Not to be outdone by the weather at Pocono last weekend, Watkins Glen International took it one step further with a full course, one day rain delay. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the Monday matinee Cup race at the Glen.
[media-credit name=”Ed Coombs” align=”alignright” width=”245″][/media-credit]Surprising: In a race in which he started from the pole position and clearly dominated, leading three times for a record-high 49 laps, it was surprising that Kyle Busch was not in Victory Lane yet again. The driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota took the checkered flag in the third position, one back from his runner up position at Pocono the weekend before.
Busch lost the lead on the final restart, a green-white-checkered one at that, of the race. Known for his usually stout re-starts, Busch made a surprising mistake in Turn One, taking it just a bit wide enough to allow both Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose through to the lead.
“Just knew exactly what not to do and did it anyway,” Busch said. “I just screwed up.”
“I felt like we were right there and had a shot to win,” Busch continued. “I knew it was going to come down to one corner and I messed it up.”
Surprisingly, although Busch did not score the win, he did re-emerge as the co-leader in the point standings. Busch climbed two spots to tie with Carl Edwards, both atop the Chase leader board with 752 points each.
Not Surprising: It was not surprising to see road course redemption collide with another first time winner, resulting in Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion, being in Victory Lane. With his loss of the win at Sonoma due to his own error firmly behind him, Ambrose redeemed himself to become NASCAR’s fifth first-time winner of the season.
“I’ve fought so much to get here, to finally win and be in Victory Lane is a dream come true,” Ambrose said. “To win in the Cup Series is an incredible feeling and I’m very, very proud.”
Ambrose’s win was Richard Petty Motorsports first since 2009 when Kasey Kahne won on the road course at Infineon. Ambrose’s win officially came on his 105th Cup start.
“It’s just a dream day,” Ambrose continued. “The sacrifices you make to be a contender in the Cup Series, to finally get to Victory Lane is a dream come true for me.”
Surprising: As surprising as Brad Keselowski’s ‘Iron Man’ performance was at Pocono, with his win there in spite of his broken ankle, the driver of the No. 2 ‘Blue Deuce’ pulled off an ‘Iron Man Redux’, with a runner up score at the Glen.
“I wouldn’t say it got easier,” Keselowski said of racing with his injured ankle. “But when your car is fast, you can put a lot of stuff behind you and make it work.”
“I think that’s about as good as the racing gets right there,” Keselowski continued. “I’m proud to be a part of it. Life is good when you have fast race cars.”
Not Surprising: It was not surprising that the stars of several other traditionally good road racers shone at the Glen. Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, finished seventh and AJ Allmendinger, who started outside pole in his No. 43 Best Buy Ford, finished eighth.
Allmendinger was particularly proud to not only see his Richard Petty Motorsports teammate in Victory Lane, but also took great pride in his comeback after an altercation with Kurt Busch early in the race.
“It’s great to see Marcos in Victory Lane and it’s great for the team,” Allmendinger said. “I’m proud of my guys and proud of the way we fought back all day. The car was fast.”
“Our Target Chevy was really good,” Juan Pablo Montoya said. “I thought we had a winning car. We were really close but it was all okay. It was a good day for us.”
Surprising: It was most surprising to see Boris Said and Greg Biffle channeling the fighting spirits of two other competitors, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. This week, instead of Johnson and Busch feuding, it was Said and Biffle who were trading paint on the track and harsh words in the garage as well.
Said, standing in for Landon Cassill in the No. 51 Phoenix Construction/Thank A Teacher Today Security Benefit Chevrolet, was furious with the way Biffle, in his No. 16 Valvoline Ford, raced him in the waning laps, especially since Biffle was a lap down at the time.
Said accused Biffle of ‘flipping him off’ and Biffle countered by accusing Said of causing the last race crash that sent two cars hard into the wall. After the race, the disagreement really heated up into not only harsh words but also some attempted punches.
“He wouldn’t even let me get out of the car and he comes over and throws a few little baby punches,” Said said of Biffle. “Then when I get out, he runs away and hides behind some big guys.”
“But he won’t hide from me long,” Said continued. “I won’t settle it out on the track. It’s not right to wreck cars.”
“But he’ll show up at a race with a black eye one of these days.”
Biffle, for his part, had equally strong reactions.
“Let me tell you something,” Biffle said. “Boris, the ‘road course ringer’ caused that wreck. He did the same thing to me earlier in the race.”
“Then ‘Mr. Class’ pulls in behind my truck after the race today,” Biffle continued. “How unprofessional and disrespectful.”
Not Surprising: It was not surprising that the aforementioned feud between Johnson and Busch did not continue to percolate at the Glen, especially since the two drivers were nowhere near each other on the race track.
The driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge spun early in the race and then lost his brakes on Lap 49 after a tire failure sent him hard into the wall. Busch did not finish the race, scored in the 38th position, causing him to fall two positions to sixth in the point standings.
“I had a big problem getting into the braking zones today,” Busch said. “I had to crank eight rounds of front brake into our car just to survive.”
“All that does is generate brake heat and I blew out the left-front tire,” Busch continued. “It was a bummer of a day.”
Johnson, on the other hand, had a top-ten finish in his No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet. The five-time champ currently sits just six points behind Chase co-leaders Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
“We had a great day,” Johnson said. “To have the pace that we did all day long, even though we weren’t up there leading, we had a very fast race car and that’s what we wanted to have here.”
Surprising: It was a bit surprising that a 15th place finish left NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his crew chief Steve Letarte feeling so very optimistic. Both agreed that they ‘did what they had to do’ to solidify their place in the Chase, a place where Junior has not been for the past three years.
Dale Junior, admittedly not a lover of road course racing, scored his first top-15 in six years of racing at the Glen. The driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet now sits solidly in the ninth spot in the Chase standings.
“I think we’re a good enough team to make the Chase bar none,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. “We should be able to get in there no problem.”
Not Surprising: It was not surprising at all that the calls for safer barriers at Watkins Glen International have intensified after several very hard hits at the road course in the midst of the Finger Lakes.
Not only did Kurt Busch hit hard into the wall, but Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota, also lost his brakes and took a nasty lick head on into the tire barrels.
“Something blew out in the left front,” Hamlin said after being checked and released from the infield care center after his hit. “I had no brakes. There was nothing you could do.”
The worst of the hard hits, however, came in the final lap of the race where David Ragan, driver of the No. 6 UPS “We Love Logistics” Ford, wrecked hard himself and then spun into David Reutimann, behind the wheel of the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, sending him into the air and into the wall as well.
Both Davids were rattled but escaped major injuries, exiting gingerly from their mangled race cars as they attempted to catch their collective breaths.
“It’s just a product of close quarters racing at the end,” Ragan said. “I’m sore. That was a hard hit.”
“I looked down at my feet and my pedals and my leg rests were all pushed over,” Ragan continued. “It’s a shame that a race track we go to in 2011 doesn’t have a better wall design all the way around the race track.”
“Hopefully they’ll look at that,” Ragan said. “I’ve been to some dirt tracks that have better walls than that.”
“This is one of the bigger hits I would say, but it’s part of the gig,” Reutimann said. “You sign up to do this stuff every once and awhile and you’re going to hit something.”
“Overall I’m okay,” Reutimann continued. “I’m thinking where I hit would probably be a good place for SAFER barriers.”
“I’m good and will be ready for Michigan next week.”