WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Chase Elliott put an emphatic end to his summer-long struggle, making a statement with a dominating win on the road course at Watkins Glen International.
A year after racing to his first career NASCAR Cup victory at The Glen, Elliott won again in the No. 9 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday, besting Martin Truex Jr. just as he did a year ago. Elliott, who started from the pole, led 80 of 90 laps around the speedy 2.45-mile layout to become the first repeat winner in nearly a decade, since Marcos Ambrose in 2011-12.
“I think it’s huge,” Elliott said after his fifth career win. “We’ve had fast cars at times, but one thing or another ended up for a bad weekend. The way we did it was the biggest thing. That’s the kind of effort you have to put on often to compete with the guys in the field.”
Elliott had already qualified for the postseason with his win at Talladega in May, but after four straight top-fives he hadn’t had a top-10 finish since June at Pocono, a span of seven races. He also led 400 laps in the opening 13 races but had led only nine laps since until Sunday.
It was a two-car race for more than half the 220.5-mile distance and the entire final 40 laps.
Truex began to exert some pressure after sitting behind Elliott for more than 10 laps in the final segment. Elliott held his ground until Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota closed with six laps to go, waiting to pounce on a mistake that never came.
“I tried to do all I could. Chase did an excellent job just not making mistakes,” Truex said. “He hit his marks. His car was really fast in the key areas that you need to be. I just couldn’t get a run on him.
“Really, it was all about restarts and track position,” Truex said. “If I could have just got by him on that last one we could have set sail.”
With two laps left, Truex still couldn’t get close enough to make a move as Elliott drove flawlessly, winning by 0.454 seconds.
Manchester graduate Denny Hamlin was third, Erik Jones fourth for Gibbs and Ryan Blaney fifth in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford after starting from the rear of the field. Penske teammate Joey Logano was never a factor and finished 21st, dropping to second in points, 13 behind Kyle Busch.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson finished 19th but still made up ground in the race for the final playoff spot with new crew chief Cliff Daniels (Smithfield) calling the shots.
Truex was chasing a sweep of the two traditional road races on the schedule. He won at Sonoma in June for the second consecutive year and has five consecutive top-two finishes on road courses.
The race was stopped when Johnson, desperate for a good finish, spun out coming out of the carousel turn, a sweeping right-hander, and seconds later Bubba Wallace spun Kyle Busch, who was running 10th on Lap 62. Busch and Wallace had banged each other while racing down the front straightaway before Wallace had the last tap, sending Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota around entering the first turn. Busch, who started third, finished 11th, right behind brother Kurt.
Elliott and Truex were back in front for the restart on Lap 66 and Truex challenged right off the green flag, the two exchanging bumps speeding up through the esses as Elliott never relinquished the lead despite damage to his Chevy.
“I think the left rear damage was the biggest concern,” Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “It was pretty significant. There’s nothing you can do. There’s no reason to panic. We’d done the best job we could. I knew it was up to Chase. Chase was going to have to run a perfect race and he did.”
Jones continued his summer hot streak. He was runner-up in the No. 20 Toyota to Hamlin at Pocono and had finished third in each of the previous two races, at Kentucky and New Hampshire. Jones has scored nine of his 12 top-10 finishes since early May.
(Car number in parentheses)
1. (1) Chase Elliott, Chevy, 90; 2. (4) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 90; . (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90; 4. (14) Erik Jones, Toyota, 90; 5. (19) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 90; 6. (20) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 90; 7. (15) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 90; 8. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevy, 90; 9. (10) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90; 10. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevy, 90
11. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 90; 12. (9) Aric Almirola, Ford, 90; 13. (16) Chris Buescher, Chevy, 90; 14. (17) Alex Bowman, Chevy, 90; 15. (12) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 90; 16. (11) Michael McDowell, Ford, 90; 17. (18) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 90; 18. (22) Paul Menard, Ford, 90; 19. (8) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy, 90; 20. (13) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 90
21. (2) William Byron, Chevy, 90; 22. (31) David Ragan, Ford, 90; 23. (21) Joey Logano, Ford, 90; 24. (26) Matt Tifft, Ford, 90; 25. (25) Ryan Newman, Ford, 90; 26. (24) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 90; 27. (32) Ross Chastain, Chevy, 90; 28. (30) Bubba Wallace, Chevy, 90; 29. (34) Landon Cassill, Chevy, 90; 30. (27) Ty Dillon, Chevy, 89
31. (28) Austin Dillon, Chevy, 89; 32. (36) Josh Bilicki, Chevy, 89; 3. (35) Cody Ware, Chevy, 89; 34. (33) Corey LaJoie, Ford, engine, 85; 35. (23) Daniel Hemric, Chevy, 84; 36. (29) Ryan Preece, Chevy, rear gear, 72; 37. (37) Reed Sorenson, Chevy, steering, 65
Stage winners: Chase Elliott (first and second)
Average speed: 98.523 mph; Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes, 17 seconds; Margin of victory: 0.454 seconds; Cautions: 4 for 13 laps; Lead changes: 5 among 4 drivers
Lap leaders: Elliott 1-22; Larson 23-28; Elliott 29-58; Truex Jr. 59; Menard 60-62; Elliott 63-90
Wins: Kyle Busch 4, Truex Jr. 4, Keselowski 3, Hamlin 3, Logano 2, Elliott 2, Bowman 1, Haley 1, Kurt Busch 1, Harvick 1
Points: 1. Kyle Busch 851; 2. Logano 838; 3. Harvick 777; 4. Hamlin 771; 5. Truex Jr. 753; 6. Keselowski 728; 7. Kurt Busch 679; 8. Elliott 676; 9. Almirola 640; 10. Blaney 633; 11. Bowman 623; 12. Byron 604; 13. Jones 598; 14. Larson 590; 15. Bowyer 556; 16. Johnson 544