Kyle Larson had to navigate lapped traffic in the closing laps and hold off his hard-charging Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott - the track’s most prolific winner of late – to earn the victory in Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen.
But the 28-year old Californian Larson has been a driver to count on this season, finishing either first or second 10 times through the 23 races to date. And Sunday’s trophy at the historic Watkins Glen International road course is Larson’s NASCAR Cup Series-best fifth of the year; 11th of his career.
His 2.430-second victory over Elliott was good enough to move him into a tie with Denny Hamlin for the regular season championship with only three races remaining before the Playoffs.
It marked the eighth Hendrick Motorsports victory in the last 11 races and the fourth time Larson and Elliott have finished 1-2 – the third time at a road course event.
Larson led the final 27 laps of the 90-lap event, taking the lead for good from Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr., who had paced the field for a race best 34 laps. Elliott got around Truex with nine laps remaining to claim second place.
Truex finished third, followed by his JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin. Hendrick driver William Byron was sixth with JGR’s Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas teammates Kevin Harvick and Chase Briscoe and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick rounding out the Top-10.
"Chase was already catching me pretty quick, even with me being in open track so when I caught those, I think four (lapped) cars and got into the 38 (Anthony Alfredo) right here, I thought I would look at my mirror and the 9 (Elliott) would be right on me, but thankfully had a comfortable enough gap to where I could make a mistake like that," said Larson, who apologized to his friend Bell during his post-race interview. The two made contact racing door-to-door for second place late in the race.
“Incredible race today, hats off to Hendrick Motorsports," added Larson, "It’s awesome. It really just shows how good the organization is, all the people that they’ve assembled at the race shop, all the men and women. All four of us [Hendrick drivers) could not be getting these wins like we have been without them. Thanks to them and thanks to everybody else I get to race for.”
Although Elliott, 25, had to settle for a runner-up showing today, it was an incredible drive for the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and two-time Watkins Glen winner. He started the race from the last row – and his crew chief Alan Gustafson was suspended - after his car failed pre-race technical inspection.
Elliott steadily made his way forward, picking off cars with each turn. And as with Larson, he had to navigate that lapped traffic in the closing laps, which essentially cost him any shot at getting close enough to his teammate to challenge for the lead.
"I made too many mistakes to get the win unfortunately, and made it too late in the race," Elliott said. "Super proud of our team. Been kind of an uphill battle all day, but everybody was just super prepared coming into the day and our NAPA team just did a really good job of fighting it."
With three races remaining to set the Playoff field, Reddick gave himself a little more cushion room in that 16th and final transfer position. He improved his advantage over his Richard Childress Racing teammate, 17th place Austin Dillon, from six points entering the race to 15 points heading to Indianapolis next week.
The series makes its Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course debut next Sunday with the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (1 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). It will mark the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has raced on the famed track’s road course since it began racing at Indianapolis in 1994.