to the end, but it would be okay if there was a yellow or two. Johnson and Earnhardt, being off-sync, were now leading, but Johnson qickly came in leaving Earnhardt in front – which was okay, as long as there wasn’t a yellow flag when Dale Jr needed to pit.

Which is precisely what happened: Travis Kvapil followed in Hornish’s tyre tracks and racked more gravel onto the final corner, meaning the yellow was out. As a result, Earnhardt ended up coming back out in 31st position with all the stops done and dusted so that any improvement would have to be done on track by overtaking.

P.J. Jones went off into the tyre barrier on lap 71 after battling hard with Jeff Gordon, but his off was actually a result of a clash with Hornish, but again there was no yellow. It was looking like this race would be done and dusted in as little as two hours – a picnic by NASCAR standards.

But on lap 78, Ryan Newman – who had worked his way to an impressive 3rd – spun after charging far too fast into turn 1. It crept back onto the main track right in the racing line, but the engine died leaving Newman marooned just as the pack tore out of turn 1 at high speed. There were a number of near misses and jangled nerves before the yellow came out. Everyone breathed a sign of relief that there were no crashes.

After a lengthy yellow, the green flew on lap 82. And on the very next lap, the carnage that had been avoided in the Newman spin was revisited upon the race with avengence.

Running in the latter half of the field, Michael McDowell made contact with David Gilliland coming out of the final turn 11. The bumping put them both into the outside wall; but Gilliland bounced off the tyres and right into the path of the oncoming pack. This time there was no chance of avoidance: Gilliland was bit at speed side on, slammed into the wall a second time, rebounded again – and hit again. The car was badly damaged, unsurprisingly.

Bobby Labonte was one of the cars to hit Gilliland, and Labonte – although able to climb out of the car – looked hurt, complaining of discomfort in his rib and abdominal area, and was taken to an area hospital. He’s in doubt for next weekend’s race. Gilliland was relatively unscathed – but he and McDowell were summoned to the NASCAR hauler for stern words and possible sanctions for starting the whole mess.

Sam Hornish Jr also had a abrupt and spectacular exit form the race at this point. Shunted right, he ended up impacting the wall dividing the pits from the start/finish straight. Fortunately there were tyres and water tanks to cushion him, but the whole morass erupted into a cloud of water and debris that had media, NASCAR and pit lane teams scattering for cover.

Also involved were Dave Blaney, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Max Papis, Reed Sorenson and Michael Waltrip. And it resulted in a 43 minute red flag while repairs were effected to the various damaged barriers, and the debris removed. In short, it was about the worst crash seen in a NASCAR street circuit – and the worse incident this season.

The green flag finally flew on lap 86 with five laps to run. At this point Kyle Busch was completely in charge, easing away to safe distance. Tony Stewart had to fend off the attentions of Marcus Ambrose who had run a terrific race, climbing from 43rd on the grid to finish 3rd, himself ust holding off Juan Montoya – also a road specialist, and whose climb from 25th to 4th would – without Ambrose’s even more dazzling showing – have been the talk of the day. Also, credit due to AJ Allmendinger who started from 40th and just failed to crack the top 10 – nice to know that the brief stint in IRL Champ Car street courses wasn’t a complete waste of time.

FIN ST  CAR DRIVER  MAKE     SPONSOR    PTS     LAPS STATUS
1   1   18  Kyle Busch       Toyota     195/10  90   Running
2   9   20  Tony Stewart     Toyota     175/5   90   Running
3   41  21  Marcos Ambrose   Ford       165/0   90   Running
4   25  42  Juan Montoya     Dodge      165/5   90   Running
5   16  1   Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet  155/0   90   Running
6   11  29  Kevin Harvick    Chevrolet  150/0   90   Running
7   4   48  Jimmie Johnson   Chevrolet  151/5   90   Running
8   10  11  Denny Hamlin     Toyota     142/0   90   Running
9   3   99  Carl Edwards     Ford       138/0   90   Running
10  19  2   Kurt Busch       Dodge      134/0   90   Running
11  35  84  AJ Allmendinger  Toyota     130/0   90   Running
12  13  17  Matt Kenseth     Ford       127/0   90   Running
13  30  01  Ron Fellows      Chevrolet  124/0   90   Running
14  7   9   Kasey Kahne      Dodge      121/0   90   Running
15  20  19  Elliott Sadler   Dodge      118/0   90   Running
16  18  26  Jamie McMurray   Ford       115/0   90   Running
17  5   31  Jeff Burton      Chevrolet  112/0   90   Running
18  17  83  Brian Vickers    Toyota     109/0   90   Running
19  22  5   Casey Mears      Chevrolet  106/0   90   Running
20  37  10  P. Carpentier *  Dodge      103/0   90   Running
21  8   16  Greg Biffle      Ford       100/0   90   Running
22  2   88  D. Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet  102/5   90   Running
23  12  07  Clint Bowyer     Chevrolet  94/0    90   Running
24  42  45  Boris Said       Dodge      91/0    90   Running
25  34  00  M. McDowell *    Toyota     88/0    90   Running
26  14  12  Ryan Newman      Dodge      85/0    90   Running
27  31  7   Robby Gordon     Dodge      82/0    90   Running
28  27  15  Paul Menard      Chevrolet  79/0    90   Running
29  6   24  Jeff Gordon      Chevrolet  76/0    90   Running
30  40  6   David Ragan      Ford       73/0    90   Running
31  28  41  Reed Sorenson    Dodge      70/0    90   Running
32  32  77  Sam Hornish *    Dodge      67/0    90   Running
33  26  44  David Reutimann  Toyota     64/0    89   Running
34  33  66  Scott Riggs      Chevrolet  61/0    89   Running
35  15  8   Aric Almirola    Chevrolet  58/0    89   Running
36  23  28  Travis Kvapil    Ford       55/0    89   Running
37  36  96  P.J. Jones       Toyota     52/0    89   Running
38  39  78  Joe Nemechek     Chevrolet  49/0    86   In Pit
39  43  55  Michael Waltrip  Toyota     46/0    83   Running
40  24  38  David Gilliland  Ford       43/0    81   Running
41  29  22  Dave Blaney      Toyota     40/0    81   In Pit
42  21  43  Bobby Labonte    Dodge      37/0    81   In Pit
43  38  70  Max Papis        Chevrolet  34/0    81   In Pit
* Denotes Rookie

