Kyle Larson wins second straight race at Watkins Glen as he seeks to defend NASCAR championship

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Kyle Larson won the Go Bowling at The Glen for the second year in a row late Sunday afternoon, overtaking Hendrick Motorports teammate Chase Elliott on a restart with five laps to go in a wet NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.

Larson, 30, earned a sweep of NASCAR's weekend races after winning Saturday's Xfinity Series race. In both cases, AJ Allmendinger didn't have enough to catch Larson over the closing laps and finished second at the 2.45-mile road course.

This was the second win of the season for Larson, who captured 10 races last year on his way to the season championship.

Elliott chose the outside lane off the final restart and ended up wide in the Turn 1 runoff area after Larson went by him in the middle of the track. Elliott, a winner at Watkins Glen in 2018 and 2019, fell to fifth place as three other cars went by before coming back to finish fourth in the 90-lap race. Joey Logano finished third.

"I'm not proud of it," Larson said of the decisive pass. "The leader choosing the left lane, it wins out. When it gets late in the race, it's definitely risky. I knew that was my only opportunity to get by him. I felt our cars were kind of equal today and had a lot of fun after the green-flag cycle trying to chase him down."

Larson said the restarts kept him in the race. Loriz Hezemans spun between turns 6 and 7 and was stuck in the sand, bringing out the last restart. A spin from Kyle Busch with 17 laps left and a wreck by Joey Hand five laps later led to earlier restarts.

Larson added he gained insight into how to handle restarts from Saturday's race, when he took advantage of a collision between front-runners Ty Gibbs and William Byron to win the Sunoco Go Rewards 200 at The Glen.

"Every time I was in the right lane (Saturday) in Xfinity I was in the same spot and I would always get pinched into the curb and a lot of times I got passed by the time I got through Turn 2," Larson said. "So I figured it was probably going to be the last restart of the weekend and I told myself if I had a nose ahead before we got to the braking zone I was going to have to try my best to maintain that and not let him get a nose ahead of me and pinch my corner off and my chance of winning.

"I had a good restart and I got in there hot and did what I had to do win. Again, I’m not necessarily proud of it, especially with a teammate, but I feel like I had to execute that way to get the win."

Kyle Larson also won Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International to complete a weekend sweep.
Kyle Larson also won Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International to complete a weekend sweep.

Elliott on Larson's win: 'He did a great job'

Larson made contact with Elliott during his only other win this season, which came at Fontana in late February.

Elliott had a similar response when asked multiple times Sunday about Larson's winning move and whether he considered the risk of starting on the outside during the final restart.

"Just a huge congratulations to Kyle and everybody on the 5 team. Congratulations to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for getting another win," Elliott said. "He did a great job. Seriously, they deserve it and I'm looking forward to going to (Daytona) next week."

Elliott didn't address the pass beyond congratulating Larson and his team. Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, said any potential tension between the drivers will be addressed.

"I have no issue at all that Chase is upset right now," Andrews said. "I think that's perfectly normal in this situation. We'll talk about it this week, we'll talk about it the week after. It's going to be motivation. What we have to manage is internally. I'll go back to that with (Rick) Hendrick and Jeff (Gordon) and make sure we have a good, cohesive race team. We've got four cars and four race teams that are ready to lock arms and go to battle here these 10 weeks."

Said Larson of his relationship with Elliott: "I hope it will be fine, but we’ll see. I didn’t end his day today, but I did probably take a win from him."

Race start delayed twice

The race started 1 hour, 42 minutes later than scheduled ‒ with the green flag waving at 5:01 p.m. ‒ after two weather delays. The first was caused by lightning in the area and the second came after drivers were on the track for warm-up laps. NASCAR officials chose to bring the drivers back to pit road because of standing water on the course caused by a steady rainfall that followed the lightning.

The track was still wet when the field of 39 drivers got going on Goodyear's 18-inch rain tires, but the rain let up considerably and was gone completely soon after the race started. Some drivers switched to slicks by lap 10 and the track was dry by the time 20-lap Stage 1 was completed. Officials chose to use single-file restarts early in the race.

"Having gone green while it was raining would have been probably difficult, like it was at (Circuit of The Americas in 2021)," Larson said. "It was nice they brought us on pit road and kind of waited for the rain to stop and blew that layer of thick wetness off the track. Visibility I didn’t think was that bad when we took the green and the track was drying up very quickly too.

"I thought I’d be a lot better in the wet than I was. I was a little bit bummed and glad it did dry as quick as it did because I was struggling in the wet."

