Watkins Glen

Photo: Ross Chastain

Tales from the road: Ross Chastain’s recent travels anything but easy

1 Comment

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — A camper, a Greyhound bus and an SUV. No, this is not the beginning of a joke.

Those were the modes of transportation Ross Chastain used to go from New York to Ohio and back to New York to compete this weekend at Watkins Glen International.

“It’s normal,” Chastain told NBC Sports on Friday at Watkins Glen after completing his journey and two sessions of Xfinity practice.

“Not normal for a driver but normal for me. I don’t fit in with a lot of these drivers. Yes, this is hectic.”

But normal for NASCAR’s busiest driver — Chastain has competed in 50 of the 55 NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series races this year.

His hectic schedule started after last weekend’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway. He made the 160-mile-plus trip with his girlfriend and their two dogs on Sunday night and did appearances Monday and Tuesday in the Watkins Glen area. He left the camper to use it this weekend.

So he needed to get to Eldora for practice Wednesday. Simple, book a flight. Right?

No.

“I was scared of the commercial flights, you couldn’t find anything under $700, $800, and I’m pretty cheap when it comes to that stuff,” Chastain said. “And you had a layover, and I was scared of delays and whatever. I don’t like to fly commercial on practice day. If you miss practice, you could upset your career. People think you’re not taking it serious.”

So, how to get from the Finger Lakes region to Western Ohio?

Chastain and his girlfriend boarded their dogs and took a Greyhound bus from Ithaca, New York, to Columbus, Ohio.

“I knew if something happened (with the bus), I could Uber somewhere and get a car,” Chastain said.

“I just didn’t want to drive all night. And I’ve never ridden a bus.”

Now he has.

The bus left at 7:35 p.m. and arrived at the Columbus bus station around 7 a.m. Wednesday.

“I’m glad I did it,” Chastain said. “I would do it again. It was cheap, quiet, the ride was smooth.”

Chastain’s father, who was traveling from Delaware, picked them up at the bus station in the SUV. They headed to Eldora Speedway so Chastain could compete in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race there. Chastain’s mom and brother flew up from Florida to watch Chastain race.

Chastain finished 12th in his first race on a dirt track. He, his girlfriend and family loaded into the SUV around 12:30 a.m. Thursday. Chastain slept as his family drove through the night to Watkins Glen.

About five miles from Watkins Glen International, a right rear tire went flat.

They pulled over, put the spare on and were on their way about 20 minutes later.

Finally, this journey was over.

So what about after this weekend?

“We had plans of going straight to Michigan, but I don’t know,” Chastain said. “I have a flight reserved to go (home to North Carolina). We’ll see. Honestly, I haven’t made my mind up.”

Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Watkins Glen, Eldora

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It will be an expanded weekend of sorts for NASCAR, with the Gander Outdoors Truck Series racing Thursday night under the lights and on the dirt at Eldora Speedway, while the Xfinity Series will race Saturday and the Cup Series on Sunday on the road course at Watkins Glen International.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the weekend:

Cup – GoBowling at The Glen (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN) at Watkins Glen

There are 37 cars entered.

NASCAR On NBC’s Parker Kligerman will make his ninth Cup appearance of the season for Gaunt Brothers Racing in the No. 96 Toyota.

Two cars do not have drivers listed yet on the preliminary entry list: the No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford and the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Ford.

Chase Elliott is defending winner of this race.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Zippo 200 at The Glen (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC) at Watkins Glen

The preliminary entry list has 37 cars entered in this race.

Ryan Preece will be in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

NASCAR on NBC analyst A.J. Allmendinger will be in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Ryan Blaney will be in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford.

Kyle Busch will be in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Stanton Barrett will be in the No. 42 Motorsports Business Management Toyota.

There is no driver listed on the preliminary entry list for the No. 74 Mike Harmon Racing Chevrolet.

H2 Motorsports, which owns the No. 28 driven by Shane Lee, announced this week it will not compete this month’s three road-course races.

Joey Logano is the defending winner of this race.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Eldora Dirt Derby (9 p.m. ET Thursday on FS1) at Eldora Speedway.

There are 32 trucks entered.

Chase Briscoe is the defending winner of this race and will be making his first Truck Series start of the season.

Spencer Boyd will be replaced in Young’s Motorsports’ No. 20 Chevy by Landon Huffman due to an injury in a non-racing related incident. Huffman has three career Truck Series starts. His most recent was the 2018 playoff race at ISM Raceway with Niece Motorsports.

Boys said he could potentially miss multiple races.

Click here for the entry list.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kligerman: Kyle Busch lives on the edge … of excellence

1 Comment

On the morning of my 27th birthday this past Tuesday, I sat on my balcony under overcast skies and came to a realization (as you often do on your birthday).

Turning 27 means I have been watching racing for nearly 20 years and involved either driving or working with race cars for 15 years. And it has become clear to me — no matter if you’re a seasoned racer or a virgin fan – that there is an unanswerable question in racing.

What makes one driver better than others?

There are many who will offer their opinions, such as “They have a feel for it,” or “They are able to do X and no one else can X as well as them.” Or maybe even using the parochial “God-given” feel, expertise, and talent as the great divide between excellence and average.

