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Complete Watkins Glen analysis

August 11, 2014, RJ Kraft and Brad Norman,

Driver-by-driver notes and analysis for the full 43-car field

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1. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger waited out three red-flag periods -- including one that set up a green-white-checkered finish in which he was so focused in the car that he refused to communicate with his team -- and outran perhaps the top road-course racer in the sport. With Marcos Ambrose bumping and banging him over the final two laps, Allmendinger never fully ceded his position. He cleared Ambrose after a battle coming out of the interloop, took the white flag and wasn't challenged on the final lap. "Yeah! Yeah! Yes! I love you guys," Allmendinger hollered over the radio after his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Click here to see Allmendinger's highlights.

2. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Seeking his third win at the Glen in the past four years -- and with a Chase berth likely on the line -- Ambrose couldn't clear AJ Allmendinger over the final two laps. He was relegated to second place despite ending the event with the highest average running position (2.8). "(AJ) really deserved that win," Ambrose said after the race. "I was obviously doing everything I could to rattle his cage, and he withstood the pressure." To see Ambrose's highlights, click here.

3. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch was fast all day -- all weekend, really -- in finishing in third place for the fourth time this season. He led the field in percentage of laps run in the top 15 (98.9) and got the two late cautions he needed to make it on fuel. "I gave it my all, just off a little bit. … Darn it, third place. Nice job, thanks crew," was the message Busch relayed after the checkered flag.

4. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. Larson had some Watkins Glen experience after driving in Saturday's Nationwide race, but he still made a rookie mistake early. He missed the interloop curve, going straight instead, and per the rules had to stop on the small straightaway until the field got around him. That dropped Larson from 23rd place to 38th, setting up a rally for his fifth top-five of the year.

5. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards was among the drivers who gambled on pit strategy and won. The late-race wrecks and cautions allowed the No. 99's fuel gamble to pay off, and he was challenging for the lead late while looking for a season sweep of NASCAR's two road courses.

6. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. The reverse nature of pit stops at the 2.454-mile road course presented a problem for Logano's No. 22 team early. Following a stop for service on Lap 26, Logano was issued a pass-through penalty when his crew came over the wall too early. "Keep digging, buddy," crew chief Todd Gordon called out, and Logano did. He was the best in the "closer" category, which is positions improved in the last 10 percent of a race. In Sunday's final nine laps, Logano improved nine positions.

7. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. What else can go wrong for the No. 4 team this year? As demonstrated Sunday, there's still plenty we haven't seen. Harvick had to hit pit road after three laps because two bean bags -- in his car for pre-race setup -- jarred loose and fell on the floorboard. "You're going to have to get in the car, there's two of them," Harvick hollered as crew chief Rodney Childers alertly called for fuel since he was already in. Something we have seen before -- Harvick rallied for a good finish. To see more of Kevin Harvick's race highlights, click here.

8. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle was involved in his share of incidents Sunday but emerged relatively unscathed. "We went in the bus stop three-wide, there was nothing I could do," Biffle radioed his team following a Lap 56 wreck that brought out the red flag for more than 80 minutes. The third and final red flag resulted in this gem -- "I'm just going to ram these (expletives) when we go green." For complete -- uncensored -- in-race audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.

9. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth and Brad Keselowski smacked each other around early, and then the No. 20 was involved in a Lap 83 wreck that sidelined Jimmie Johnson. Kyle Larson nudged Kenseth, who then took out the 48. "The 48 didn't leave me any room," Kenseth declared. The ninth-place run nearly equaled Kenseth's career-best finish here (eighth).

10. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers led the field in quality passes Sunday (29) en route to just his second top-10 since May. He was one of two Toyotas to finish in the top 10.

Brian Vickers hopes his top-10 at Watkins Glen is a sign of things to come for his Michael Waltrip Racing team.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports.
Crew chief Steve Letarte hollered at Dale Earnhardt Jr. to save fuel early, and gas management and pit strategy contributed to this 11th-place run at Junior's worst track, statistically. Dale Jr. just missed a top-10, but it was his best showing at Watkins Glen since 2005. It also vaulted him into the points lead ahead of teammate Jeff Gordon. For Dale Earnhardt Jr. race highlights, click here.

12. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne led laps Sunday for the first time in his career at the New York road course, and he was in contention to finish first among the Hendrick Motorsports contingent for just the second time this season. Still, Kahne was one of the biggest gainers on the day and made up 18 spots from his 30th-place starting position.

13. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. Early contact with Kyle Busch -- which shredded the No. 18's front left tire -- dinged up Truex's Chevy. It also lit a fire under the driver, who's one of the more polished road racers on the circuit. "I'm not putting up with that (expletive)," he declared on Lap 27, then backing up his word by gaining eight spots over the final nine laps. For complete, and uncensored, in-race audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.

14. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. Teammates McMurray and Larson both finished in the top 15 for the second consecutive week. Getting back up to 14th -- his starting spot -- was crucial for McMurray, who was shuffled back in the field during the bevy of late cautions.

15. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears has pieced together two consecutive top-15 finishes for the first time since the first two races of the season. Considering Mears got run over during a Lap 59 restart ("we got killed there" his spotter said), the team was happy with the showing.

16. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Dillon's road-course skills appeared more refined Sunday, and a top-10 was within reach all afternoon. AJ Allmendinger earning his first win, though, all but clinched another precious Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup spot. Dillon is now 18 points behind Clint Bowyer, who holds the final position as it currently stands.

17. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. After a stretch of five races with finishes of 24th or worse (including two finishes outside the top 30), Allgaier's average finish the past two events is 16.5. Perhaps more importantly, he's bringing back clean vehicles to the one-car HScott Motorsports outfit.

18. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. This was easily Almirola's best showing since winning at Daytona one month ago, although teammate Marcos Ambrose missed out on virtually clinching a Chase berth. Finishing 18th tied Almirola's best showing at the track.

19. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Feeling lucky? "David, I think we should go to Vegas. What do you think?," his spotter called out on Lap 56. Not only did Ragan avoid the worst of Sunday's incidents, he finished in the top 20 for the third time this season -- and for the second consecutive race.

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse and his team have run more consistently the past month than at any other four-race stretch during the season. It comes at a perfect time, too, with some upcoming tracks in which he's recently challenged for wins.

21. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Danica's weekend started out badly with an engine change and then having to go to a backup car after a wreck late in Friday's final practice. However, she hung in there on Sunday and spent part of the race in the top 15. And considering that she had to start at the rear of the field, this was a solid showing.

22. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland is not known for his road course prowess, but the veteran driver had his second best Watkins Glen finish on Sunday. That continued an upswing of three out of four races where he has finished with a better result than where he started.

23. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Sorenson was making his first Sprint Cup start at the road course in five years and on paper, it looked like an OK day for him, However, right as the final caution of the race came out, he got into Alex Kennedy and was sent into Turn 1, which led to a long stare down from the Circle Sport driver. It will be interesting if there is any carryover from that incident. See the incident between Sorenson and Kennedy

24. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin came into the race with four straight top-10 finishes, but he couldn't keep that streak going. He spent much of the race inside the top 20 but a late wreck at the entrance of pit road derailed any hope of another top 10. The 24th-place finish was Hamlin's fifth straight outside of the top 10 at the road course. 
See what happened to Hamlin

Denny Hamlin has had his share of struggles at Watkins Glen in recent years.

25. Boris Said, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing.
The road course specialist always seems to perform better at the Glen than Sonoma and the Cheez-It 355 continued that trend. A late free pass allowed Said to get on the lead lap as the California native matched Travis Kvapil's 25th-place result at Pocono for the best non-Terry Labonte result for the team.

26. Nelson Piquet Jr., No. 77 Ford, Humphrey Racing. The Brazilian made his first Sprint Cup Series start and helped give team owner Randy Humphrey his best result all year. Perhaps this will lead to more opportunities in a Cup car for the three-time NASCAR national series winner.

27. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer had a tough day with his worst finish at the venue since a 32nd-place showing in 2010. He seemed to struggle to make significant gains throughout the race, leading him to tell his team over the radio during the final caution, "Sorry, I couldn't help you guys more in practice. That carousel, even Brian (Vickers) was killing it there, beats me to the throttle." With four races before the Chase field is set, Bowyer holds the last spot in the 16-driver field.
 For complete in-race audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.

28. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson looked to be snapping his recent string of less-than-stellar performances but his spin-out following some contact from Matt Kenseth brought out a Lap 83 caution. Johnson also received some contact from Regan Smith when he was trying to get control of the car. It was Johnson's fourth finish in five races of 28th or worse. As we get closer to the Chase, it seems that 'Six-Time' is the third-best driver with his team right now. See Johnson's race highlights

29. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing. Cassill's 29th-place showing was his best since his 11th-place result at Talladega in May. However, it was the worst result of his three Cup races at the Glen.

30. Joe Nemechek, No. 66 Toyota, Jay Robinson Racing. The veteran had his best result of the Sprint Cup season and his best result since a 25th-place finish last summer at Loudon. In four of his previous six starts at the Glen, Nemechek did not finish the race.

31. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Road courses can be a handful for most rookies (with Larson seemingly the exception to most rules about rookies) and that was the case for Annett, who was making his first Cup start at the venue. On the plus side, the rookie continued his promising trend of finishing in a better spot than when he started. He has done that for 13 straight races as he started 42nd on Sunday.

32. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. The once-promising season of Menard has fallen on hard times in recent weeks with an average finish of 33.0 in the past three races. This week, it was a brake issue that forced him to the garage early for some repairs. After the second Daytona race, he was 10th in points, with a potential Chase spot becoming more out of reach with each race.

33. Alex Kennedy, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport. On the plus side, the young driver had 69 green flag passes, which was tied for the fifth-most in the race. On the down side, a bump by Reed Sorenson into the rail left Kennedy with a damaged race car and a bit of anger toward the Tommy Baldwin Racing driver. He may have run seven Cup races so far, but something tells us he will make sure he sees more of Sorenson in the future. See the incident between Kennedy and Sorenson

34. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The Coors Light Pole Award winner came out strong, leading the first 29 laps. While running second at Lap 51, the four-time champion had some trouble. "I've got no power!" he yelled over the radio before later adding "It just cut off clean, everything went out, no power." For Gordon, it was his second straight finish of 34th or worse at the Glen and more importantly, it cost Gordon the points lead to his Hendrick teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. See Gordon's race highlights.

Jeff Gordon needed a little push after losing power on Sunday at Watkins Glen.

35. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske.
After three straight runner-up finishes in the Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen, Sunday's result had to be a huge disappointment to the 2012 champion. Keselowski reported issues with his brakes and radioed in that he "Lost all rear weight; confident of that" at Lap 42. The team eventually brought the car behind the wall for some repairs. On the positive side, Keselowski ran the fastest lap of the race on Lap 65 with a 125.901 mph effort. For complete in-race audio, click here to subscribe to RaceView.

36. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Bowman had the best finish of the three BK Racing rookies. As we get furhter into the second half of the season, it will be interesting to see if Bowman makes strides on repeat visits to tracks.

37. Regan Smith, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. It was a quick turnaround for Smith who had been back in North Carolina before getting the call to fill in for Tony Stewart in Sunday's race. Smith's first Cup start in over a year came at his hometown track and required him to start at the rear for a driver change. Smith suffered from damage when he made contact with Jimmie Johnson on Lap 82. After the race, the Nationwide Series veteran said "I felt like at the end there, we were finally starting to make some progress and I was able to get consistent with the car and understood the car a little better and what it was doing."

38. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. Wise found some trouble on Lap 78 when he brought out the caution as he was stopped in the innerloop. The finish was Wise's first finish of 30th-or-worse since the last road course in Sonoma in June.

39. Ryan Truex, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. An issue with the suspension ended the rookie's day earlier than he would have liked. Truex even spent some time in the top 15, logging a position of 11th place on Lap 30. Through 19 starts though, he has yet to finish a race on the lead lap.

40. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch won at the Glen last year and had eight straight top-10 finishes at the road course, so he entered the race as one of the favorites. Dreams of a repeat victory ended early for "Rowdy." He encountered all sorts of trouble, reporting that the "Car doesn't stop, doesn't turn" (on Lap 6). He pitted on Lap 24 only to have the fuel can get stuck exiting and he had to serve a pass-through penalty. Contact with Truex Jr. led to some heavy damage on his car, including a broken frame. Busch has followed up three runner-up finishes in four races with two finishes of 40th or worse. Those two results have dropped Busch from sixth to 15th in the points standings (his lowest spot since the Daytona 500). Recap Kyle Busch's day.

41. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman was involved in a big wreck with Michael McDowell that brought out red flags for repairs to the track. Newman, who had only one finish of 30th-or-worse this season entering the race, had his worst finish of the season and dropped four spots in the point standings. And with a new winner, a Chase berth that once seemed highly likely, just had doubt creep into it. See the wreck, Newman's post-wreck interview.

42. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing. McDowell was the other main car heavily damaged in the big wreck on Lap 56. The wreck knocked out a section of the guardrail and led to a 1-hour, 21-minute delay for repairs. McDowell said the impact "knocked the wind out of me" and later added that it was "amazing to walk away from an accident like that."

43. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. For the third time all season, Whitt earned a top-20 starting spot, but a hard hit into the tire barrier in Turn 1 on Lap 10 brought his day to an early end. It was a hard hit but he was fine afterward, telling ESPN that the rear brakes faded. It was his worst finish since a 41st-place showing in April at Richmond.