WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — For drivers who have competed in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, some might say Talladega or Martinsville can really hamper one’s run at a championship.
Others beg to differ.
The one thing that all will agree on, however, is that road course racing is a talent all its own.
Sunday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series took to New York’s Watkins Glen International for the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, the second and final road course event of their season. Many Chase hopefuls saw in-race implications on the line as they embarked on the first of the final five regular season races before the playoffs.
Many eyes were on a handful of competitors during the 90-lap affair: road course ace A.J. Allmendinger, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Chris Buescher, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray and Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne — who all came into the race within striking distance to make a run into the Chase.
By the end of the day, the freshly-repaved 2.54-mile circuit had thrown that Chase bubble picture even further into disarray than it already was.
Below is a look at five drivers who had their Chase hopes scrambled by virtue of a chaotic 90 laps around NASCAR’s fastest road course, setting up a barn-burning battle for the final postseason berths with just four races to go.
For much of the race, it looked to be an Allmendinger-type of weekend. The 2014 victor of the event was looking to make himself a two-time winner in NASCAR’s top series and lock himself into the Chase in the process. The No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet was fast in the opening stint and everything seemed to be going quite smoothly for the driver out of Los Gatos, California.
Unfortunately, luck was not on his side.
A speeding penalty and heavy traffic hampered his run to the front, despite Allmendinger winding up rallying back to the fourth position. However, in the process, he failed to make friends with one Kyle Larson.
The pair got together in turn seven, with Allmendinger sending Larson spinning into the inside wall off the exit of the final corner. Afterwards, the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver took the blame, but things weren’t all roses between the two.
“I didn’t mean to spin him out,” Allmendinger admitted. “He (Larson) was turning to come back down, but it was my fault. I just hate it for him.”
Allmendinger now finds himself 34 points out of a Chase berth heading into the final off week of the season.
For Larson, he’s been a bridesmaid so many times and never the bride at the Cup level and Sunday was another chapter in that story.
He found speed early and often at WGI, running among the bottom half of the top 10 for most of the day. Even on the last lap of the event, Larson was comfortably within the Chase and only eight points off of his teammate McMurray for 15th on the Chase Grid.
However, after setting himself up for possibly the best finish he could have, the contact between he and Allmendinger left Larson with a 29th-place effort and very frustrated afterwards.
“That is a free spot for both of us, and he just dumped me. Pretty dumb move right there.”
What could have been a fourth-place finish for the third year Sprint Cup driver ultimately ended in disaster and leaves Larson a scant six points to the good in the battle for the 16th position.