Kyle Larson wins NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen
A race that started in the rain ended with Kyle Larson in the clear.
Larson took the lead from Chase Elliott, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, by forcing Elliott to the outside on a restart with five laps to go and outran AJ Allmendinger to the finish to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
Elliott, a winner four times this year, locked up the regular season championship during the race but was in excellent position to win again Sunday before dropping back on the final restart. He finished fourth.
“I knew that was my only opportunity,” Larson said. “I’m not proud of it, but I knew it’s what I had to do to get the win. I felt like our cars were pretty equal.”
Elliott appeared to have the win locked up as he appeared to have the fastest car in the final stage, but Larson’s aggressive move on the restart in crowded traffic cost him any shot at victory lane.
Immediately after the race, Elliott did not criticize Larson’s move. “Congratulations,” Elliott said. “He did a great job. Seriously, they deserve it.”
The victory ended a 22-race winless streak for Larson. It gave the defending Cup champion a sweep of the NASCAR weekend at the 2.45-mile road course. He also won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.
Joey Logano was third Sunday, and Daniel Suarez took fifth.
The race was the next-to-last event of the Cup Series regular season.
Oddly enough, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney, drivers wrestling for the 16th and final spot in the playoffs, finished back-to-back, although neither had a good day. Truex was 23rd and Blaney 24th, with Blaney keeping the points advantage for the playoffs.
Former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen, racing in the Cup Series for the first time, was knocked out of the race early in the final stage. His car was hit in the middle of heavy traffic in the bus stop section of the track, and the contact sent Raikkonen into a tire barrier, damaging the car.
Raikkonen, a native of Finland and resident of Switzerland, ran in the top 10 during parts of the first two stages. He drove for Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project91 program designed to bring internationally known drivers to NASCAR.
Rookie Todd Gilliland led early in the second stage but pitted, apparently with rear-axle issues. He parked and finished 38th.
Chase Briscoe won the first stage, although Michael McDowell led eight of the 20 laps.
The race started more than an hour late because of lightning delays. The first attempted start was called off because of puddling on the course, but the race eventually started with teams using rain tires. During the first stage, drivers pitted for regular racing tires as the track dried.
Stage 1 winner: Chase Briscoe
Stage 2 winner: Joey Logano
Drivers who had a good race: Kyle Larson raced aggressively on the final restart, leaving teammate Chase Elliott in the dust and scoring his second win of the season. ... Elliott led 29 laps and won the regular season championship along the way. He was forced from the lead by Larson, an action that likely will prompt some discussion this week at Hendrick Motorsports. ... Michael McDowell used his road course experience to lead 14 laps, finishing sixth.
Drivers who had a bad race: Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney came into the race needing a win to lock into a provisional playoff spot. Neither ran well, Truex finishing 23rd and Blaney 24th. ... Kyle Busch had another adventurous day, running well at times near the front but falling to a 32nd-place finish.
Next: The final race of the regular season is scheduled Saturday, Aug. 27, at Daytona International Speedway (NBC, 7 p.m. ET).