The fact is, there is no one on the planet who has a definitive answer as to what makes one driver better than another. There are simply too many variables from one situation to another.

But every now and then, we are given a rare glimpse of what separates a great driver from the rest. It may be an incredible pass, a rear tire-smoking save, or a string of laps so fast they defy logic. Moments that become multimillion-viewed YouTube videos and the go-to folklore in bars around the world to justify a legend.

Think of the start to the 1993 Donington Park Grand Prix, when Ayrton Senna drove from sixth to first in one incredible rain-soaked lap. Or stateside, the 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway where Dale Earnhardt went from 18th to first in five laps for his last victory.

Even a single lap time can define a career. Such as the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying session when Ayrton Senna outqualified his teammate by an incomprehensible 1.427 seconds to win the pole. Senna would later remark, “That was the maximum for me; no room for anything more. I never really reached that feeling again.”

Those are examples of entirely different forms of racing, but two drivers for whom “legend” at this point doesn’t suffice. They’ve become the stuff of gods because of the number of times they had great unimaginable moments behind the wheel of a race car.

Which brings me to the modern day. In an era of ever increasing technology, parity and rules designed to allow closer competition, it increasingly is harder to see these great moments. But trust me, they still exist.

With the “Multi-Vantage Point” coverage we did on NBCSN last weekend at Watkins Glen International, I was stationed at the inner loop (also known as the Bus Stop chicane) and the carousel.

Drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will barrel down the longest straight on the track toward my position at more than 180 mph before hitting the brakes the hardest they will during the lap to slow down to approximately 95 mph. Here, they will cut the course by hopping over a very large curb on the right-hand side, and before the car has all four tires on the ground, they already will be set up to turn the car left over another curb.

And then they will reach the center of the inner loop corner, aiming left and starting to accelerate towards the carousel. But before they get to the carousel, they will launch over a massive curb on the left and another one over on the right side (occasionally dropping tires into the dirt). Finally, they have to settle down the bucking bull that the car has become to turn right into the long carousel corner at about 100 mph.

All of this makes it an incredibly complex and tough corner. The car constantly is bouncing, juking, sliding and launching off the ground. It generally is unsettled and, at times, out of control.

To be fast here, you need to have a great car, but you also need to make the car do a million different things in the span of a few short seconds. And to be truly fast, you need to be comfortable with the car being completely out of your control at times. You will need to trust that, eventually, it will fall back into your hands.

This past weekend, I was given my own private viewing session of one driver doing exactly that. I watched a whole weekend’s worth of race cars come through my section. One car continually stood out, and it wasn’t every couple of laps. There was no difference between practice, qualifying or the race.

Every. Single. Time.

Kyle Busch.

Whenever there were cars on the track, his was simply astonishing.

He won the pole for the Cup race by almost half a second, which is astounding when considering the talent pool in the Cup series that I would argue is the deepest in any form of racing in the world. And I firmly believe much of where he made up that half-second was in my section.

Every time he exited the inner loop into the carousel in practice, my hand would hover over the “talkback” button that connects me to our producers, so I could be ready to alert them by yelling, “Trouble!”

Why?

Because each time Busch’s car was so sideways, doing so many wiggles and out of control, I thought, “Surely he is going to wreck.”

Then there was the end of final practice. Busch came through the inner loop and dropped two tires into the grass on the exit. This knocked the car sideways – but not a little sideways. I mean full-on opposite lock at 100 mph.

He somehow controlled the slide, leaving a long strip of black marks on the asphalt while continuing to the pits. In a modern-day Cup car, that shouldn’t be possible.

Ask our producers: I screamed.

Now onto the race.

Busch would set sail from the rest of the field and easily win the first stage by around 7 seconds over eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr.

Where was he gaining a lot of this time? The inner loop to the carousel.

As I told a couple officials from a very iconic race team this weekend, “If you want to know where the 18 car is beating you, come down to my section of the track and watch.”

But it got better from here. As Busch’s team had the unfortunate penalty that forced him to pit a second time and start from the back of the field. He would drive all the way into the top 10 in 20 laps to end the second stage.

Which set him up for the final run. As he barreled down into my section on the restart after the second stage ended, he would make a massive outbraking move on Brad Keselowski. It was so extraordinary, Brad had no idea he was there. This would result in both spinning to the outside of the track.

Here Busch would start a march forward of epic proportions.

Over the entirety of the final stage, he drove like a man possessed. And nowhere was there a better example than the way he was kicking up dirt and grass every time he came through the inner loop. Even when I wasn’t looking directly toward the section, I knew he was coming because of the massive plume of dust.

His car constantly was wiggling as the rear end danced and bounced around. And he continually would be closing the gap on cars or passing them. That normally shouldn’t be possible.

The results won’t show how much better he was than the field in my section. But upon reflection, I will remember last weekend for knowing I witnessed one of those heroic great driver moments.

Most of all, it proved what I feel makes Kyle so good when he is at his best. He is comfortable with the car being uncomfortable and at times completely out of control.

Good drivers do this every now and then. Great drivers are comfortable with this feeling more than not. But legends know no other way.

