As the NASCAR touring series rolls into the central part of the United States I can’t help but reflect on last weekend. First, I’m going to discuss NASCAR racing and not opine about incidents that happened away from NASCAR sanctioned tracks. After the race in Watkins Glen AJ Allmendinger said it best, “I said on TV after the race, this NASCAR community, as a whole we’re a family, and when anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t just kind of erase and you forget about. And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it. It’s a tough scenario.” Just yesterday during NASCAR’s weekly teleconference Brad Keselowski said about the incident, “I think my take on it right now is to just kind of let the dust settle for a little bit and let some cooler heads prevail.”
I could not agree more with Keselowski. My thoughts are with all of the people involved with the incident. NASCAR truly is like family and it’s hurting right now.
Reflecting back on the weekend events at Watkins Glen I can’t help but smile. It’s my home track and once again it delivered some of the best racing action of the season in all three of the races they put on. The K&N Series saw a green-white-checkered finish that saw some incredible passing late in the race and one of the leaders spinning out in the last turn coming to the checkered flag. That spinning car took out the sand barrel barriers at the entrance to pit road at Watkins Glen in spectacular fashion. The Nationwide Series race, although not as exciting as the other two races, saw Marcos Ambrose flex his road course muscle. However, the Penske drivers of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski flexed their muscles after Ambrose and runner up Kyle Busch spun out in the inner loop less than ten laps into the race. It was exciting to watch them recover and charge to the front.
The Sprint Cup race saw pole-sitter Jeff Gordon lead the field until a bad pit stop had him running in second but closing on Ambrose when he lost power and laps to the field while his crew fixed it. Perennial front runners Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski also had issues and needed repairs to their cars. This allowed Ambrose and road course power AJ Allmendinger to battle it out for the win and battle they did. They race each other clean and very hard. Doors were banged, cars were moved over and Allmendinger got his first Cup victory and the first victory for JTG-Daugherty Racing.
One thing that should be mentioned is that Watkins Glen is a happening place. The grandstands are packed and so are the campgrounds. There are plenty of activities for all types to do. From playgrounds for the toddlers to concerts in the infield for the adults, there are plenty of things to do at Watkins Glen on a race weekend. The track has gone under continuous improvements over the last few years and the staff and volunteers are top notch, making sure that whether you’re a member of the media or a fan, your needs are addressed. Hats off once again to Michael Printup and his staff for another stellar job!
Victory Lane at the Glen was an experience for all that were in it. There was smiling and laughing like I have not seen at Watkins Glen since Marcos Ambrose and Steve Park got their first Cup victories years ago. A monkey was clearly lifted off the backs of not only the driver, Allmendinger, but his car owners, Jodi and Tad Geschickter and Hall of Fame basketball player Brad Daugherty were simply ecstatic and they should be. Not only were they ecstatic, they were entertaining. Daugherty is a full foot and a half taller than his driver and the bear hug and lifting of Allmendinger in victory lane was unforgettable.
In the media center Daugherty made no bones about it, they’re a small team and they kicked the butts of the big boys. But what I focused on was the feeling of family that was described by everyone involved with that team. It was the same thing that I heard when Ambrose won with their Nationwide team but more importantly what I heard in their old shop that they shared with the Wood Brothers quite a few years ago. Jodi Geschickter said, “We’ve been in the sport for 20 years, and it’s flown by, but you take it a week at a time and you hope and you pray that this is the week and you prepare, but you never really know what’s going to happen. There’s so many variables, and I try to explain that to some of the younger guys in the sport. You always have to be on your game, you always have to be prepared and be in a position to win. This week we were. I can’t be any happier to have won here in Watkins Glen with Scott Products on the car and with AJ Allmendinger and our family up here with us. It’s a wonderful place to win. It’s a real blessing.”
Co-owner Daugherty said about the Geschickters,”I don’t even feel like it’s business. We’re friends. We have a great time. We go racing. Jodi feeds us and makes sure we don’t get too sick and do what we’re supposed to be doing, and Tad hustles his behind, makes sure the lights stay on. We’ve got a true family atmosphere and we’re lucky to have a young man like AJ to have an opportunity to have a driver of his caliber. Our crew chief Brian Burns, unbelievable job this year. He’s coming into his own as a crew chief. He was texting me throughout the race to keep me from having a stroke up because I was questioning his pit strategy and about to lose my mind. He kept assuring me it was going to be okay so I needed the comfort. Great group of people. We’re not the biggest and not the baddest, but we’re the winners today.”
There’s so much more that I could write about that team but I don’t think it’s necessary. On a weekend where there was so much sorrow and pain the feel-good story of the year was buried. The weather, typically an issue at least one day of a race weekend at the Glen was stellar (including a super moon). The track and its staff were on top of their game. The grandstands and campgrounds were packed with fans. The comeback of Allmendinger was complete. Many competitors and big names were in victory lane to congratulate him (Childress and Penske come to mind). Some of the most genuine people in the garage area own the team and frankly, I couldn’t be happier for them, regardless of my objectivity in reporting. Congratulations JTG-Daugherty, you’re making the 2014 Chase!!