Watkins Glen has come and gone, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is done turning left and right for the year. This is a good thing for some drivers (cough, cough Dale Earnhardt Jr.) while others use Sonoma and Watkins Glen as an opportunity to showcase their skills on a road course.
Let's look back at the Cheez-It 355 and highlight the winners and losers from this past weekend.
When JTG/Daugherty Racing brought AJ Allmendinger aboard, it did so to improve the performance of the single-car team, which had been lagging. And Sunday at Watkins Glen, he did just that.
Allmendinger qualified fourth and was a consistent presence near the front before a pit road penalty dropped him to the rear of the field. He would rally back to finish 10th, giving JTG/Daugherty its best result of the year.
With tight racing, plenty of opportunities to pass and some fantastic finishes, Watkins Glen has earned a reputation as one of the better tracks on the NASCAR schedule. Accordingly, fans have responded with an estimated 90,000-plus showing up to the 2.45-mile road course this past weekend -- just shy of the track record. All of which reinforces the notion that it doesn't matter whether a track is located in a metropolitan area or a rural setting, fans will flock if they know the product is worth their investment.
It may have taken until mid-August, but for the first time all year Penske Racing had both of its drivers finish in the top 10 in consecutive weeks. The surge has come at an opportune time for Brad Keselowski, who is still winless but is back inside the top 10 with four weeks remaining in the regular season. As for Joey Logano, he's going to need a pair wins if he's going to make the Chase.
It would be fair to say that no driver entered Watkins Glen with higher expectations than Marcos Ambrose. But after leading 51 of the opening 61 laps, his day unraveled in a hurry. And instead of joining Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon as the only drivers to win three consecutive races at The Glen, Ambrose crashed out and finished 31st.
It was just a rough weekend all-around for Jeff Gordon. His troubles began when he qualified 28th due to a lack of grip, and this carried over to the race when pushing too hard, he crashed into the guardrail. While the damage was considerable, the loss of points was more significant and it's easy to think Watkins Glen will be the defining race in Gordon's 2013 season.
You have to feel for Michael McDowell since he doesn't often get the chance to run in a Cup entry that isn't a start-and-park. But with his noted road racing skills in demand, he was given that opportunity this past weekend in a third car fielded by Front Row Motorsports. Unfortunately, after qualifying 12th, McDowell was only able to stay on the track for 58 laps before a broken suspension sent him to the garage early.