Welcome back to Michigan. Sunday’s race at the two-mile oval is the second Cup Series race of the year at the track. NASCAR and Michigan will also add traction compound on the upper portions of the corners at the track. That means Watkins Glen was the only race of a six-race summer stretch that didn’t include sticky stuff on the track.
1. Kyle Busch (LW: 1)
After the roller-coaster ride that was Busch’s Sunday at Watkins Glen it may seem odd that he’s still at No. 1. But consider that he spun on the second lap and only fell from second to 10th and immediately started working his way through the field.
Consider that he then had more incidents with William Byron that resulted in damage to his car. Busch then lost track position as his team fixed that damage.
And then consider that Busch went spinning after a kerfuffle with Bubba Wallace and still somehow ended up finishing 11th. Did Busch self-inflict and contribute to many of his setbacks on Sunday? Absolutely. There’s no excusing or denying that. There’s also no excusing or denying that a lesser driver doesn’t get back to 11th after all that either. And besides, Busch now leads the points standings again.
2. Denny Hamlin (LW: 2)
Hamlin was a distant third to Truex and Elliott all day long. And he realized that.
“They were just a little better,” Hamlin said. “I fought the bus-stop all day, I was just a third-place car all weekend and it showed up by finishing third. We optimized the most we were going to get out of our Camry right there.”
Because of the varying ways that teams attacked Sunday’s race — and the domination by Elliott — Hamlin was just one of three drivers who scored more than 40 points on Sunday. His 49 points were, obviously, behind Elliott and Truex.
3. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 3)
Truex wasn’t thrilled with his car during practice on Saturday but was happy with the way that his team made changes ahead of the race. But he was never able to wrestle the necessary track position away from Elliott.
“Definitely in the right direction, just wish we could have been just a tiny bit better,” Truex said. “Really was all about restarts and track position. If I could have just got by him on that last one, we could have set sail I believe. We didn’t and he won and he did a good job.”
Sunday’s second-place finish did nothing to diminish Truex’s status as the driver to beat on road courses in the Cup Series. That won’t change heading into 2020 either.
4. Chase Elliott (LW: NR)
Elliott’s 80 laps led are the most laps led at Watkins Glen since Tony Stewart led a remarkable 83 of 92 laps in 2005. His team had a fast car and executed a perfect strategy that didn’t get Elliott anywhere far away from the lead.
Elliott said passing on Sunday was “doable” but it had to come under certain circumstances.
“The guy in front just had to ‑‑ you had to get close and then the guy in front had to have a little bit of a bobble at the right time,” Elliott said. “You could bobble, but you just couldn't do it at the wrong spot. So I just tried really hard to ‑‑ not to make any mistakes and not give it to him. I felt like he was a little better. If he was going to beat me I wanted him to come up there and out‑brake me and pass me. I wanted to make it as hard as I could on him and not hand it to him was my goal.”
Elliott did not bobble. Clearly.
5. Erik Jones (LW: 6)
Another week, another incredibly strong run for Jones. He was fourth on Sunday.
“I felt like we had a fifth-place car all through practice and we were able to get a little better finish than that,” Jones said. “It’s nice to keep that streak going and now going to two places – Michigan next week and then Bristol where I think we can win. We have some really good momentum behind us these months. You can’t keep running up in the top-five every week and not win a race. That’s what I keep telling myself and hopefully we can do it here soon.”
Jones has been really good at Bristol. He’s a smart pick there in a couple weeks if you like to play fantasy racing games.
6. Kevin Harvick (LW: 5)
Harvick was seventh on Sunday and he drops a spot because everyone ahead of him outside of Busch finished ahead of him. And Elliott dominated the race.
Harvick wasn’t thrilled with his car’s speed, however.
“We probably overachieved,” Harvick said. “We knew we were off and we thought we could, at best, finish fifth and we finished seventh, so we were fine.”
7. Joey Logano (LW: 4)
Logano got some damage on the front of his car early in the race and simply didn’t have any speed. He finished 23rd. that poor performance was why Busch was able to take the points lead.
8. Brad Keselowski (LW: 7)
Keselowski was ninth on Sunday. He estimated the leaders on Sunday were about a half-second faster than he was.
“We were a fifth to tenth-place kind of car all weekend and ended up ninth,” Keselowski said. “I thought we could have been a little bit better at the end if I would have done a few things different, but nowhere near the speed we needed to run with the Gibbs cars or the 9 car, so we made the most of the weekend with what we had.”
9. Kurt Busch (LW: 8)
This Busch brother finished 10th on Sunday.
“At road courses, I expected to do a little better at Ganassi. It kind of shows [Kyle] Larson’s done well to improve and [Jamie McMurray] was a solid road racer is what it proves. But we got beat by the same exact cars we got beat by at Sonoma. So, we’ve got to keep plugging away. But I’m not satisfied at all with that. We pushed and pushed and pushed and that’s all it had.”
10. Ryan Blaney (LW: 11)
After finishing third at Sonoma, Blaney was fifth at Watkins Glen. And made Jimmie Johnson mad after Johnson went spinning into the carousel tire barriers off Blaney’s bumper.
“I got off the bus stop better than him and he left a lane,” Blaney said. “I tried to back out. I thought he knew I was there. I didn’t mean to spin him. It wasn’t my intention, but it was a good battle back after starting in the back.”
Here’s Johnson’s side of the story.
"He just drove through me in the carousel,” Johnson said. “I tried to hear what he was trying to say...but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak. I don't know if he was nervous or scared or both...I don't know what the problem is. He just drove through me...and spun me out. And clearly that has big implications with what we are trying to do for the Playoffs tight now, so clearly not happy with his actions”.
11. Aric Almirola (LW: 10)
Almirola finished 12th. He’s finished between seventh and 17th in each of the last 13 races.
12. William Byron (LW: 9)
Byron’s day could have been salvaged after he was forced off the course in the bus stop by Busch but he wanted to express his displeasure with the 2015 champ. That didn’t go well when Busch brake-checked him as Byron went for the bump. The resulting brake-check meant significant damage for Byron’s car. He finished 21st.
Lucky Dog: Matt DiBenedetto finished sixth. He ran fourth at Sonoma.
The DNF: It was not a good day to be a Dillon or Daniel Hemric. Ty and Austin finished 30th and 31st, respectively, while Hemric was 35th.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
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