The NASCAR Cup Series headed to Watkins Glen International for the second to last race of the regular season for what looked like it was going to be a rain-soaked affair. However, thanks to a couple of lightning delays, only the first few dozen laps ended up being run in the rain, with the rest able to be run with the normal slick tires on a green track.
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson would roll off on the first row, followed by Michael McDowell and William Byron on row two, and Tyler Reddick and A.J. Allmendinger on row three. William Byron, however, was forced to start in the rear after an electrical issue was discovered on the car. JGR teammates Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch were also sent to the rear after engine changes, while Ty Gibbs, Daniil Kvyat, and Kyle Tilley were all sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments.
The big story coming in to the race was of course the action around the playoff cut line. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr – running second and fourth respectively – have yet to collect a win, and find themselves perilously close to missing out on a playoff berth, despite both having championship caliber seasons. Blaney currently occupies the 16th and final playoff spot, with Truex being below the cut line in 17th. Added to those two, Kurt Busch, who is missing his fifth consecutive race after a concussion suffered at Pocono, came into the race in danger of going into next week’s race with an uncertain fate, as new winners both this week and next would almost assuredly knock him out of the top-16.
Another big story had effectively nothing to do with the playoff picture – Sunday’s race had the most countries represented in a NASCAR Cup Series race, with drivers from seven different countries throughout the field. Mexico (Daniel Suárez), England (Kyle Tilley), Finland (Kimi Räikkönen), Germany (Mike Rockenfeller), the Netherlands (Loris Hezemans), Russia (Daniil Kvyat), and the United States were all represented in the race. While none of the international stars ended up having particularly great races, save for Cup regular Suárez (P5), it was a particularly big moment in the sport’s history.
In a way the day itself was a tale of two races. The action started in the rain with Michael McDowell, who was looking to play spoiler on the playoff cutline, leading several laps with Tyler Reddick closely in tow for most of it. There was surprisingly little erratic driving throughout the field in the wet, with the only impactful incident being Austin Cindric getting into A.J. Allmendinger, sending the latter spinning. However, after only a few dozen laps, cars started to come to pit road for slick tires as the rain stopped and the track started to dry. The faster slick tires shook the field up, and ultimately allowed Chase Briscoe to win the first stage.
The second stage saw more strategy calls as drivers that were properly going for the win punted stage results in favor of the final results. The varied strategies of different teams allowed Joey Logano to win the second stage.
The final stage was essentially the Chase Elliott show, as we’ve so often seen on road courses. While Elliott was leading, he was usually trailed by his Hendrick teammate, and yesterday’s Xfinity Series winner, Kyle Larson. Elliott managed to hold off Larson and the rest of the field through late race restarts, but with less than 10 to go Loris Hezemans spun off track and got stuck in the gravel, prompting one final restart with five to go.
Elliott chose the outside for the final restart with Larson to his inside. Larson drove into turn one very deep and washed up the track enough to push Elliott out of the way and took the lead. The move also allowed A.J. Allmendinger and others to get by Elliott, who had to play defense and abandon his shot at a win. The final five laps looked incredibly similar to yesterdays race, with Larson and Allmendinger going shot for shot for the last five laps.
Ultimately, Hendrick power won out over the still somewhat fledgling Kaulig Racing, allowing Larson to pick up his second win of the year, snapping a 22-race winless streak, and giving him the weekend sweep. His second place finish also allowed A.J. Allmendinger to accomplish a just as rare feat of sweeping the second position for the weekend.
While he put on a cordial face for his post-race interviews, it’s hard to believe that Elliott was too pleased with the way Larson chose to race him. He offered his congratulations to HMS and the #5 team, but was seen having a particularly stern conversation with Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon on pit road shortly after climbing out of the car.
A few other notable results throughout the field:
+ While he certainly isn’t happy to lose out on a shot to win, Chase Elliott clinched the regular season championship, and came home P4.
+ Michael McDowell picked up his 10th top-10 of the season with his P6 finish, doubling his total from last year which had been his career high. His third place qualifying effort also marked a career best.
+ Chris(topher) Buescher also picked up his eighth top-10 of the season in P9, tying his career high for top-10’s in a season.
+ Erik Jones continued the revival tour for Petty GMS Racing, picking up his ninth top-10 of the year in P10.
+ Cole Custer narrowly missed out on his third top-10 of the year, coming home P11.
+ Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney finished P23 and P24 respectively. With only 25 points separating them, there is a chance that Truex could point his way into the playoffs next week if there isn’t a new winner, and Blaney has issues – which can always happen at Daytona.
+ Joey Hand, who had been running inside the top-5 at times in a Rick Ware Racing car, had a great day spoiled by a late race spin into the tire barrier. He had to settle for P31.
+ Bubba Wallace had his hot streak come to an end today after a broken pit gun sent him to the rear, and a suspension problem later in the race ended his day, saddling him with a P35 result.
+ Kimi Räikkönen, who had been the most competitive of the crop of international drivers not named Daniel Suárez, had been running a solid race, even cracking the top-10 at one point, before a mid-race wreck ended his day prematurely, relegating him to a P37 finish. Despite the wreck, it was a promising debut for Trackhouse Racing’s “Project 91” program.
Featured photo from @NASCAR on Twitter.
- Kyle Larson
- A.J. Allmendinger
- Joey Logano
- Chase Elliott
- Daniel Suárez
- Michael McDowell
- Tyler Reddick
- Christopher Bell
- Christopher Buescher
- Erik Jones
- Cole Custer
- Kevin Harvick
- Austin Cindric
- Alex Bowman
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Ty Dillon
- Austin Dillon
- Justin Haley
- Brad Keselowski
- Denny Hamlin
- Ross Chastain
- William Byron
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Ryan Blaney
- Chase Briscoe
- Ty Gibbs
- Corey LaJoie
- Harrison Burton
- Aric Almirola
- Mike Rockenfeller
- Joey Hand
- Kyle Busch
- Loris Hezemans
- Cody Ware
- Bubba Wallace
- Daniil Kvyat
- Kimi Räikkönen
- Todd Gilliland
- Kyle Tilley