Chase Elliott goes back- to-back at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 04: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 04, 2019 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – It was a striking case of déjà vu.

WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK – AUGUST 04: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 04, 2019 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

In a replay of Last year’s GoBowling at the Glen, Martin Truex Jr. chased pole winner Chase Elliott lap after lap around the 2.45-mile road course, using everything in his arsenal to try to deprive Elliott of his second straight victory at the track.

Nothing worked for Truex, who crossed the finish line in the wake of the winning No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, .454 seconds in arrears.

Elliott logged his second victory of the season, his second at The Glen and the fifth of his career, becoming the first Chevrolet driver to win multiple races this season.

“This is wild,” exulted Elliott, who outran Truex last year at WGI to pick up his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. “Thank you, guys, that was pretty awesome. I’ve never been so far from home and thought I was at my house. Thank you. What a day!

“We had such a bad fast Camaro, and we stayed mistake-free. Martin was a little quicker those last two runs, but track position was king, and I didn’t mess up in (Turn) 1 this time, so that was good.”

In fact, nothing went wrong for Elliott until he ran out of fuel after his celebratory post-race burnout—same as last year.

“Sorry I ran out of gas again,” Elliott said.

Elliott swept the first and second stages and led 81 of the 90 laps, surrendering the top spot only during pit stop cycles. Truex, who led one lap by pitting one circuit later than Elliott on Lap 60, got tantalizingly close to Elliott’s rear bumper at several points during the final 25-lap green-flag run, but the 2017 series champion couldn’t mount a serious threat to overtake the winner.

“I tried to do all I could,” Truex said. “Chase did an excellent job, just not making mistakes, and really all I could do was get to two car lengths—one-and-a-half at the closest in braking—and just try to force a mistake. But he 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. Unfortunate, but our Bass Pro Camry was really, really fast today. We passed quite a few cars there that were fast and finished up front, just couldn’t pass that last one.”

Denny Hamlin ran a consistent-if-distant third, 11.229 seconds behind Elliott at the finish. Erik Jones started 14th and came home fourth, posting his fourth straight top-five result and solidifying his position in the standings with four races left before the cutoff for the Playoffs. Jones is 13th, 54 points to the good.

Ryan Blaney ran fifth on Sunday, followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch finished 11th, recovering from a pit road speeding penalty and on-track dust-ups with front-row starter William Byron (21st on Sunday) and Bubba Wallace (28th).

Scoring points in both the first and second stages, Jimmie Johnson finished 19th in the debut of new crew chief Cliff Daniels and made up 12 points on Ryan Newman, who ran 25th after a flat tire forced an unscheduled pit stop, and a subsequent loose wheel compounded the problem. Newman and Johnson head for next Sunday’s race at Michigan tied for 16th, the last Playoff-eligible position.

Chase Elliott regaining stride as NASCAR’s Playoffs loom

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Chase Elliott climbed out of his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Sunday afternoon after a hard-earned win on the Watkins Glen International road course and with a huge smile and wave immediately offered an apology for not being able to do a proper victory lap for the adoring and boisterous grandstand crowd. His car had run out of gas.

With the win – his second of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and fifth of his young career – the 23-year old Elliott’s performance went a long way to answering any doubters who felt that Elliott and/or his team had perhaps run out of gas, after a frustrating summer swing. Instead, on Sunday, the No. 9 team proved itself poised for a bigger victory celebration – perhaps a championship burnout.

The most dominating win of his young career was a resounding reminder that Elliott is ready to step up his game as the Playoffs approach. This weekend at Watkins Glen, he won the pole position, led 80 of 90 laps and picked up both stage victories along the way to the trophy hoist.

In doing so, Elliott became only the fifth driver in NASCAR history to win back-to-back races at the historic venue – and significantly, the list he joins includes three NASCAR Hall of Famers in Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and one of the sport’s all-time best road course drivers Marcos Ambrose.

It’s all placed Elliott in a good position as the series heads to Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“We’ve never done this as a team,” said Elliott, who is eighth in the championship, now only three points behind seventh place Kurt Busch. “This was the first time we’ve ever gone somewhere and sat on the pole and led the most laps and won the race. I’ve never done that in my career and I’m sure [crew chef] Alan [Gustafson] has at some point, but as a group, we’ve never done that.

