Watkins Glen Rookie Report: Larson Walks Away with Top-Five, Whitt Walks Away from Scary Crash

Watkins Glen Rookie Report: Larson Walks Away with Top-Five, Whitt Walks Away from Scary Crash

by August 11, 2014 0 comments

Photo by Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — For the second and final time this season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year class took to a road course as they made their first and only trip of the year to the Watkins Glen International circuit for Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.

All seven rookies who rolled off of the starting grid for Sunday’s 90-lap race made their series debut on the eight-turn, 2.45-mile course. Some were able to put together solid, respectable finishes while others would leave the state of New York wondering what could have been. As the smoke cleared from a thrilling finish to the race, Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing) would stand tall with a solid fourth-place finish in what was only his second Sprint Cup road course race.

Larson’s day started off unspectacularly as he would take the green flag from the 23rd position and would continuously drop down the standings from the drop of the green flag all the way to 39th by Lap 30. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet would begin to pick other drivers off as he would make a charge towards the front in the last two-thirds of the race and would begin to make more aggressive moves to advance his position in the closing stages of the race. Larson made his boldest moves of the race on a green-white-checkered restart on Lap 89 to grab the fourth position and would hang onto it until the checkered flag flew.

“I’m super proud of my team and myself,” Larson said. “I was extremely down on myself after practice. I was terrible. I was at best maybe a top-30 car. Just mad at myself but knew I was going to have lots of opportunity to learn in the Nationwide race, and then throughout the Cup race, too.”

“Just worked really hard all day long. Kind of just tried to stay out of trouble in the beginning. Any time somebody would out-brake me I’d just let them go, then we had that long red, and I told myself I need to be more aggressive on restarts. I knew we had a pretty good car because I’d get a clear track and then I could catch the guy in front of me, and from then I just had to get better at out-braking people, hit my marks consistently, and did a good job with that and was able to get a top-five, which is unbelievable because I really thought we’d be lucky to get a top-20 today.”

While they were unable to join Larson in the top-10, Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing) and Justin Allgaier (HScott Motorsports) had respectable runs themselves with their respective 16th and 17th-place finishes in their Watkins Glen debuts. Allgaier would start well from the 15th grid position but would slip early, losing 25 positions in a matter of 10 laps before rebounding to fourth by Lap 30. Allgaier would then slip to just inside of the top-30 10 laps later but would then begin to charge back to the front along with Dillon. The driver of the No. 51 Brandt Chevrolet would be able to crack the top-20 in the closing laps of the race and would slip back out before mounting a final push to his 17th-place finish. Dillon would run as high as 13th in the late stages of the race and was headed for what would have been his fourth top-10 of the year but would slide backwards slightly to his 16th-place finishing position.

It was a forgettable day for the BK Racing trio and Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Michael Annett. Annett would be the first rookie to finish one or more laps down with his 31st-place run while Alex Bowman (BK Racing) would finish five laps down after being involved in a scary Lap 57 accident with four other drivers; fellow BK Racing drver Ryan Truex would retire in 39th (21 laps down) with suspension issues. It would be Cole Whitt (BK Racing) who would have the most harrowing moment out of all of the rookies as he would slam head-on into a tire wall in Turn 1 on Lap 11, totaling his race car. Whitt would be able to climb out of his No. 26 Bully Hill Vineyards Toyota under his own power and unscathed.

The seven rookies running for the Rookie of the Year title now head to Michigan for their second and final race at the two-mile speedway of the year. In June, Larson was the highest-finishing rookie with his eighth-place finish while Allgaier would be the second highest-finishing rookie with his 17th-place finish. The two drivers were the only two to finish on the lead lap in the Quicken Loans 400.

Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Standings after Round 22 of 36

  1. 42 – Kyle Larson – Chevrolet – Chip Ganassi Racing – 239 | Leader
  2. 3 – Austin Dillon – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing – 191 | -48
  3. 51 – Justin Allgaier – Chevrolet – HScott Motorsports – 155 | -84
  4. 7 – Michael Annett – Chevrolet – Tommy Baldwin Racing – 144 | -95
  5. 26 – Cole Whitt – Toyota – BK Racing – 141 | -98
  6. 23 – Alex Bowman – Toyota – BK Racing – 128 | -111
  7. 83 – Ryan Truex – Toyota – BK Racing – 108 | -131
  8. — – Parker Kligerman – — – — – 41 | -198
Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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