With William Byron picking up his season leading fifth NASCAR Cup Series victory Sunday at Watkins Glen International, the Hendrick Motorsports driver guaranteed Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski playoff berths.
Even though the two Ford drivers are winless this season heading into the regular season finale Saturday at Daytona, their consistency this year has provided each driver a playoff position via points. Thirteen different winners this season left three positions open to points or a first-time winner this year and two on points.
Entering Daytona, Keselowski is sixth in the driver standings, 107 points above the cutline. With Chris Buescher’s two victories this season, RFK Racing now has both of its cars in the playoffs in just Keselowski’s second year of team ownership. Harvick is 10th n the standings, 103 points above the cutline.
“Now, we can go to Daytona and have fun,” Keselowski said after his 15th-place finish in the Go Bowling at The Glen. “We have nothing to lose. That makes us dangerous. We have really strong momentum, and we can’t take that for granted. We’re showing a lot of speed and clicking when it counts.”
Harvick, who finished 21st Sunday, cited track position as critical in the 90-lap road course event that had only one caution period.
“It was just tough to pass,” Harvick says. “We just started in the back, and we couldn’t really do much.”
Even though Harvick has secured a playoff berth, he said he wished his Stewart-Haas Racing team had won a race this season.
“We’ve had our opportunities to win a few,” Harvick says. “We struggled on the road courses, but other than that, it’s been OK. We just need to get our cars running better to really do anything.”
Harvick was without crew chief Rodney Childers, who left Saturday for North Carolina where his mother was hospitalized in ICU and on a ventilator after suffering heart failure. In a social media post on Sunday, Childers said he would be in the SHR war room in Kannapolis, North Carolina, for the Watkins Glen event. Stephen Doran substituted for Childers at the New York road course.
Fuel Miscalculation Costly for Elliott
Hendrick Motorsports experienced a day Sunday at Watkins Glen International that’s tough to deal with when you’re a four-car operation. With one team, you’re celebrating with champagne while another is dealing with a gut punch to its season.
William Byron had just collected his season leading fifth victory in the Go Bowling at The Glen, while Chase Elliott was dealing with the sickening reality that he was just one race away from playoff elimination.
The fast New York road course had been viewed for weeks as Elliott’s best chance to secure a victory this year. However, a fuel miscalculation relegated Elliott to a disappointing 32nd-place finish, one lap down.
With 50 laps remaining, Elliott sat seventh. He was closing in on his final pit stop when crew chief Alan Gustafson told Elliott to flip the switch and then pit after he passed him two more times. However, there was a miscalculation and Elliott ran out of fuel on lap 56 and stopped on the track. His Chevrolet was pushed to pit road, but the team’s hope for victory was gone.
Elliott declined comment after the race.
“Clearly, a miscalculation with the nine car and that was huge,” Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon said. “He came in a little bit short the first stop and so they were trying to stretch it to get closer on the strategy of the others. You always want to pad yourself here just in case there’s a lot of restarts at the end. The fuel just wasn’t there. So, it’s really unfortunate. They had a great car.”
Gordon said that since the race only had one caution period, which Elliott caused, he didn’t know if they could have gotten him into a winning position.
“It’s pretty much the writing’s on the wall, we know that we’re not going to get all four of our cars into the playoffs,” Gordon says. “So, we try to make sure we get one more in there. I know those guys are capable of doing it. It’s a crapshoot at Daytona, right? Anything can happen.”
Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs Will Battle for Final Playoff Spot
Bubba Wallace and rookie Ty Gibbs enter the regular season finale knowing one of them could make the playoffs or both could miss them if there is a new winner this season.
Wallace entered Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen knowing that road course racing isn’t his forte. However, NTT IndyCar champion Scott Dixon gave Wallace advice on race morning that worked.
It’s hard when you come into a road course race and you tell yourself that every time (that you’re terrible at road course racing),” Wallace said after finishing 12th in Sunday’s Watkins Glen race. “He basically told me to shut the hell up and that I’m here for a reason and to trust in myself and believe in myself and this is what can happen.
