By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
Just like in the first road course race of the season at Sonoma, the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie class had their hands full with the second road course race on Sunday at Watkins Glen.
Coming out on top of the rookies at Watkins Glen was Chase Elliott, who stayed out of trouble and under the radar throughout the day. Elliott started the day in 16th and was able to hold steady just outside the top-10 in the early going before falling back to 21st at one point. Despite the setback, Elliott rebounded in the second half of the race for his finish of 13th place.
Leaving Watkins Glen, Elliott has a 41 point advantage on Kyle Larson, who currently holds the 16th and final place in the Chase Grid.
The second best rookie on the day was Ryan Blaney, who also managed to stay out of trouble for the most part at The Glen. Starting 19th, Blaney climbed to 17th in the first 20 laps before his first pit stop of the day, where he was penalized for speeding on pit road. Shortly thereafter, Blaney made a trip through the grass in the Inner Loop and would drop to 37th, but he was able to regain all of his lost track position as the race progressed, finishing the race exactly where he started in 19th.
Blaney came into the race still looking to break into the top-16 to snag a Chase berth and leaves Watkins Glen with an 18 point deficit on Larson with four races to go until the Chase starts.
“I didn’t do us any favors today. It was pandemonium out there. I was just trying not to get wrecked,” said Blaney.
The rookie with the most eyes on him after his surprise win at Pocono last weekend was Chris Buescher and his quest to make the top-30 in points in order to be Chase eligible. Buescher started the day six points behind David Ragan, who currently holds the 30th place points position, and looked to end the day with a points gain rather than losing ground on Ragan.
Ragan was involved in a crash on lap 58, and by that point Buescher had worked himself from his 25th place start to being ahead of Ragan on the track. Buescher looked to be well on his way to moving up in points when disaster struck on lap 85.
Several cars got together at the start of the Carousel, including Ragan, Kevin Harvick, and others, which threw up a cloud of dust, limiting the visibility for the drivers behind them. Buescher happened to be one of those drivers approaching the crash scene and though Buescher attempted to avoid the crash, his No. 34 Ford slid into the guardrail and he was unable to drive back to the pits for repairs.
As a result of the crash the race was red-flagged, and Buescher had to take the mandatory trip to the infield care center, where he was subsequently checked and released. Buescher returned to his team, who quickly repaired his car so that he could return to the track, where he would finish 30th, one lap down.
Though the finish is not what Buescher and his team would have liked to have seen, they were able to gain a bit on Ragan leaving Watkins Glen as they are just three points out of 30th place. Buescher has four races remaining in his bid to make up the deficit on Ragan.
“That is not how we expected that one to go. We got down to it at the end and were racing through the bus stop and came out of it and I am not sure who but a couple guys went through the dirt and caused a wall that we couldn’t see through. I came through the other side of it and the 4 car was sitting there backwards. I tried to get down to avoid it and hooked the splitter in the mud, tucked it under, and got stuck. I was trying to get it where I could drive back around but I had to get out and go through all that. These CSX guys, they worked really hard to get this fixed quickly and got back on track and took the green flag with everybody else there. I am proud of them for that. They did a good job and we were still running there at the end. In the grand scheme of things, from a points standpoint, it was a little bit of a gain but we definitely don’t want to do it like that anymore,” said Buescher.
As for the fourth rookie in the field, Brian Scott, he was able to come home in 25th place after starting the day in 27th and cracking the top-10 near the midpoint in the race as green flag pit stops for the leaders were underway.