Nineteenth wasn’t what Jimmie Johnson wanted in his first race with Cliff Daniels as his crew chief, but solid runs in the first two stages of Sunday’s GoBowling at The Glen were enough to lift the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion into a tie for 16th in the series standings, the last spot eligible for the postseason Playoffs.
Johnson started the race eighth and finished sixth in the first stage. In the second stage he was 10th, ultimately scoring enough points to tie 25th-place finisher Ryan Newman in the standings with four races left before the Playoff field is decided.
On Lap 61, with an “assist” from Ryan Blaney, Johnson backed into the tire barrier near the entrance to the carousel but was able to continue.
“He just drove through me in the carousel,” Johnson said of the contact with Blaney’s Ford. “I tried to hear what he was trying to say...but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak (after the race). 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 right now, so clearly not happy with his actions. We scored points in both stages, which was nice. We were setting up for top-eight to top-10 and got drove through. He claims it was just racing. So I can hardly wait to go racing. Everybody stay tuned.”
Blaney, who is 10th in points and comfortably in the Playoff grid after a fifth-place finish, took issue with Johnson’s assessment.
“It was just racing,” Blaney asserted. “He had old tires. They just did gas only (on the previous pit stop), and he was pretty slow, and I passed 10 guys off the bus stop all day. He hit the third curb pretty bad and got in that position, and he was up, and I had a good run. I was there. He left probably a lane-and-a-quarter or so, and I took it.
“At first, he didn’t turn down like I thought he knew I was there, and then he kept coming. I tried to check up, and it was just too late. I mean, obviously, I didn’t mean to spin him out. I don’t want to do that. It’s obviously an accident, but he was upset, and I can’t blame him for being upset about it. We’re just racing hard, and I thought there was a lane there, and it just closed.”
Newman, who entered Sunday’s race 12 points ahead of Johnson, had trouble in the final stage. On lap 50, he pitted from 15th with a flat tire and lost a lap. Shortly thereafter, Newman returned to pit road with a loose wheel. Though he regained the lead lap as the highest scored lapped car under caution for Johnson’s collision with the tire barrier, Newman finished the race mired in 25th.
Clint Bowyer came home 20th after finishing fourth in Stage 2, but the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford maintained a 12-point edge over Johnson and Newman as the series heads for Michigan International Speedway.
ERIK JONES CONTINUES IMPRESSIVE TOP-FIVE STREAK AT WATKINS GLEN
After finishing third twice and second once in his last three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts, Erik Jones kept the top-five streak alive with a fourth place run in Sunday’s GoBowling at The Glen.
Jones started 14th in the event after sliding in Turn 1 and blowing a tire on his first qualifying lap on Saturday. By the time the race restarted for the final stage on Lap 44, Jones was running eighth, and he worked his way forward from there.
After the strong run, Jones remained 13th in the series standings, but his lead over a 16th-place tie between Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman grew to a relatively secure 54 points.
“It’s good to keep it all going,” Jones said. “Watkins Glen is kind of the wild card in there. Being a road course and everything, we’ve been on some tracks that have been really good to us, and Watkins Glen has been good to us, but you still never know what can happen on strategy. It worked out the best it really could.
“I made a mistake yesterday (in qualifying). We started too far back, and just took us all day to get the DeWalt Camry up front. I felt like we had a fifth-place car all through practice, and we were able to get a little better finish than that.
“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.”
BUBBA WALLACE-KYLE BUSCH BATTLE GETS INTENSE IN LATE GOING
On Lap 62 of Sunday’s GoBowling at The Glen, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch exited Turn 7 side-by-side, fighting for position.
Wallace steered to the right, banging doors with Busch’s No. 18 Toyota and forcing the car toward the wall that separates pit road from the racing surface. Busch turned his car back to the left and collided with Wallace’s No. 43 Ford.
Down the long fronstretch, the two cars continued to bounce off each other until Busch edged ahead near the approach to Turn 1. That’s when Wallace rammed Busch’s back bumper and turned the No. 18 Toyota, which slid across the curbing before Busch could right the car and continue.
Busch rallied to finish 11th. Wallace, who was 28th, said an earlier incident in the carousel triggered the animosity on the frontstretch.
“He just run me over,” Wallace said. “That’s exactly what happened. Two years in, or rookie stripe or what, I’m going to get my respect on the track, and I don’t care who does it. Some guys fail to think about the young guys, I guess, or with me.
“So I won’t put up with no (crap). So, I flat-out wrecked him back. I guess we’re even—we’ll see. That’s what happens when you get run over. You pay ‘em back. I won’t be like, ‘Oh, it’s Kyle Busch. He didn’t mean to.’”
Busch left without commenting on the incident, other than to say, “You saw what happened.”