WATKINS GLEN, NY – Kyle Larson has taken another step towards a NASCAR Cup title in the regular season. Chase Elliott lamented a run he let slip.
Larson took the lead over Martin Truex Jr. in the green flag pit stops in the final stage on Sunday, built a big lead and held his teammate Hendrick Motorsports at bay in the final laps to win at Watkins Glen International .
“I knew my car was good and the strategy worked,” said Larson, who was constantly reminded by his crew that his lead was rapidly narrowing over Elliott in the No.9 Chevrolet. “We were able to maintain that gap for a while. some time and eventually start to pull us away. Luckily the new one wasn’t close enough. He was really, really fast. He’s the guy to judge. I was really worried about him every day. He was so, really fast. quick.
Elliott was chasing his eighth road win and third in a row at The Glen, which would have tied Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin for the Cup record at the historic Finger Lakes course in upstate New York. .
Elliott was relegated to the back of the field before the race when his No.9 Chevrolet twice failed inspection and team leader Alan Gustafson was ejected. But just like he had done at Road America a month earlier when he won 34th on the starting grid, Elliott threw a gallant charge but couldn’t get over Larson’s big lead and crossed over. the finish line 2.45 seconds behind.
“I hate it. I made too many mistakes to win,” said Elliott. “It was too late in the race to recover. That’s what cost us.”
Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin round out the top five.
Larson also stood up to Elliott in overtime to win on the road course in Sonoma in June and leaves Watkins Glen tied with Denny Hamlin with 917 points for the seed.
“It’s fun to drive it,” said Larson after his fifth series-lead win of the season. “I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and even the playoffs. There are still a lot of races left. It’s going to be fun. I’m glad there is a fun little points battle. I feel like in years gone by it’s been a bit of a blowout. “
It was the first Cup race after a two-week hiatus for the Tokyo Olympics and there had been no training or qualifying.
Larson and Truex together led the field with 20 laps to go in the 90-lap race around seven corners, the 2.45-mile track. Kyle Busch, third, was almost 10 seconds behind and just ahead of Elliott.
Larson was nearly three seconds ahead of Truex as the laps started to slow down as Elliott continued to charge. The stands were sold out and Elliott’s cheers grew as he continued his ascent. He passed Truex for second place at the top of the esses with eight laps to go and set his sights on his teammate just over five seconds ahead with traffic doubled ahead.
Elliott’s push collapsed in the last five laps and Larson negotiated a group of four cars overtaken, overcoming a mistake in the first corner, and sailed to the finish.
Elliott had jumped strongly in the first stage but punctured his tires in turn 1 and fell to 36th place towards the end of the second stage before rallying.
Truex, Christopher Bell and Larson were in a three-car breakaway at the start of the final 50-lap stage. Christopher Bell challenged Truex for the lead with Larson on lap 48, but couldn’t hold him up and backed off.
Eight laps later, Larson knocked Bell out at the start of the first turn, a 90 degree downhill right turn, leaving Bell in eighth place as Elliott continued to make a comeback from the last. Bell, whose No. 20 team Joe Gibbs Racing suffered the same penalty as Elliott, rallied to finish seventh.
Brad Keselowski, who finished second three in a row at The Glen almost ten years ago, is still chasing his first road win and perhaps had his best shot for a breakthrough when he clinched the pole for the race. He led the first nine laps ahead of Penske teammate Joey Logano before his day began to unfold. He sped on his own towards the competition warning, punctured all four tires and was forced to return to the pit because he had grip problems in the rear. Keselowski finished 35th, two laps away.
MICHAEL IS LOOKING AT
Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan, partner of driver Denny Hamlin in 23XI Racing, watched his driver from the pits. Wallace tied his number, finishing 23rd.
WGI President Michael Printup said ahead of the race the grandstands were full for the sixth time in seven years and the campsite was full for the first time. NASCAR did not race at the Glen last year due to the pandemic.
The Cup series will travel to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road circuit next Sunday.
Kyle Larson walks through the bus stop during a NASCAR Cup Series car race in Watkins Glen, NY on Sunday August 8, 2021. (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)
Alex Bowman (48) and Kyle Busch (18) drive between Turn 1 and the Esses during the first stop of a NASCAR Cup Series car race in Watkins Glen, NY on Sunday August 8, 2021. (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)
Joey Logano (22) leads Kyle Larson (5) as they ride the wheels in a NASCAR Cup Series car race in Watkins Glen, NY on Sunday August 8, 2021 (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)
Brad Keselowski (2) and Joey Logano (22) lead the field around Turn 1 on the first lap of a NASCAR Cup Series car race in Watkins Glen, NY on Sunday August 8, 2021. (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)
Martin Truex Jr. (19) drives the esses during a NASCAR Cup Series car race in Watkins Glen, NY on Sunday, August 8, 2021. (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)
Chase Elliott (9) drives the esses during Stage 1 of a NASCAR Cup Series car race at Watkins Glen, NY on Sunday, August 8, 2021. (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)
Brad Keselowski (2) leads the field at Turn 1 on the second lap of a NASCAR Cup Series car race at Watkins Glen, NY on Sunday August 8, 2021 (AP Photo / Joshua Bessex)