WATKINS GLEN — Sunday afternoon saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series return to the Twin Tiers at Watkins Glen International for the Go Bowling at The Glen.
Track President Michael Printup announced during the NASCAR drivers/crew chiefs meeting that for the fifth season in a row, WGI enjoyed a seating sellout as The Glen has become one of the most sought after tickets on the NASCAR circuit.
Last season at Watkins Glen International Chase Elliott, from Dawsonville, Ga., captured his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. Sunday saw a mirror image of the 2018 race’s outcome, as Elliott would win after holding off fierce challenges for the lead from Martin Truex Jr.
Elliott started from the Busch Pole Position after logging a fast lap on Saturday afternoon of 69.287 seconds (127.297 mph) in his NAPA Auto Parts No. 9 for Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott’s teammate, William Byron, made it a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the front row for Sunday’s green flag.
The 90-lap race Sunday followed NASCAR’s customary format of breaking the 90-lap race into three stages of 20 laps, 20 laps and 50 laps. Stage One was dominated by Elliott who secured the lead in the first turn and drove away from the rest of the field to set the tone for the rest of his team’s day on track.
Prior to Sunday’s victory at Watkins Glen, Elliott had only scored one lone victory at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Elliott came into the race with an average starting position of 12 and an average finish of 14.3, on the heels of an awful month of July that saw his team log finishes of 35th, 15th, 29th and 38th last weekend at Pocono Raceway.
“I kept telling the team that we just needed to put this month behind us, and I was hoping we wouldn’t have to start saying put the past month and a half behind us,” Elliott noted before taking the green flag Sunday.
The first stage of the race went caution-free, but the same could not be said for Stage Two, which saw two cautions for on-track incidents. The first was for the end of Stage One and saw Elliott pit for tires and fuel — handing the lead to popular NASCAR and accomplished dirt track racer Kyle Larson.
Larson was testing out a different pit strategy that didn’t pan out with his No. 42 in victory lane at the end of the day. Elliott made quick work of things to take the lead back of the race on lap 29 with Larson only leading six laps from 23-28.
Elliott pitted for the final time during Stage Two on lap 59 under green flag conditions with Truex taking over the lead on that lap around the 2.45-mile road course. As green flag pit stops ensued, Paul Menard would be scored as the leader on laps 60, 61 and 62. Meanwhile, Elliott was cycling his way back to the lead before a lap 63 yellow flag slowed and bunched the field back up.
The caution flag on Lap 63 would see tempers flaring on track as pre-race favorite Kyle Busch (18) and Bubba Wallace (43) made significant contact up to six times on the frontstretch. Wallace took exception to the contact and spun Busch backwards in front of the sold out crowd in the ninety-degree Turn 1 — to the roaring pleasure of the ever growing legion anti-Kyle Busch fans.
The final restart of the race was drama-packed as Elliott and Truex made contact on the frontstretch going into the first turn and then again several more times weaving their way through the Esses. The contact was significant according the Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson and contact that worried not only Elliott but the entire NAPA Auto Parts crew.
“The left rear damage was pretty significant and concerned us quite a bit as it looked like it was protruding into the sidewall of the tire,” said Gustafson.
Elliott shared that concern on the radio after the incident with Gustafson and his spotter high atop the racing action calming their driver down to finish off their second win of the season.
“I haven’t seen it, I don’t know what happened, I thought I drove straight into the corner and he just hit us,” noted Elliott. “Obviously I wasn’t very happy about it because I was worried we would get a flat tire and ruin our whole day.”
From there and putting the tire concerns in the rear view, Elliott went to attacking the tricky road course with the precision of a neurosurgeon. Elliott made up a lot of ground in the first turn and the Esses, where Truex seemed to be better in the inner loop, the carousel and the final two turns — 6 and 7.
Truex noted that as he got closer and closer to Elliott he felt like his car was hitting an aerodynamic wall of air which didn’t allow him to make a pass for the lead.
“I tried to do all I could, but Chase did an excellent job not making mistakes, and really all I could do was just try to force a mistake,” Truex said. “But (Elliott) hit his marks. His car was really fast in the key areas that you need to be, leaving a few of the key corners. I just couldn’t get a run on him and we just were kind of stuck there.”
Elliott has lost pivotal races in his past by having the second place car drive into him and wrecking his chances, and car, for the victory. That was something Elliott was concerned about as Truex continued to close in.
“If he was going to beat me I wanted him to (make a move) drive past me, not drive up there and wreck me.”
But that would never come to be as Truex only ever got as close as a car-length from the back bumper of Elliott.
Elliott went on to score his second win of 2019 while locking up 7 additional NASCAR Playoff bonus points for sweeping both stages and winning the race.
“I’ve never been so far from home and felt like I was at my house, so thank you. Y’all are awesome,” Elliott proclaimed to the sold out Watkins Glen International crowd after climbing from his car.