The Top Five: Breaking down the Watkins Glen race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International…

1. Total Toyotas

Fans can be upset and drivers (coughBradKeselowskicough) can politic all they want, but Toyota is absolutely dominating the series right now.

After a slow start for Joe Gibbs Racing, the four-car team has joined Furniture Row Racing to put six of the fastest cars on the track every week. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a big track or a road course — Toyotas are likely going to be running up front most of the day.

Just check out Sunday’s finishing order: Toyotas swept the top four spots (for the first time ever) and had all six of its main cars in the top 10. And Toyota drivers also combined to lead 59 of the 90 laps.

As Kyle Larson has faded (he’s now third in the point standings behind Truex and Kyle Busch), it’s increasingly looking like the Toyotas will roll into the playoffs just as strong as they were last year.

Of course, a Chevrolet ended up winning the 2016 title — so that doesn’t mean a Toyota championship is a sure thing.

But it’s certainly looking good at the moment, particularly with Truex holding 34 playoff points (plus staring at another 15 if he hangs on to be the regular season champion).

As a reminder, that means Truex would start each round of the playoffs with at least 49 points — close to a full race — and could still add more points in the regular season and the playoffs races themselves.

So is Truex a lock for Homestead?

“It doesn’t mean that it’s a free pass or we’re just going to skate through,” Truex said. “We’re still going to work hard and try to do the best we can. But I do think that as the playoffs start, the thought process probably shifts more toward, ‘How do we figure out how to run really well at Homestead? Have a shot at winning there?’ Because that’s what it’s going to come down to.”

2. Blink and you’ll miss it

Sunday’s race was the shortest full-distance Cup Series points race in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present). It was actually three minutes shorter than Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, which is kind of amazing in itself.

The last time a full-distance Cup points race was less than the two-hour-and-seven-minute run-time of Watkins Glen? Hickory in August of 1971, according to NASCAR.

One big reason was there were only three cautions — and NASCAR let the race play out at the finish, with the final 36 laps all under green.

That’s becoming a trend lately, since NASCAR seemingly has stopped calling late debris cautions after an outbreak of criticism following the Michigan race in June.

A recap:

— At Sonoma, the final 55 laps were green.

— Daytona was an overtime finish, but that was set up by an accident.

— Kentucky was an overtime finish, but that was set up by Kurt Busch blowing up after a 100-lap run.

— At New Hampshire, the final 35 laps were green.

— Indianapolis finished in overtime, but that was set up due to multiple wrecks.

— At Pocono, the last 55 laps (all of Stage 3) were green.

I love that. Yeah, it might be more exciting to see a crazy double-file restart in overtime — but if a caution is not warranted, then it’s good to let the race play out. And that’s what NASCAR seems to be doing.

Plus, a long run at the end doesn’t mean it’s a boring race. The finish Sunday was still in doubt and had plenty of excitement right down to the final seconds. So those are all positive things, and I like how NASCAR is officiating these races. I hope this trend continues through the playoffs, when the races mean so much more.


3. Brad and Kyle, Part 389

Based on his radio chatter, I thought Busch was going to go punch Keselowski in the face after the race, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Busch shook hands with AJ Allmendinger and laughed about something, then walked briskly toward the garage with reporters trailing behind.

He didn’t say anything notable (“Imagine that,” he said about the contact) — saving his thoughts for a mid-flight Twitter Q&A on the way home — but it was clear he was once again upset with his nemesis.

This is my favorite rivalry in NASCAR. On the surface, the two men have a lot in common: Both Busch and Keselowski are such unapologetically hard racers, both each have one title, both own a Truck Series team and each has a child who was born days apart from the other.

Yet there is ZERO common ground between the two, who have no relationship (despite Keselowski’s attempt at an olive branch through his blog a couple years ago). And they conduct themselves in a much different manner.

I think both are fantastic for the sport and are compelling, interesting people. They add spice to the race weekends on a regular basis. So it doesn’t bother me that they don’t see eye to eye, because that’s entertaining for the rest of us.

Oh, and don’t expect them to ever chat about Sunday’s incident, either.

“I don’t think he is really the listening type, so that is pretty doubtful,” Keselowski said.

4. Points battle blown open

If you haven’t paid attention, the points gap for the final playoff spot (see below) is only getting wider with four races to go.

