NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Kyle Larson Surges Late, Wins Watkins Glen in NASCAR’s Return

Two years separated the most recent NASCAR Cup Series races at Watkins Glen International after the series skipped the track in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Hendrick Motorsports success, however, at the upstate New York road course continued with Kyle Larson’s triumph on Sunday (Aug. 8).

Larson hadn’t won in nearly two months, his last victory coming in the July race at Nashville Superspeedway, capping a streak of three straight wins, yet Sunday marked his fifth victory of 2021 and his second on a road course.

“It’s awesome,” Larson said in his post-race interview. “It really just shows how good the organization is, all the people that they’ve assembled at their race shop, all the men and women. All four of us could not be getting these wins like we have been without them. Thanks to them and thanks to everybody else I get to race for. Get to go to Iowa this week and chase another big win, so looking forward to that, and hopefully can just keep racking these wins up.”

Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Despite what was essentially a coin flip probability of inclement weather when the afternoon began, the sun shone for almost the entire race.

Chase Elliott, winner of the 2018 and 2019 races there and six of the last eight Cup events on road courses, was forced to start at the back after an L1 penalty ejected crew chief Alan Gustafson, docked the team 10 driver and owner points and hit them with a $25,000 fine. Christopher Bell also started at the back, hit with the same punishment for the same reason.

Polesitter Brad Keselowski led the opening laps and looked in to be in a good spot heading to the lap 10 competition caution, but lost the handling of his No. 2 and looped it in turn 6, losing five spots before he rejoined the track.

Keselowski pitted after the spin, handing teammate Joey Logano the lead; the No. 22 cruised to the stage one victory.

The first natural caution waved on lap 25 with Martin Truex Jr. leading, a stalled James Davison freezing the field. Ryan Blaney spun from sixth at just about the same time, but avoided damage and was able to continue. Chase Briscoe, meanwhile, did take a small bit of damage when he and Bell were battling inside the top five, and the No. 14 slid off the racing line in the first turn. In rejoining the track, the No. 14 made contact with Bell’s left rear.

Around the same time, Elliott flat spotted his tires and was forced to pit road. Truex, the No. 9’s main competition in the past two races at The Glen, won stage two with teammate Bell behind him.

That runner-up spot didn’t last long for Bell, who dove into the first corner alongside Larson and ended up spinning after contact. Bell retained a top-10 spot after he was able to refire, but it moved Larson into second and he set his sights on Truex for the lead.

The race stayed under green-flag conditions even with arguably the biggest incident of the afternoon, when Keselowski lost control of his No. 2 Ford into turn 1 and slid through the apex, hitting teammate Logano and sending both cars spinning.

It was the final green-flag pit stop cycle that changed the complexion of the race, with the closing Larson inheriting the lead ahead of Truex despite the No. 19 pitting from the lead. Larson had pulled away to a lead of more than five seasons by the time 10 laps remained.

Elliott tried closing in as the laps wound down, drawing within two seconds with the same number of laps remaining and passing Truex. He was fighting through lapped traffic, though, falling further behind as Larson set sail.

The traffic held Elliott up enough to allow Larson to scoot away, securing his fifth win of 2021 and second-ever on a road course. Elliott settled for second after getting irrevocably stuck behind that gaggle of lapped cars.

“Chase was already catching me pretty quick, even with me being in open track,” Larson said. “So when I caught those, I think, four cars and got into the [No.] 38 right here, I thought I would look at my mirror and the [No.] 9 would be right on me, but thankfully had a comfortable enough gap to where I could make a mistake like that.

“I want to say a big apology to Christopher Bell,” he added, referencing the turn 1 incident. “I was inside but I wasn’t inside enough, and […] I needed to have the nose a few feet further ahead and the angles just caught there in the middle and I ended up turning him. I hate that. I race with him a lot, He’s probably the one guy that I race with the most in all my racing, so hate to turn him like that. We’ve had incredible races together.”

William Byron, Bell, Kevin Harvick, Briscoe and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top 10.

Larson is now tied with Hamlin atop the regular points standings. As for the playoff grid, Hamlin, Harvick and Reddick sit inside the postseason bubble. Austin Dillon is the first driver on the outside looking in, 15 points behind teammate Reddick.

The Cup Series heads to another road course this coming week, scheduled to take on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Sunday, Aug. 15. The Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET that afternoon.

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