RPW Exclusive: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: The Wonders Of Watkins Glen

Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – WATKINS GLEN, NY – This week’s Good, Bad and Ugly focuses in on the Cup Series second of three road course events on the 2018 schedule in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Watkins Glen’s historic road course is arguable the number one venue on the Cup Schedule for the last few seasons and Sunday’s race was evidence of exactly why.

The Good:

What’s better than a first-time winner? A first-time winner with a legendary last name. Chase Elliott went out on Sunday and took home his first win in 99 career starts on a road course of all places. As odd as that may seem, his legendary father, “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,” did the very same thing.

Just as his father, the younger Elliott also finished in second place eight times before seizing victory. The parallels are obvious here. However, Elliott is younger and in better equipment than his father was when his first win came. Elliott has a legitimate chance to surpass his father’s accomplishments and that’s what every father wants. To have their son or daughter do better than they did.

Now that Elliott has gotten his first win out of the way, look for many more to come over the years and also look for him to match his father in one other important arena. Chase will no doubt be chosen as most popular driver, an accomplishment his father achieved 16 times in his career. A series record.

Chase’s popularity is now his own. It’s no longer about being Bill’s kid (though he always will be) It’s now about Chase himself. That’s exactly what he wanted and now it’s laid out before him. All he has to do is seize the opportunity. However, that’s easier said than done and only time will tell if he will do so.

The Bad:

Sunday’s race didn’t have many problematic moments, however, the incidents on pit road were serious cause for concern. Between race winner Chase Elliott’s crew member sliding butt first to a self proclaimed “safe!” To Denny Hamlin’s crew members being taken off their feet by a rogue lug gun hose, pit lane at Watkins Glen is by far the most treacherous pit road in NASCAR today.

Pitting at Watkins Glen is obviously a unique situation in that teams need to reverse everything they do for the clock-wise rotation of the circuit. It makes one wonder why NASCAR doesn’t consider either running the course in reverse format or make the Charlotte Roval race coming this fall during the playoffs run in the opposite direction.

Doing so would give teams that much more experience on a year to year basis in pitting the opposite direction they normally do. Theoretically that should mitigate some of the mistakes we’ve seen and make pit lane that much safer in the future.

The Ugly:

Straying away from Sunday’s cup action, Saturday’s XFINITY race had all the ingredients for an amazing race. Although the Team Penske drivers dueled it out to the bitter end, many were left to wonder how much different the race would have turned out if NASCAR hadn’t taken their time cleaning up a wreck which occurred under rain conditions.

The lack of urgency to get the race back going under the wet conditions meant most teams either pitted for slicks, or ran to the stage end where they switched back to the non-treaded tire for the beginning of the next stage with only approximately five laps run in anger under rain conditions. It was disheartening as a fan to see so little competition under the troubling conditions as it’s been quite a while since XFINITY racers strapped on the Goodyear Aqua-Tread Eagles and attempted to go all out.

Watkins Glen was the site of the first rain tire test with Mark Martin behind the wheel of his Roush Valvoline Ford in the ninety’s. No rain race had ever been held at The Glen and Saturday was the perfect opportunity to showcase that to the rabid New York race fans who were excited to finally see it happen. Five laps was not enough.