Joey Logano is now completely out of the picture — he’s 106 points behind Matt Kenseth for the final spot — and in a must-win situation. That’s crazy, by the way.

Meanwhile, Kenseth added to his lead over Clint Bowyer and is now up by 28 points. Bowyer needs either Kenseth, Chase Elliott or Jamie McMurray to have a bad race (or two) while he has really solid results at Michigan, Bristol, Darlington and Richmond.

Of course, this all changes with a new winner. But it’s fairly obvious after Sunday there won’t be 16 different winners, so there should be at least a couple spots available to make the playoffs on points.

5. Must-See TV

NBCSN’s experiment with using a radio-style call for its TV broadcasts this weekend was a smashing success and as well-received on Twitter as any new thing can possibly be these days.

Mike Bagley of the Motor Racing Network fame was phenomenal in his role at the top of the esses, bringing all the excitement and enthusiasm from the radio to a TV screen. But just as impressive was Parker Kligerman, a driver with no formal announcing training, being able to pick up Bagley’s lead and call the action through the inner loop. Jeff Burton also brought a ton of insight in a fast-paced environment.

In addition, Leigh Diffey’s play-by-play announcing from the booth was top-notch. The F1 announcer was filling in for Rick Allen (who was in London for the track and field world championships) and was perfect alongside Steve Letarte, who was typically excellent in breaking down the strategy.

All in all, it made for one of the best NASCAR TV broadcasts in recent memory.



By patron request, I’m going to start including the playoff picture at the bottom of the Top Five each week. Here’s how it looks now:

IN (13): Truex, Larson, Harvick, Ky. Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney, Ku. Busch, Newman, Stenhouse, Kahne, A. Dillon.

Points Bubble with four races to go:

14. Chase Elliott +39

15. Jamie McMurray +34

16. Matt Kenseth +28


17. Clint Bowyer -28

(Everyone else more than 100 points or one win behind)

29 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Watkins Glen race”

  1. Jeff you continue to write with insight into the racers and race. Not knocking other NASCAR drivers, but you touch on all aspects of the race, including the personalities that are such a part of NASCAR these days. Granted being a #Glucker I am partial to you – but this style of writing is geared to the fans – and this fan appreciates it. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thought it was a great NASCAR Sunday. Interesting strategy and great coverage on NBC. We don’t need a demolition derby every week to enjoy ourselves as fans. Oh yeah, and my favorite driver won. That always helps. Cheers to another solid weekend of reporting from Jeff.

  3. Completely agree with Lisa. Haven’t even watch the race yet, but followed along on Twitter today (mostly your feed). Keep up the great work.

  4. Really enjoyed the broadcast, lack of debris cautions & just the overall enjoyment of the race. Continued success.

    1. To the troll who used my name and a disgusting slur here, I’m sorry you don’t have anything to be positive about today. Here’s to all the real race fans who support Jeff’s work.

  5. Humm,playoff pts get too big,nascar might get fans unhappy,already alot.See what happens but it is too close same for all on track.Wonder who will be next to get penalty, will happen.As for Toyota, they spend Big in all sports,look around,money buys all.i don’t like leader 5-10 sec ahead at any race.IMO

  6. I thought the TV broadcast was pretty good. There were the typical sponsor slot announcements that they have to do to pay the bills, (which are super annoying, by the way. That spotter’s deal with Liberty Mutual is among the most egregious offenders), and they kind of ran out of interesting things to say when the race was strung out. But by and large it was more exciting and definitely more fun to listen to, especially when there was on-track action to describe.

    I, for one, hope they bring the “Bagman” back and do this again somewhere.

  7. Yes, Toyotas have been fast – but they aren’t dominating the wins – no matter how much Brad whines. For the first 18 point races, Truex was the ONLY Toyota driver with a win. (yes, he did have 3 but so did Jimmie)

    This years’ Cup wins – Chevy – 9, Ford – 7, Toyota – 6.

    You can’t say they’re dominating until they have more wins than the other brands.

    1. ???????? Nancy, I was thinking about tweeting Brad that same thought except it’s, Chevy – 8, Ford – 8 and Toyota – 6. The reason they’re screaming domination is Toyota has won 4 out of the last 5 races. What they are forgetting is Chevy and Ford won 15 of 17 races prior to this recent streak.

