Wild Watkins Glen
The rain in Watkins Glen, NY might have delayed the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from Sunday afternoon to Monday morning, but it didn’t do anything to dampen the efforts of Joe Gibbs Racing.
JGR left the road course of Watkins Glen International with two top-five finishes as Kyle Busch and Joey Logano earned third and fifth-place respectively. While it appeared that teammate Denny Hamlin would have the opportunity to join them at the top of the field, an accident left the No. 11 team with a disappointing 36th-place finish.
Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota on the pole after a track-record qualifying effort on Saturday morning. Busch would settle into the third position through the early going, but eventually claim the top spot by lap 17 as the No. 18 team made the decision to stretch its fuel mileage early and remain on the track longer than some of the other leaders. Busch would go on to lead the next 12 laps before the day’s first caution came out allowing him to bring his No. 18 Camry down pit road for the first time. The M&Ms crew would get Busch off pit road first and he was able to restart in the eighth position behind those that chose not to pit under caution. He would quickly regain several spots and would find himself racing in the second position by lap 43 when some of the other leaders elected to pit. Busch would regain the lead on lap 45. He would return to pit road for fuel and tires on lap 59 and returned to the track in 16th position with many in the field running different fuel strategies. Busch would regain several positions racing his way back inside the top ten and when another caution came out on lap 66 the remaining leaders would hit pit road. That would allow Busch to regain the top spot for the restart on lap 69 and he would remain in the lead when a caution flag came out with five laps remaining. The race would restart on lap 90 for a green-white-checker finish with Busch out front, but as he drove through the first turn the No. 18 Camry would get a little loose costing him two spots. Busch would recover and finish with a strong third-place effort after leading three times for a race-high 49 laps.
Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the 13th position and quickly raced his way up into the top 10 during the day’s opening laps. Logano was able to race his way into the top-five while stretching his fuel mileage in hopes of being able to make only two stops while many in the field would have to pit at least three times. Logano would find himself racing in the seventh position for a restart on lap 52 following the day’s second caution. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli would then bring Logano down pit road for what proved to be the final time on lap 59. With four fresh tires, fuel and adjustments to loosen the handling conditions on the No. 20 Home Depot Camry, Logano would cycle through the green flag stop just outside the top 20. When the remaining leaders pitted under caution on lap 67 he would restart the race just inside the top ten and was running in ninth when the day’s final caution came out with just five laps remaining. The late caution set up a green-white-checker finish and Logano took full advantage with an outstanding run over the final two laps to earn The Home Depot team a strong fifth-place finish.
Denny Hamlin had to start his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota at the back of the field after spinning on his qualifying lap Saturday morning. Despite the setback Hamlin entered the day knowing his FedEx Camry was fast and that was clearly evident from the outset of today’s race as he gained 10 spots into 32nd by lap five was into the 20th position by only lap 14. Hamlin would break into the top-15 prior to midpoint of the race. When a caution came out on lap 49, crew chief Mike Ford would elect to have Hamlin bring his FedEx Camry back down pit road for fuel and four fresh tires. He would restart in the 23rd position on lap 52, but quickly climb his way back into the top 20 by lap 55. When several of the leaders came down pit road on lap 59, Hamlin would join them for what would be their final stop of the day. He would return to the track in the 18th position and quickly raced his FedEx Camry back inside the top 15. With many leaders still having to pit one last time, Hamlin appeared set for great finish. However, an accident on lap 66 would change that outlook, when Hamlin found his wheels locked up with no brakes resulting in a hard hit into the wall and tire barrier. Amazingly Hamlin would climb out of the car unharmed but his FedEx Camry was totaled leaving the team with a disappointing 36th-place finish.
Marcos Ambrose captured the victory today at The Glen, while Brad Keselowski was second, Busch third, Martin Truex, Jr. fourth, and Logano rounded out the top-five. There were five cautions for a total of 14 laps and 14 lead changes among eight different drivers over the course of the 92-lap race, which was extended two laps for a green-white-checker finish.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will return to Michigan for the second time this season next Sunday. Coverage of the race will start on Sunday, August 21 at Noon ET on ESPN (race starts at 1 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius Radio NASCAR channel 90 and MRN Radio.