That’s what makes Kyle Busch so damn good. Every time he drives a race car, he knows only one way: completely out of control and uncomfortable.

To him, this is normal.

Midrace contact but no postrace fallout for Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski

3 Comments

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Kyle Busch pulled himself out of his No. 18 Toyota, wiped off his forehead and ran his fingers through his soaked hair with a final demonstrative flick.

For the second time this season, he was marching with purpose toward a Team Penske driver whom he felt had wronged him during a race. As Busch drew within 20 yards of the No. 2 Ford, Brad Keselowski’s PR rep sprinted past on the left.

But unlike five months ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver took a swing at Joey Logano’s back, Busch then made a hard right to AJ Allemendinger, exchanging a handshake, smile and a few friendly gestures before laughing and moving on again.

“You mean there’s a story?” Busch sarcastically asked a group of reporters converging as he made a beeline from the pit lane to the garage. “What’s the story?”

Seemed as if you were about to make an impressive comeback until that contact with Brad Keselowski?

“Imagine that,” Busch replied while never breaking stride.

A few minutes later, Keselowski smiled when asked if he thought Busch was headed his way (“Wasn’t a lot of thought put into that. I’m still just cooling off.”) and got philosophical while reflecting on their history at Watkins Glen International.

“This is a track where you fight for inches,” Keselowski said, “and we both probably aren’t willing to give one.”

The best rivalry in NASCAR added another chapter in a familiar place at the 2.45-mile road course, where Busch and Keselowski staged a memorable last-lap fight for the lead in 2012 (with Busch spinning out) and dueled again for a victory in ’13.

It happened at the race’s midpoint Sunday.

On Lap 45 of 90, Busch dove for seventh entering the inner loop, catching Keselowski off guard. The pair made contact and spun off course, sending both to the pits and Busch to the mic button on his radio.

“You all better keep me away from that (expletive) after this race,” Busch told his team. “I will kill that (expletive).”

After the race, he withheld judgment when asked what happened.

“Couldn’t tell you,” he said. “Hadn’t seen it.”

Busch was charging through the field after an extra pit stop for a loose wheel after winning the first stage. After winning Saturday’s Xfinity race from the pole despite a spin, he appeared set to repeat the feat Sunday.

Starting from the pole position for the second consecutive Cup race, he led the first 21 laps. He seemed a good bet for his second consecutive win (after breaking a yearlong winless drought at Pocono Raceway).

Right, Kyle?

“Yep,” Busch, who finished seventh, said in his final answer to reporters.

Keselowski simply said he didn’t have enough warning with Allmendinger behind his car as Busch made his daring move.

“I got to the corner, and my spotter said, ‘Somebody there,’” said Keselowski, who later led 20 laps but was 15th after a late stop for fuel and a pit penalty. “But I’d already got to the corner, and by then, I was already committed, and I think he was already committed, too. It looked like he tried to make a big move from a couple of car lengths back, and it was more than what there was room for all of us.

“It probably didn’t help either one of us. It was a bummer. … I wasn’t looking to get into him, and I don’t think he was looking to get into me. He probably had the dominant car, so he didn’t need any trouble, but neither did I.”

Sounds like there might be some common ground for two champions who have feuded more often than any stars (the Xfinity race at Michigan International Speedway was another recent flashpoint).

Any plans to hash things out soon?

“I don’t think he’s really the listening type,” Keselowski said with a smile. “Pretty doubtful.”

 

Kyle Busch wins pole position at Watkins Glen

1 Comment

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — On the heels of his first Xfinity Series victory at Watkins Glen International, Kyle Busch continued his winning streak Sunday by capturing the pole position for Sunday’s Cup race.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver turned a 126.925 mph lap on the track, besting Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez.

It’s the third consecutive pole position for Busch, who won at Pocono Raceway last week and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the week before that.

MORE: Click here for qualifying results

The green flag for the race is at 3:18 p.m. on NBCSN, which also has the prerace show until then.

Erik Jones was sixth in qualifying at the Glen, followed by AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top 10.

Defending race winner Denny Hamlin, who could be making a quick exit today if the call comes that his girlfriend will be giving birth, was 11th in qualifying. He failed to make a lap in the final round of qualifying because of a brake problem.

Hamlin told NBCSN’s Marty Snider that his No. 11 Toyota likely would start at the rear after replacing the brakes on his car.

Clint Bowyer will start 12th after also failing to record a speed because of a brake problem, according to NBCSN’s Dave Burns.

Elliott was fastest in the first of two qualifying rounds, turning a 126.076 mph lap. Truex was second, followed by McMurray, Suarez, Busch, Keselowski, Larson, Hamlin, Jones, Bowyer, Johnson and Allmendinger advancing to the final round.

Joey Logano, who swept the weekend at the 2.45-mile course in 2015, just missed advancing to the final round in 13th.

Among other notables who didn’t advance: Matt Kenseth (15th), Ryan Blaney (16th), Kurt Busch (18th), Kasey Kahne (19th), Kevin Harvick (20th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (22nd), Ryan Newman (23rd), Danica Patrick (25th), Austin Dillon (27th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (28th).