“I just feel like that, to me, the biggest piece of the whole weekend, was just knowing that we’re the type of team and the caliber of team that can go and put on those kind of performances. And those are the kind of performances you have to put on to compete with those guys that win often.

“We just need to go do that more often and I think at the end, we can run with them.”

The victory was beyond a summer “pick-me-up” for Elliott and his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team. It was more of a jolt. And that’s exactly what they needed.

After winning at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in May, Elliott has been in a bit of a tailspin. His last top-10 result prior to Sunday’s race was at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in June – eight races ago. During that tough stretch he suffered a 37th-place finish at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway – the first road course of the year – and just last weekend at the second Pocono race, Elliott had his worst result of the season – a 38th-place finish after an accident sidelined him.

This convincing victory on Sunday is more than a trophy feel-good moment, it was reassurance that the team is ready to rally and challenge again for its first season championship. That it deserves to be considered a perennial contender.

“Those Playoff points are huge and I think that’s the key to those guys and the advantage that those guys have, the guys that have four or five wins already,” Elliott said. “They have probably double as many Playoff points as we do.

“You know, those guys that have won often and won that much, they’re just about a lock for Homestead. Almost. They have a heck of a lot of help to get them there. That’s the kind of position you want to put yourself in before the final ten (Playoff races) for sure.”

Those final 10 Playoff venues –  Las Vegas, Richmond, Charlotte ROVAL, Dover, Talladega, Kansas, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead – line up well for Elliott.

He won at Talladega already this season and is the defending Playoff race winner at Dover, where he won the pole position and led a race best 145 laps in a fifth-place finish earlier this year.

Elliott finished runner-up at Martinsville in March, leading 49 laps. Texas has always been a sentimental favorite as well, home to his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win – in 2014 en route to the Xfinity Series championship. He was 13th there this year and led 35 laps.

Elliott had top-10 finishes at Vegas (ninth) and Kansas (fourth) on the schedule’s first stop of 2019 and is the defending winner of the Kansas Playoff race as well. At the ROVAL debut last year, Elliott started fourth and finished sixth.

“Our speed has been decent, we just have not executed the races for mechanicals or crashes or different issues,” Gustafson said. “That’s the biggest thing I wanted to do this weekend is perform to the potential of the team and the car and get back on track. And certainly, we did that in style, which was fantastic. But yeah, we needed to get out of that rut, to get back on track and get focused on competing and improving and get some confidence back.

“It [the win] couldn’t come at a better time and certainly these things come and go,” Gustafson reiterated. “It happens to everybody, I think and you can use those last weeks that we had to kind of reflect on what we could do better and improve and I feel like we’ve done that.

“So all in all, it certainly hurt us in the points, but I think it’s probably going to make our team a bit stronger.”

Holly Cain – NASCAR Wire Service

Jimmie Johnson weathers collision;

sees Playoff position improve

 

WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK – AUGUST 03: Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, stands on pit road during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 03, 2019 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Nineteenth wasn’t what Jimmie Johnson wanted in his first race with Cliff Daniels as his crew chief, but solid runs in the first two stages of Sunday’s GoBowling at The Glen were enough to lift the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion into a tie for 16th in the series standings, the last spot eligible for the postseason Playoffs.

Johnson started the race eighth and finished sixth in the first stage. In the second stage he was 10th, ultimately scoring enough points to tie 25th-place finisher Ryan Newman in the standings with four races left before the Playoff field is decided.

WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK – AUGUST 04: Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 04, 2019 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

On Lap 61, with an “assist” from Ryan Blaney, Johnson backed into the tire barrier near the entrance to the carousel but was able to continue.

“He just drove through me in the carousel,” Johnson said of the contact with Blaney’s Ford. “I tried to hear what he was trying to say…but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak (after the race). I don’t know if he was nervous or scared or both…I don’t know what the problem is. He just drove through me and spun me out.

“And clearly that has big implications with what we are trying to do for the Playoffs right now, so clearly not happy with his actions. We scored points in both stages, which was nice. We were setting up for top-eight to top-10 and got drove through. He claims it was just racing. So I can hardly wait to go racing. Everybody stay tuned.”

Blaney, who is 10th in points and comfortably in the Playoff grid after a fifth-place finish, took issue with Johnson’s assessment.

“It was just racing,” Blaney asserted. “He had old tires. They just did gas only (on the previous pit stop), and he was pretty slow, and I passed 10 guys off the bus stop all day. He hit the third curb pretty bad and got in that position, and he was up, and I had a good run. I was there. He left probably a lane-and-a-quarter or so, and I took it.