So, a historic win for Kyle Busch.

Busch also won the Nationwide race in Mexico City in April and the Cup race at Sonoma in June before finishing second here on Saturday in the Nationwide race: no driver in NASCAR history had won three road races in one season, and only Jeff Gordon, Stewart and Robby Gordon had swept both Cup events in the same year. No onder he’s dominating the standings.

And this after rivals dared posit that Kyle’s winning streak was over! As Steve Addington, Busch’s crew chief said: “I can’t believe we don’t win a race in three or four weeks and [they say] we’re in a slump.”

Here’s the championship standings as a result:

    +/- DRIVER              Pts     Gap     POL WIN TOP5 TOP10
1   --  Kyle Busch          3254    Leader  2   8   13   14
2   +1  Carl Edwards        3012    -242    0   4   9    16
3   +1  Jimmie Johnson      3010    -244    3   2   7    12
4   -2  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  2985    -269    1   1   7    12
5   --  Jeff Burton         2945    -309    0   1   4    11
6   --  Jeff Gordon         2754    -500    2   0   8    10
7   +2  Tony Stewart        2744    -510    0   0   8    11
8   -1  Kasey Kahne         2713    -541    2   2   3    11
9   +1  Denny Hamlin        2689    -565    1   1   6    11
10  -2  Greg Biffle         2689    -565    2   0   6    9
11  --  Kevin Harvick       2670    -584    0   0   4    8
12  +1  Matt Kenseth        2628    -626    0   0   4    12
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS
13  -1  Clint Bowyer        2606    -648    0   1   4    10
14  --  David Ragan         2539    -715    0   0   4    7
15  --  Ryan Newman         2424    -830    1   1   2    7
16  +1  Martin Truex Jr.    2419    -835    0   0   3    7
17  -1  Brian Vickers       2418    -836    0   0   3    5
18  --  Kurt Busch          2269    -985    0   1   3    5
19  --  Jamie McMurray      2231    -1023   0   0   0    5
20  +1  Elliott Sadler      2159    -1095   0   0   2    5
21  -1  Bobby Labonte       2121    -1133   0   0   0    1
22  +3  Juan Montoya        2117    -1137   0   0   2    3
23  -1  Travis Kvapil       2071    -1183   0   0   0    3
24  --  Casey Mears         2070    -1184   0   0   1    4
25  +1  David Gilliland     1979    -1275   0   0   1    2
26  -3  Mark Martin         1965    -1289   0   0   2    7
27  --  David Reutimann     1927    -1327   0   0   0    1
28  --  Paul Menard         1883    -1371   1   0   0    0
29  +1  Robby Gordon        1770    -1484   0   0   0    2
30  +1  Reed Sorenson       1736    -1518   0   0   1    2
31  -2  Dave Blaney         1736    -1518   0   0   0    2
32  --  Michael Waltrip     1682    -1572   0   0   1    1
33  --  Sam Hornish Jr.*    1674    -1580   0   0   0    0
34  --  Regan Smith*        1584    -1670   0   0   0    0
35  --  Scott Riggs         1549    -1705   0   0   0    0
36  +1  Patrick Carpentier* 1333    -1921   1   0   0    0
37  +1  Joe Nemechek        1272    -1982   1   0   0    0
38  -2  J.J. Yeley          1263    -1991   0   0   1    1
39  +1  A.J. Allmendinger   1226    -2028   0   0   0    1
40  -1  Michael McDowell*   1200    -2054   0   0   0    0
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  1. ALS

    You might want to get the facts right for your story – AJ has never raced in the IRL. He was a successful driver in the Champ Car World Series… big difference. (Dario and Sam Hornish were the drivers in the IRL.)

  2. andrewlewin

    Yep, you’re quite right Allmendinger was Champ Car not IRL – brain fade on my part, I did know that, honest. Thanks for the correction, which I’ve added to the piece.

    Dario of course was both, starting off in Champ Car before getting dragged into IRL when Team Green made the jump. He seemed reluctant, was said not to like the ovals – and then proved rather good on them. Just a shame that the switch to NASCAR has gone so poorly for him.




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