The NASCAR Cup Series made its long-awaited return to Watkins Glen International this past Sunday, after the pandemic prevented the series from racing at the famed New York road course, the year prior. Despite the year-long break from the track, the Glen didn’t fail to put on yet another amazing show for the eager fans in the stands and at home.
Team Penske looked poised to put on one hell of a show, with the driver of the #2 Brad Keselowski on pole, and previous Glen winner Joey Logano in 2nd, with their teammate Ryan Blaney not far behind them in row three. NASCAR’s most popular driver and the odds on favorite to win, Chase Elliott, would start from the rear after receiving a level one penalty (an issue with the rear window air deflector) in pre-race inspection. Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Christopher Bell would also have to start from the rear, serving the same level one penalty as Elliott. Other notable starting positions included regular-season championship points leader Denny Hamlin in 6th, Hamlin’s competitor for the regular-season championship Kyle Larson in 4th, and the ‘Candy Man’, Kyle Busch in 20th.
The green flag dropped at exactly 3 P.M. EST. with Keselowski having the advantage over his teammate Logano. Meanwhile, Hamlin and Larson took it three wide with Blaney for 3rd as Ryan Newman spun, however, not bringing out any caution. Despite his penalty, Chase Elliott was already able to make up twelve spots by lap 4. With the competition coming at lap 10, racing became hard at the front of the field, as Joey Logano pressured his teammate Keselowski for the lead. Though it looked like Keselowski would be able to hold on to the position before the competition caution was to come out, he locked up the right front spinning himself out, mere minutes before the drop of the competition yellow, allowing Logano to take over the lead. Almost all the leaders stayed out on track as a few came in for tires and fuel hoping to gamble on strategy. Ultimately though Logano was able to hold on to the lead (even with a radio communication issue), and eventually win the stage, with Larson in 2nd and Martin Truex Jr. in 3rd.
Pit stops were underway, but it was a select group of drivers who pitted before the end of stage one who would take over at the front. As the green flag dropped Chase Briscoe with a gutsy move took it 3-wide with MTJ and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The move though risky proved well for Briscoe, helping him nab the 2nd place position, but it was Truex Jr. who would take over the lead. Christopher Bell would sit in 5th after starting the race in the rear and stage one winner Logano would sit in 13th. The caution flag waved at lap 25 after Blaney took a spin through the ‘bus stop’, but James Davidson would be the one to actually bring out the caution after his car came to a stop on the track. When the green flag came back out, Martin Truex Jr. would quickly get his lead back and Kevin Harvick would move into 2nd, as Briscoe would fall to 3rd after having a bad restart. Briscoe would make brief contact with Christopher Bell, however, it served as no issue to either of their race performances. In fact, by lap 30 Bell would have made up 32+ spots, after starting in the rear, whereas Chase Elliott (who also started in the rear) would come down pit road for four fresh tires after flat-spotting his. Though Bell and Harvick would give it their all, it was Truex Jr. who would go on to win stage two, with Bell in 2nd and Harvick in 3rd.
A majority of the leaders would again not pit, and pit road proved to not disrupt MTJ’s lead, as the green flag flew on lap 44, but both Cole Custer and Erik Jones would be sent to the rear of the field for driving through too many pit boxes. As Truex Jr. continued to lead, Christopher Bell would battle him hard to get the lead, as Larson would pressure Harvick for 3rd. After successfully nabbing 3rd place, Larson would take it 3-wide with the two leaders at the front, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell, however, the three drivers would all hold their positions. On lap 53 Jones would take a spin through the carousel (and would be the first of many). On lap 56 Kyle Larson would drive too hard into the turn and end up spinning Bell out of 2nd, but the spins didn’t end there as just a lap later Brad Keselowski would again lock up the right front and spin, this time collecting his teammate and stage one winner Joey Logano. None of these spins would be enough to bring out a caution though. As the stage win on, Elliott proved that his penalty would not hold him back from doing everything and anything he could to win, as with 22 laps to go he had raced his way to 4th place. As the laps winded down Elliott continued to close in closer and faster towards first-place driver Kyle Larson, but late-race lap traffic would hold him back from advancing any further than 2nd, as Kyle Larson would go on to win the race at the Glen. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin would round out the top five in 3rd, 4th, and 5th, respectively. Larson would also obtain the regular-season championship points lead over Hamlin with his win. Tech would show no issues other than lug nut infractions for Kyle Busch and Anthony Alfredo (monetary fines to their crew chiefs). The NASCAR Cup Series will return to racing next Sunday at the Indianapolis Road Course at 1 P.M. EST. on NBC.
Featured image from @NASCAR on Twitter.