Elliott takes regular-season points title

Elliott's finish secured the regular-season points title and 15 bonus points that will carry over into the 10-race playoffs that start after Saturday night's regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. Elliott has a series-leading four victories this season.

Larson overtook Ryan Blaney for second in points, 134 behind Elliott.

With 15 different winners this season, one spot remains for the 16-driver playoff Cup playoffs heading into Daytona. Among drivers without a win, Blaney leads with 788 points and Martin Truex Jr. is next with 754.

A win at Daytona would put Blaney or Truex into the playoffs. Unless a winless driver below them in the standings claims the race, the spot will go to the points leader between Blaney and Truex.

Raikkonen's race over early

The series debut of 2007 Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen came to an end on lap 46 when he went into the wall in the Inner Loop.

Raikkonen was unable to avoid the aftermath after Ross Chaistain's car got into Austin Dillon.

Raikkonen, from Finland, was part of a field that included drivers from seven countries, the most international drivers for a Cup Series race.

“It was good fun, you know, and I felt more confident all the time and had some good battles and the car felt like it had a lot of speed in there, but that’s how it goes sometimes,’’ said Raikkonen, who finished 37th.

Go Bowling at The Glen Results

Sunday at the 2.45-miles road course in Watkins Glen, New York (Starting position in parentheses):

1. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 90 laps, 43 points.

2. (6) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 90, 0.

3. (20) Joey Logano, Ford, 90, 49.

4. (1) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 90, 40.

5. (9) Daniel Suárez, Chevrolet, 90, 40.

6. (3) Michael McDowell, Ford, 90, 42.

7. (5) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 90, 39.

8. (38) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 90, 30.

9. (7) Chris Buescher, Ford, 90, 32.

10. (31) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 90, 27.

11. (29) Cole Custer, Ford, 90, 28.

12. (24) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 90, 25.

13. (8) Austin Cindric, Ford, 90, 24.

14. (11) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 90, 23.

15. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Chevrolet, 90, 22.

16. (28) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 90, 31.

17. (12) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 90, 20.

18. (13) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 90, 19.

19. (15) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90, 18.

20. (22) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90, 17.

21. (18) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 90, 22.

22. (4) William Byron, Chevrolet, 90, 15.

23. (25) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 90, 14.

24. (26) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 90, 13.

25. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 90, 22.

26. (16) Ty Gibbs, Toyota, 90, 0.

27. (32) Corey Lajoie, Chevrolet, 90, 10.

28. (30) Harrison Burton, Ford, 90, 9.

29. (35) Aric Almirola, Ford, 90, 8.

30. (33) Mike Rockenfeller, Chevrolet, 90, 7.

31. (17) Joey Hand, Ford, 90, 11.

32. (10) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 89, 16.

33. (34) Loris Hezemans, Ford, 89, 0.

34. (39) Cody Ware, Ford, 88, 3.

35. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, suspension, 83, 2.

36. (36) Daniil Kvyat, Toyota, 58, 1.

37. (27) Kimi Raikkonen, Chevrolet, accident, 44, 1.

38. (19) Todd Gilliland, Ford, garage, 28, 8.

39. (37) Kyle Tilley, Ford, garage, 15, 1.

––– Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 95.958 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 17 minutes, 52 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.882 seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 11 laps.

Lead Changes: 12 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C.Elliott 0-3; M.McDowell 4-11; T.Reddick 12-13; C.Elliott 14-15; C.Briscoe 16-22; T.Gilliland 23-27; J.Logano 28-42; M.McDowell 43-48; C.Elliott 49-58; C.Custer 59-65; A.Dillon 66-71; C.Elliott 72-85; K.Larson 86-90

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): C.Elliott, 4 times for 29 laps; J.Logano, 1 time for 15 laps; M.McDowell, 2 times for 14 laps; C.Custer, 1 time for 7 laps; C.Briscoe, 1 time for 7 laps; A.Dillon, 1 time for 6 laps; K.Larson, 1 time for 5 laps; T.Gilliland, 1 time for 5 laps; T.Reddick, 1 time for 2 laps.

Wins: C.Elliott, 4; R.Chastain, 2; J.Logano, 2; K.Harvick, 2; W.Byron, 2; D.Hamlin, 2; T.Reddick, 2; K.Larson, 2; C.Bell, 1; Ky.Busch, 1; A.Bowman, 1; D.Suárez, 1; A.Cindric, 1; C.Briscoe, 1; Ku.Busch, 1.

This article originally appeared on Elmira Star-Gazette: NASCAR: Kyle Larson wins Watkins Glen Cup race to earn weekend sweep