“At first, he didn’t turn down like I thought he knew I was there, and then he kept coming. I tried to check up, and it was just too late. I mean, obviously, I didn’t mean to spin him out. I don’t want to do that. It’s obviously an accident, but he was upset, and I can’t blame him for being upset about it. We’re just racing hard, and I thought there was a lane there, and it just closed.”

Newman, who entered Sunday’s race 12 points ahead of Johnson, had trouble in the final stage. On lap 50, he pitted from 15th with a flat tire and lost a lap. Shortly thereafter, Newman returned to pit road with a loose wheel. Though he regained the lead lap as the highest scored lapped car under caution for Johnson’s collision with the tire barrier, Newman finished the race mired in 25th.

Clint Bowyer came home 20th after finishing fourth in Stage 2, but the driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford maintained a 12-point edge over Johnson and Newman as the series heads for Michigan International Speedway.

Austin Cindric gets first 

Xfinity win at The Glen

WATKINS GLEN, NEW YORK – AUGUST 03: Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 MoneyLion Ford, poses with the winner’s sticker after the NASCAR Xfinity Series Zippo 200 at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 03, 2019 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Opportunity knocked for Austin Cindric after a mechanical failure knocked Kyle Busch out of Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.

And after Cindric and road course ace AJ Allmendinger traded knocks on the final two laps of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, Cindric—on fresher tires—emerged the winner for the first time in his career.

Following post-race inspection, Allmendinger’s No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet was disqualified for a rear height violation, dropping Allmendinger to last place in the running order. But fans left the track with the memory of an intense battle over the closing laps.

When NASCAR called the sixth caution on Lap 69 of 82, Brian Wilson, crew chief on Cindric’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford, made a courageous call that later proved decisive. Wilson brought Cindric from the lead to pit road for fresh tires, dropping the 20-year-old driver to ninth in the running order for a restart on Lap 73.

An immediate caution for a pile-up in Turn 1 left Cindric in sixth for the next restart on Lap 76. When Christopher Bell was knocked sideways in Turn 2, and Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick lost momentum while fighting for the second spot, Cindric charged around the outside into second place and chased Allmendinger.

It took three laps for Cindric to trim Allmendinger’s advantage from 1.714 seconds to .521 seconds, and from that point, the game was on. On Lap 81, Cindric nudged Allmendinger up the track in the carousel and took the lead. Allmendinger returned the favor approaching Turn 7 and regained the top spot as Cindric was forced wide.

But Allmendinger entered Turn 7 too wide and Cindric drove back underneath to lead Lap 81. On the final circuit he pulled away to win by 1.168 seconds and clinched a spot in the Xfinity Series Playoffs.

Cindric and Wilson had discussed the possibility of a late pit stop before the race.

“I’ve been on the other side of it,” Cindric said. “(Bell) had been pretty good all day, so it was going to be hard to hold him off depending on which lane he had on the restart.”

The only thing that went wrong was Cindric’s celebratory burnout. But it was helpful that pole winner Kyle Busch had critical issues during the race itself.

“I was kind of bummed,” Cindric said. “I broke the clutch out of it trying to do a burnout, so my guys are going to have to do a little extra work and I’ll have to buy them an even bigger dinner. We talked before the weekend, and we knew something would have to go wrong with (Kyle Busch), but I’m so blessed to be able to be here.”

After winning the first stage and pitting thereafter, Busch had just passed Ryan Blaney for the lead entering the inner loop when the upper control arm on the left front of his No. 18 Toyota broke. Busch retired from the race and opened the door for Cindric.

“As soon as KB went out, everybody’s eyes opened up, and it was like, ‘OK, here we go,’” Allmendinger said. “When you take tires like that, it’s all about getting lucky. If you get a restart where you get by a chunk of cars, it makes that strategy work—and he did it.

“Congrats to Austin. He went in there and nudged me, and that was fair. I nudged him—you race how you get raced—but that’s what racing’s all about. He deserved it. He was on it the whole race.”

With the Allmendinger disqualification, Bell inherited the runner-up spot, followed by Allgaier, who traded hard knocks with Ross Chastain, eliminating Chastain from the race after hard contact with the barrier in the carousel. Blaney and Reddick ran fourth and fifth.

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