      1. They won 4 out of 5 since Nascar change the policing shape of the board on the spoiler.Without the Indy crash between the toyotas it would have been a complete sweep 5 out 5

  8. Anonymous – what sucked about it? I thought it was the best play-by-play that NBC has had this year.

    1. that Diffey guy sucked big time…he can go back to wherever he came from. keep him in F1, whatever. :-((

  9. Liked the concept of a ‘radio’ play by play, but was disappointed that most of it was (surprise!) focused on only the top 5 or 6 cars. When the field gets strung out, I know there is close racing somewhere in the field, but TV seems totally unable to find the action, rather focus on one car well ahead of the pack. I would love to get a wider view of the race, as I would if I were in the stands.

  10. The TV commentary was the best of the year and maybe the best in the last 10 years. More coverage of what’s happening in the race and less banter and less yuck-yuck-yucking. I didn’t realize there was a concerted effort to “experiment with using a radio-style call for its TV broadcasts” this weekend. I just thought it was Leigh being in the booth and bringing a little F1 professionalism. All I can say is I hope they decide to continue the radio style call.

  11. Worst race to watch in a long time. I enjoyed the announcers. Hated the lack of cautions because the double file restarts are the most exciting part of every race. I have grown to really enjoy road racing, but Sunday wasn’t that exciting overall.

    1. I agree with you to a point. My problem is that I don’t think that restarts should be the most exciting part of racing. I think the actual racing should be what makes it exciting. The fact that the 3 laps after the restarts (and pit stops) are now where all the racing takes place just shows how terrible the racing itself has become. NASCAR has relied on dubious cautions and double file restarts to create excitement because it a quick fix and easier than fixing the cars to make them race better.

  12. Excellent commentary by Bagley, Kligerman and Burton. Nothing against Allen, Diffey’s play by play was spot-on and the accent added some sophistication. Letarte was, as usual, informative and entertaining. The best group in a while.

    Video coverage was very good with decent coverage back in the field where a lot of very good racing was going on.

    I think the so-called “radio” commentary created a scenario where the producers had switch camera coverage away from the leaders and give more coverage back in the pack.

  13. Agree….this was the best TV coverage in I don’t know how long. I’ve been waiting for FOX, ESPN, NBC, TNT, MTV, VH1, Spike, whoever to actually call a race in a professional manner for years, and Sunday I think it finally happened as it should be called. BRING BACK BAGMAN FOR EVERY RACE. Just a joy to watch, finally!

  14. I personally hated the broadcast. I didn’t mind that it was radio style, but it reminded me of an F1 broadcast. I actually like to watch F1 racing, but the announcers just don’t do it for me. They seem too corporate/showbiz and not like real people. That’s why people love NASCAR, because the drivers seem real and that’s why folks love people like DW or DJ in the booth.

    1. DJ yes, DW no. Most fans are sick of the Waltrips. If you like them you are in the minority.

  15. I thought Leigh Diffey was the star of the weekend. He was OUTSTANDING. I loved his enthusiasm he brought to the broadcast, and he displayed true nuance in describing the on-track action “look at that car, all the fenders in pristine condition” (or something to that effect, I don’t know the exact quote).

    I truly thought he did a remarkable job, he displayed tremendous knowledge of the sport, and I would love to see him call more races.

    I truly hope he is getting the credit he deserves, because after watching both the Xfinity race, and the MENCS race, I understand that he is a superstar racing announcer

  16. I really don’t know why people dislike Nascar not throwing late race cautions. You mention them not doing so as if it’s a bad thing (not assuming you think that way, I’m probably just leaning because of the irritation by some people).

    If there is no actual debris or hazard, a caution should never be called. Bunching up drivers for the hell of it is not the thing to do – which is why I dislike stages.

    Leigh is a good motorsport historian and a good announcer. He knows when to use his supports and when to jump in. The people who were turned off by an Aussie being on the broadcast are absolutely ridiculous.

  17. What Ferris said! TBH, Rick Allen is fine for Trucks but I don’t enjoy his call for Cup.

    It’s been amazing this week that we seem to have gone from “another dreaded road course race” to “best race of the season.”

    Was Bagley working radio too?

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