Five things we learned on Monday at Watkins Glen
Expect him to win at least one more race before the start of the Chase on Sept. 20. Stewart, the leader in the points standings, can go all-or-nothing for checkered flags over the final four races of the regular season and try to earn the 10-point Chase bonus that goes along with each checkered flag. Not only can he take chances on the track where others can't -- it doesn't really matter if he crashes, after all -- but his crew chief
Yet Stewart may not have been the race's biggest winner.
Over the past few years Gordon has taken more hard hits than any driver in the sport. He plowed into the wall at Pocono back in 2007 after his brakes went out -- at the end of the longest and fastest straightaway in the Cup series, mind you -- and last year he crashed wickedly into the inside wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. These wrecks have taken a toll on Gordon's back. He now stretches with a trainer before every race, but on tracks that cause drivers to endure high G-forces and are therefore physically draining, his back sometimes stiffens and causes him pain in the cockpit.
This is why Monday's wreck is especially bad news for Gordon fans. He said he was fine after the race, but drivers usually don't feel the true effects of crashes until the following day. Will Gordon be 100 percent by Aug. 27 for the night race at Bristol, which is one of the most demanding tracks on the circuit? Is it possible that Gordon, currently third in the standings, won't be the same the rest of the season? I doubt it, but stay tuned.
Well, that sentiment may have changed on Monday. After being wrecked early in the race and as his crew was working on his car in the garage, a visibly frustrated Harvick said he "hoped" he wouldn't have to return to the race. This, race fans, is the ultimate no-no in motor sports. Whether or not Harvick actually meant to quit on his team is irrelevant; what's significant here is the perception. Remember when
This is just a hunch, but I'm guessing Childress will announce in a few weeks, if not sooner, that Harvick won't be returning next season -- which, it appears, is what Harvick really wants.
On Sunday Reutimann's worst fears were realized. After qualifying 25th, he finished 25th, which essentially ended his Chase chances. He's now in 16th in the standings and he hasn't exactly flourished on any of the four remaining tracks the circuit will visit before the regular season ends. Reutimann's career average finishes at Michigan (21.2) Bristol (19.0) Atlanta (30.0) Richmond (20.2) make it hard to fathom that he can make up any ground in the standings over the next month.
Reutimann had a credible chance to qualify for his first Chase this season. He emerged as the top driver at Michael Waltrip Racing, and after 14 races this season he was 11th in the points, ahead of such heavyweights as
Yet I think Reutimann will be a serious player in 2010. MWR is a team on the rise, and Reutimann has shown flashes this year of being able to run nose-to-nose with the likes of
To make road courses more relevant, NASCAR should move the Watkins Glen date into the Chase and take out one of the intermediate-length tracks. There are currently six intermediates in the Chase, which is hugely disproportionate to the number of intermediates on the regular season schedule. The tracks in the Chase should be representative -- in shape, in length, and in degree of banking -- of the tracks in the regular season. Adding a road course would do that.
If the Glen were in the Chase, drivers would be forced to sharpen their road course skills. And it would add another so-called "wildcard" track to the playoffs, along with the restrictor-plate race at Talladega. NASCAR needs to do everything it can to spice up the sport -- all they need to do is look at the sagging TV ratings and the swaths of empty seats each week to realize this -- and putting a road course in the Chase would be a move in that direction.