5 Lessons Learned at Watkins Glen: ‘Rowdy’ vs. ‘Bad Brad’

By Jared Turner

Bad Blood Lingers Between ‘Rowdy’ and ‘Bad Brad’

Longtime rivals Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are at it again. The two drivers — who have a history of feuds — collided halfway through Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, resulting in both spinning and losing ground. Busch, who had arguably the race’s dominant car, blamed Keselowski for the contact during a terse post-race interview, and then later took to Twitter to say that he would have made it through the corner had Keselowski not “drilled” him in his right side door. Keselowski, for his part, chalked the incident up to nothing more than hard racing — and indicated he had no plans to reach out to Busch to try to mend fences. “Nah,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think he is really the listening type, so that is pretty doubtful.” Neither driver will soon forget what happened at The Glen.

Several Big Guns Remain In Trouble

Watkins Glen did little to improve the playoff hopes of a trio of big-name drivers on the outside of the top 16 looking in. While four races remain in the regular season, and it’s certainly possible for a new face to emerge in Victory Lane, it’s looking increasingly likely that Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not be in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Bowyer, sitting 28 points outside the playoff cutoff, is the only driver with even a semi-reasonable chance of racing his way into playoff position without a win. To make the cut, Logano and Junior each has to win one of the next four races. While three of the four upcoming tracks are good for Logano, Junior’s only real shot to go to Victory Lane might be this weekend at Michigan where he’s a two-time race winner.

Dale Jr.’s Season Is A Disaster

Did you think Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series couldn’t get any worse? Just when it seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong has gone for NASCAR’s most popular driver this season, Earnhardt hit a new low on Sunday at Watkins Glen. After qualifying 28th and struggling in practice, Earnhardt saw his race end after just 22 laps due to a faulty valve train. After finishing last in the 37-car field, Earnhardt did not mince words about this disappointment, calling it “a really difficult week.” In case you’re keeping score at home, the second-generation driver has only four top-10 finishes — and just one top-five — in 22 starts this year. For a driver with the resources of Hendrick Motorsports to tap into, those numbers are downright woeful.

Daniel Suarez Is Growing Up Fast

Daniel Suarez turned a lot of heads last year by winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship for Joe Gibbs Racing. When Carl Edwards abruptly retired during the off-season, JGR accelerated the plan for Suarez by moving the Mexican-born driver into a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride a year earlier than anyone expected. While Suarez himself will admit that there’s been a learning curve in 2017, a career-best third-place finish on Sunday at Watkins Glen was the latest sign that Suarez is coming into his own. After finishing in the top 10 just four times over the season’s first 18 races, Suarez has now amassed four consecutive top-10 finishes capped by Sunday’s performance at The Glen. While it’s probably too late for Suarez to make the playoffs, the rookie driver is proving that he’s the real deal.

Truex Is Crushing It On Playoff Points

Martin Truex Jr. might not win the championship. But if Truex falls short of that goal, a dearth of playoff points will not be to blame. Now with four race wins and 14 stage wins under his belt this season, Truex has piled up a whopping 34 playoff points — more than double the number earned by Jimmie Johnson, the next closest driver. What does this mean? Regardless of what happens over the remainder of the regular season, Truex, the winner of Sunday’s road course race at Watkins Glen, is all but guaranteed of starting out the playoffs with a major points advantage over the other 15 championship contenders. And considering that playoff points carry over to the rounds of 12 and 8, not just the first round, Truex is well on his way to being among the Championship 4 who will compete for the championship in the winner-take-all season finale.