Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – WATKINS GLEN, NY – If there were a “Driver of the Race” award in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it would be difficult to give it to anyone other than Chase Elliott, who held off reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. over the final 32 laps to win Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen.
Kyle Busch, however, could lay his own claim, after fighting his way back to third place, overcoming a fueling snafu on pit road during his final stop under caution on Lap 56.
Busch left pit road with the lead after the stop, only to learn that his team had gotten only eight gallons of racing fuel into his tank. He returned to pit road a lap later to complete the fueling process and restarted 31st on Lap 59.
By Lap 66 Busch had cracked the top 10, and throughout the closing laps, he worked his way toward the front, ultimately passing Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez for third place.
“Sounds familiar,” Busch said of the glitch that perhaps cost him the race. “Every year we come here, we have a fast car and fail to execute, whether that’s just called bad luck or whatever.
“Last year we had a lug nut get stuck in the caliper. This year we had fueling problems. It never ceases to amaze me. Nothing surprises me anymore.”
Busch led 31 of the 90 laps, second only to Elliott’s 52. But after the blown pit stop, Busch had to work harder fighting his way through the field than Elliott did in keeping Truex behind him.
“It was a heck of a lot harder than it should have been,” Busch said. “But that was the predicament we were put in, and we had to go work. I certainly gave (team owner) Joe (Gibbs) his money’s worth today, maybe even a couple more races.
“We had a fast race car. I can’t say enough about our guys, our shop, everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engines, everything that gave us that opportunity. We just failed to capitalize, so it’s a disappointing day, no question.”
ERIK JONES, DANIEL SUAREZ SCORE TOP FIVES AT WATKINS GLEN
The sophomore class at Joe Gibbs Racing is coming of age.
Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen. That marked the second straight event in which the two second-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers have scored top-five results.
Jones already has a spot in the Playoffs, thanks to his victory at Daytona in July. Suarez is fighting for a Playoff berth, currently three spots out of the postseason at 18th in the series standings.
But both drivers have seen a decided uptick in their respective performances of late.
“That’s what we’ve got to keep doing,” Jones said. “We’ve only had one bad race since Daytona, and that was New Hampshire. Two top fives in a row for us, so we need to keep going that way, and hopefully we can contend for a win at Michigan (next Sunday).
“That’s the goal. We want to win another race. I know we can do it. If we’re this close on a road course, I know we can do it on an oval, so we’ll keep working on it.”
It’s a measure of Suarez’s improvement that he could downplay his fourth-place result at the 2.45-mile road course.
“It was a decent race,” Suarez said. “I felt like we had a top-five, top-seven car or so. The car was good, but not extremely good. Definitely, the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 20 (Jones) were better, but it was a good race.
“Solid effort for my team. We’re getting close. This is what we need, to run top five every week, and if we continue to do this, I’m going to be a happy boy.”
THE NUMBERS LINE UP FOR FATHER AND SON IN CHASE ELLIOTT’S WIN
Driving the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Chase Elliott won his first monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in his 99th start.
His father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, won his 1988 championship in Harry Melling’s Ford—also bearing the No. 9.
The numerology wasn’t lost on the elder Elliott, who was spotting for his son on the backstretch at Watkins Glen and actually beat his son to Victory Lane, because Chase ran out of gas after taking the checkered flag and needed a push from teammate Jimmie Johnson.
“You talk about numbers—I think this was his 99th start, correct?” Bill Elliott said. “The 9 car wins the 99th start. I won my first Cup race at a road course in Riverside. The only Xfinity race I ever won was right here on a road course, and lo and behold, he wins his first on a road course.
“It’s kind of—you don’t think about these things until kind of after the race, but it’s kind of weird.”
Elliott could have added that the last three victories for the No. 9 car have come at Watkins Glen—the previous two by road course ace Marcos Ambrose in 2011 and 2012.