Stewart sets a new record
for Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN—Tony Stewart drove his way from the green flag to the checkered flag for a new record-setting five time win at Watkins Glen International-but several drivers were definitely seeing red after the race.
After a one-day postponement for rain, NASCAR’s “Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen” Sprint Cup race ran to completion Monday afternoon with Tony Stewart the victor.
It was Stewart’s fifth Cup win at the Glen in the last eight races, making him the all-time leading Cup winner here.
Stewart started the race from the 13th position, so it was up to polesitter Jimmie Johnson to lead the field to the green flag as things got underway. Despite heavy rain Sunday that washed away the rubber and left the track green, NASCAR opted not to throw a competition caution, as is sometimes the practice after a race is washed out.
Outside polesitter Kurt Busch got off to an excellent start, passing Johnson on the first lap and leading through lap 19 when debris on the track brought out the first caution and pit stops. Busch’s car appeared stout for much of the race, as he led three times for 23 laps before pitting out of sequence late in the race and finishing fifth.
Marcos Ambrose, who started fourth, stayed out during the first caution and inherited the lead when the race went green on lap 20. The Australian road racing veteran, who won Saturday’s Nationwide race at the Glen, led twice for nine laps, but the early pit strategy didn’t pay off for Ambrose in the end. Midway through the race he had fallen back to mid-field, but battled back to finish second.
Ambrose was in the lead on lap 20, but the caution flew again three laps later when David Stremme’s No. 12 car spun, wrecking Kevin Harvick and causing damage to Jeff Gordon. “From what I can see, the driver of the No. 12 just ran out of talent, drove through the crash and spun out and just crashed,” said Harvick after the incident. Stremme finished 26th and Harvick, 35th.
That crash was the first of two mishaps involving four-time WGI winner Jeff Gordon. The second came on lap 62 when Kasey Kahne and Hornish tangled, sending Hornish ricocheting off a tire barrier and back across the track where he body slammed Gordon, who then smashed the wall. Jeff Burton, Andy Lally and Joey Logano also got a piece of the action, but the Hornish and Gordon rides were totally demolished. The wreck prompted a 20-minute red flag period while the track was cleaned.
Gordon, who finished 36th, said the vicious hit aggravated a persistent back problem that he’s been battling since last year. “It's just not what I needed, you know?” lamented Gordon after his release from the infield care center. “You take three or four steps forward up to this point, and you take a hit like that and you take a couple steps backwards. So, yeah, it was a heavy impact.”
Back at the front of the field, Tony Stewart took the lead just past the halfway point, passing Kyle Busch on lap 46 after Busch and Jimmie Johnson each led a handful of laps. Stewart was the overall lap leader with 34 of 90 laps up front, all in the second half. Kurt Busch led 23, Kyle Busch, 15, Marcos Ambrose, 9, and Jimmie Johnson, 4. Scott Speed also led 4 laps by pitting out of sequence.
As the race neared its conclusion, numerous pit strategies were employed and many drivers were told to save fuel, including Stewart, who led all of the last 23 laps. He crossed the finish line with a 2.969-second margin of victory over Marcos Ambrose.
“We just had a good car where we could stay there all day,” Stewart said. “Darian (Grubb, crew chief) did a good job of knowing where we needed to be on fuel mileage. We tried to do as much as we could in the parts of the track where we could shut the car off and save fuel. Everybody was doing their part.”
Following Stewart and Ambrose across the finish line was Carl Edwards in third, Kyle Busch, fourth, and Greg Biffle, fifth. Rounding out the top ten were Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Max Papis (career best Cup finish), Clint Bowyer, and Denny Hamlin.
The win gave Stewart a 260-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the standings with four races to go until the ten-race Chase for the Championship begins. Nobody moved into or out of the top-12 at Watkins Glen, though Greg Biffle improved his standing by two spots to 10th, while Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth each slipped a spot to 11th and 12th, respectively.
Kyle Busch, currently below the Chase cutoff in 13th, sits just 58 points behind Kenseth.
“That wore me out right there,” said Busch after the race. “I could barely hang on to fourth. It was great for all the M&M’s team guys. They did a great job this weekend. We fought hard.”