For the second week in a row, fuel-mileage affected the outcome of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. For the second week in a row, there was a last-lap pass for the victory. In Watkins Glen it was Joey Logano who played the numbers right.
Logano led one lap on the afternoon, actually one corner. Kevin Harvick led the prior 29 laps and then ran out of fuel on the final lap of the Cheez-it 355 handing the win to Logano. On Saturday, Logano won the XFINITY Series in dominating fashion. But, on Sunday luck was on the No. 22 side in order to outlast the competition.
“I would have never guessed that Watkins Glen would be the place where I swept both race,” Logano said in Victory Lane. “I was running down Harvick there for a little bit and once I got close to him he started to pick up his pace a little bit, which was good because I needed him to run out of gas. It makes up for last week. We lost the race last week the same way, so it makes up for it to get it this week.”
Logano last pitted on Lap 59 and had to go the remaining 31 laps on a tank of gas. At Pocono last Sunday, Logano was snake-bit by the pit strategy that his Team Penske team made. Logano ran out of gas with just two laps remaining after leading 97 laps, the most of any driver.
The win at Watkins Glen is Team Penske’s first win since Auto Club Speedway back in March. Through the spring months the two Penske cars seemed to struggle a little more than the norm. However, coming into the race at Watkins Glen they had four consecutive second-place finishes as a team. Finally, they were able to cross the finish line out front.
Kyle Busch had an interesting day at The Glen. Like Logano, Busch pitted with 31 laps remaining. Busch came from the 23rd position all the way up to second.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led only three laps. Busch spent the majority of his day in the top three positions. The No. 18 was the one who fell victim to fuel-mileage on the last lap at Pocono and came home in the 21st spot. Unlike last week, Busch was told to save fuel throughout the final run to the checkered flag.
“I think they should have all run out sooner than they did,” Busch said post-race. “Kenseth even made it and he wasn’t supposed to. I’m disappointed with where we ended up, but I’m happy with where we ended up. We just needed that finish to get ourselves a solid effort today and put us in the top 30. I’m curious to see how much fuel is actually in the tank when it goes over the scales and to know if I could have went up there and raced with the No. 22. I felt like I could have got there and passed him for the win.”
With the strong second-place outing, Busch has indeed cracked the top-30 in points after missing the first 11 races of 2015. The No. 18 team will need to remain solid because they have to be in the top 30 in points following Richmond to have a shot at the championship. He is currently six points ahead of Cole Whitt.
The aforementioned Harvick fell victim this week to the fuel-mileage. Harvick was saving as much fuel as he could to make it to the end which he did but in the third position. The No. 4 was the talk of the garage. He was the favorite prior to the race and came up just short on fuel.
“I thought I’d done a pretty good job of saving fuel under caution,” Harvick said. “I was just running as fast as I needed to, to protect the lead. Once the No 22 got there, I had to pick up the pace just a bit. That’s kind of how the middle of this season has gone. We’ve had really fast cars but the circumstances have just gotten the better of us.”
Harvick pitted with 34 laps remaining which is an eternity at Watkins Glen. There was one caution for three laps between that pit stop and the end of the race, but it’s unheard to be able to save that much fuel and let alone make it to the finish. This is Harvick’s 15th top-five finish this season.
Matt Kenseth was also able to make it to the end after pitting on the same lap as Harvick. Kenseth stated last weekend following his victory at Pocono that he wasn’t good at fuel-mileage racing. On Sunday, he saved just enough to come across the finish line.
“We knew that we were a little short,” Kenseth said. “We saved hard under caution. Once we got going we were able to save a little bit mid-pack, quite a bit actually. All of the leaders had to pit because they were all short on fuel and we could stay out because we only had two laps on our fuel. We knew that we were going to have to save a lot after we pitted and we had just enough.”
Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. The No. 41 spent the majority of the 355 kilometers rebounding from a pit road penalty on Lap 26. He was able to overcome that penalty and really drive his way up through the field on the last stint of green flag racing.
Clint Bowyer had a good point’s day finishing in the sixth position. This is Bowyer’s sixth top-10 finish in the last eight races after having a spring slump. The No. 15 is currently sitting on the Chase bubble and extended his advantage on Sunday to 50 points over Aric Almirola.
On the other side of things, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne all had disappointing finishes while they are battling for spots in the Chase.
McMurray’s day was ruined on Lap 50 when Sam Hornish, Jr. missed a shift on a restart and caused a chain-reaction crash. McMurray had to go to the garage to repair a broken oil line. The No. 1 team came home 40th.
Gordon’s last start at Watkins Glen didn’t go as planned. The four-time winner at the famed road course broke a brake line early into the 90 lap race. Gordon has had finishes of 41st or worse in two out-of-the last three races and has still not accumulated a victory in his farewell season.
In the last two races Kahne has finished 42nd and 43rd. The Hendrick Motorsports driver went into Pocono with a 50 point cushion on 17th place in points. But in those races, the No. 18 team has cracked the top-30 and he has picked up just three points and now sits 51 points behind the cutoff spot.
Pre-race favorites and former winners at Watkins Glen AJ Allmendinger and Tony Stewart both had disappointing days. Allmendinger finished 27th after his car lost power on Lap 50. This was the No. 47 best shot at a victory this season and he did lead 21 laps, more than all of the laps he led combined in the first 21 races of 2015. Much like Allmendinger, Stewart’s car also lost power. At the time Stewart was running in the fifth position when his car stopped on the backstretch. His team never could repair his car and he finished shotgun on the field.
There are just four races remaining until the Chase field is set at Richmond. After Watkins Glen some teams are going to have to throw a Hail Mary in order to be in the running for the 2015 championship.