Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – WATKINS GLEN, NY – Kyle Larson’s win in the Go Bowling at The Glen was one where he had to weave through lapped traffic, but he did not have the fastest car.
A mishap for Chase Elliott on lap 31 when he flat spotted his tires locking the brakes into turn one leading into an unscheduled pit stop.
The big moments for Elliott didn’t begin during lap 31 though.
Pre-race Elliott was given an L1 penalty for violating rules 18.104.22.168.a and 22.214.171.124.b (rear-window air deflectors). His crew chief Alan Gustafson was ejected and lost ten driver and owner points, started from the rear, and the team was fined $25,000. The same penalty was applied to Christopher Bell, ejecting Adam Stevens.
“It’s not ideal. I feel like we can operate at a high level. We’ve been prepared for the race. I think we can do a really good job working with the rest of our team,” Elliott said pre-race.
A sold out crowd all-around be fans for the sixth straight year and for the first time ever, camping selling out made up the attendance for The Glen after the absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic/quarantine restriction.
Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano brought the field to Joey Aycock’s green for the 90 lap main attraction of the weekend. It would become a Penske 1-2-3 at the start as Keselowski led Logano and Blaney. Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin would make moves early to get up to the top two and battle for the lead.
Before the competition caution came out, Keselowski wheel hopped into turn six from the lead and doing a 360. Keselowski fell back to sixth as Logano took the lead at the competition caution.
“I’m really struggling on the brakes. Loose in. Wheelhopping in the corner,” Keselowski said on team radios.
Before the end of stage one was when long-term pit strategy began to the finish. Because of how long it takes to get around Watkins Glen, drivers can pit without losing a lap. Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. among the notables. Larson peeked to the inside of turn one but Logano powered off on the exit in defense to win stage one.
On the restart a three wide restart as Martin Truex Jr. was on the outside and used pavement runoff in the 90 degree turn one to take the lead. Lap 25 brought out the lone non-competition yellow as James Davison stalled in turn six.
Christopher Bell rebounded well from his L1 penalty, moving up to the runner-up on lap 31. Elliott then came into pit road after flat spotting the tires. With the freshest tires, despite being the last car on the lead lap, he was running faster laps, including the fastest lap of the race.
No one would pit to end stage two as Martin Truex Jr. drove his way through to win the stage.
Drivers who were short pitting were concerned on fuel. Others who pitted during stage breaks would be good to the end. All given there was one stop remaining.
Crazy racing broke out in stage three. With 43 to go, a three wide battle for the lead broke out at the front straight. Bell looked for the lead on his teammate, Larson took it three wide and had the door shut by Bell. Truex somehow kept the lead.
After his mishap, Chase Elliott started to rebound on fresh tires up to the top 10. Four minutes later, it got wilder in the battle for second when contact from Larson sent Bell around from hard racing. The next lap, Brad Keselowski’s wheel hopping issues went from bad to worse as he spun collecting his teammate Joey Logano in the process. Not the day Roger Penske wanted to see.
The final round of pit stops began as leader Truex Jr. pitted first. The turning point in the race was when Larson pitted and jumped Truex in the cycle, putting him to the lead once the field finished their pit stops. Larson was increasing his lead on Truex Jr. but there was still someone to watch out for.
Spotter Eddie D’Hondt told Chase Elliott running in fifth with 25 to go “You’re good than anybody by far.” The quest for a three-peat was still alive.
18 to go, Elliott passed Kyle Busch for third. Three laps later, the gap was four seconds behind Truex for P2. It turned to two seconds in two laps with 13 to go. Nine to go, Elliott was on the heels of MTJ and outbroke Truex entering the bus stop to take it. With the gap over five seconds, it seemed likely that Elliott would need a yellow if he wanted to win.
Lapped traffic was heavy for Larson and nearly contacted a back marker entering the esses. Two to go the lead was cut down to 2.3 seconds, but it was all “Yung Money” needed as Larson scores his fifth win of the season.
“Our pit crew did a great job on the green flag stop and got us out in front of the 19, and we were able to kind of maintain that gap for a little while and then eventually start to pull away, and thankfully the 9 was not close enough there at the end because he was really, really fast,” Larson said.
On racing against his Hendrick teammate in Elliott, Larson commented “I knew the 9 car and his history on road courses, like he’s the guy to judge off of and how you’re going to be. You couldn’t really get a good judge because he had to start in the back. I felt like he made it up a good ways. I seen the big screen early, and he passed like 18 cars in the first run. Then I was like, man, he was really fast. I was definitely worried about him all day. Then I didn’t see him, but he had his lock-up issue, and that kind of was able to give us the gap that all of us needed to hold off.”
“They were great,” Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels said on his pit crew. “They knew how to be clutch when it was needed. That was the money stop of the race.”
“[I just needed to] make less mistakes, I think. When I flat spotted the tire, that was the straw that broke it. My fault. I hate it. Move on and try again,” Elliott told RPW. “I think that was the best we’ve been here. I’m proud of that. You hate to feel like you brought your best effort and not get the result you want.”
The win is big in addition because Larson is now tied with Denny Hamlin for the regular season points lead. With three races until the Playoffs begin, it is a pivotal battle on who could get the 15 extra Playoff Points and likely have the most entering Darlington in September.
“It’s a mix of racetracks. We’ve got a little taste of everything. I would suspect it’s going to take the last lap of Daytona to figure this thing out,” Hamlin said on the tie. “I’ll race him hard as I possibly can.”
“It would be nice to get a couple good weeks and get that point lead because I know he’s going to go there, and anything can happen at Daytona but I know he’s going to go there and he’s going to get stage points and he’s going to challenge for the win,” Larson responded. “I’d like to have a good couple weeks before we get there and give us a little bit of wiggle room.”
Next up for the NASCAR Cup Series, another road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For interviews with Larson, Elliott, Truex, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, and the top 20 in points back in pre-race, head to the RSN Trackside Facebook page.
Go Bowling at the Glen (90 Laps)
5 Kyle Larson, 2. 9 Chase Elliott (2.430s), 3. 19 Martin Truex Jr., 4. 18 Kyle Busch, 5. 11 Denny Hamlin, 6. 24 William Byron, 7. 20 Christopher Bell, 8. 4 Kevin Harvick, 9. 14 Chase Briscoe, 10. 8 Tyler Reddick, 11. 21 Matt DiBenedetto, 12. 42 Ross Chastain, 13. 1 Kurt Busch, 14. 12 Ryan Blaney, 15. 3 Austin Dillon, 16. 10 Aric Almirola, 17. 17 Chris Buescher, 18. 41 Cole Custer, 19. 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 20. 48 Alex Bowman, 21. 34 Michael McDowell, 22. 22 Joey Logano, 23. 23 Bubba Wallace, 24. 7 Corey LaJoie, 25. 6 Ryan Newman (-1L), 26. 38 Anthony Alfredo (-1L), 27. 43 Erik Jones (-1L), 28. 37 Ryan Preece (-1L), 29. 77 Justin Haley (-1L), 30. 78 Kyle Tilley (-1L), 31. 99 Daniel Suarez (-2L), 32. 00 Quin Houff (-2L), 33. 52 Josh Bilicki (-2L), 34. 15 RC Enerson (-2L), 35. 2 Brad Keselowski (-3L), 36. 53 Garrett Smithley (-3L), 37. 51 James Davison (Electrical)
Polesitter: 2 Keselowski