“I don’t think I had one lap where I said I was going to suck, so it was good. That’s the first time I felt proud of myself at a road course race. I just executed and didn’t lose focus.
“I know we still have one more (race) to go, but we wanted to maintain our gap and not lose too many and we gained. Now, we get to go in Daytona stressful as hell.”
The 20-year-old Gibbs wasn’t happy with his performance even though he finished fifth, his second top-five this season.
“I felt like I was faster than the guys in front of us and I didn’t do a good job getting through them,” says Gibbs, who is 32 points below the playoff cutline. “I’ve got to study on something there and get past these guys.”
Gibbs says he doesn’t know what mindset he needs going into next Saturday’s Daytona race.
“Just stay clean and try to make it to the end and have a good finish,” Gibbs says.
Truex Closes in on Regular-Season Title
Entering next Saturday’s regular season finale, Denny Hamlin can’t help but think about the 25-point penalty he drew from NASCAR after admitting on his podcast that he intentionally put Ross Chastain into the wall at Phoenix in the season’s fourth race.
Martin Truex Jr. possess a 39-point advantage over Hamlin in the two-way duel for the title that rewards the winner with 15 playoff points.
“It’s doable,” Hamlin says about catching Truex. “You’ve got to have things go your way. If we can talk NASCAR into those 25 points they took away earlier in the season, we’d really make it interesting.”
Hamlin placed second in Sunday’s Watkins Glen event while Truex drove his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a sixth-place finish.
Sour Day for McDowell
One week it’s the penthouse. The next week it’s the outhouse. Such was the case Sunday at Watkins Glen International for Michael McDowell.
A week after McDowell recorded his second NASCAR Winston Cup victory in the road course event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Front Row Motorsports driver found himself last at Watkins Glen, the only car that failed to finish the race.
Before receiving a pit road penalty for driving through too many pits to reach his team, McDowell led once for 17 laps.
“We were still able to drive back through the field,” McDowell says.
McDowell was eighth when with 15 laps remaining his Ford’s engine shut off.
“Not sure if it was the engine or electrical, but I just came out of the carousel and it shut off,” McDowell says.
NASCAR Cup Series Race - Go Bowling at The Glen
1. (2) William Byron, Chevrolet, 90.
2. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90.
3. (7) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 90.
4. (6) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 90.
5. (4) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 90.
6. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 90.
7. (13) Chris Buescher, Ford, 90.
8. (8) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 90.
9. (23) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 90.
10. (11) Joey Logano, Ford, 90.
11. (25) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 90.
12. (12) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 90.
13. (28) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 90.
14. (9) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 90.
15. (24) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90.
16. (17) Austin Cindric, Ford, 90.
17. (30) Ryan Preece, Ford, 90.
18. (22) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 90.
19. (21) Mike Rockenfeller, Chevrolet, 90.
20. (10) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 90.
21. (33) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 90.
22. (14) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 90.
23. (18) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 90.
24. (20) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 90.
25. (29) Andy Lally, Ford, 90.
26. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 90.
27. (35) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 90.
28. (34) Cole Custer(i), Ford, 90.
29. (31) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 90.
30. (27) Aric Almirola, Ford, 90.
31. (16) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 90.
32. (15) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 89.
33. (32) Harrison Burton, Ford, 89.
34. (36) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 89.
35. (26) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 83.
36. (3) Michael McDowell, Ford, Electrical, 74.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 111.426 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 58 Mins, 44 Secs. Margin of Victory: 2.632 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 1 for 4 laps.
Lead Changes: 6 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: D. Hamlin 1-3;M. McDowell 4-20;W. Byron 21;A. Allmendinger 22-23;W. Byron 24-55;K. Busch 56-57;W. Byron 58-90.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): William Byron 3 times for 66 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 17 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 3 laps; AJ Allmendinger 1 time for 2 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 2 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 34,24,11,54,16,5,20,23,8,45
Stage #2 Top Ten: 24,11,54,5,16,20,9,8,23,3