NASCAR: Larson sweeps Watkins Glen weekend

Aug. 26—If race fans watched just the end Saturday's Xfinity Series race and then the end of Sunday's Cup Series race, they may have thought they were watching the same race. That's because the top two finishers in both races were exactly the same. The only differences would be the cars, and the other drivers racing with the top two.

Along with the rain that delayed the start of the Cup Series race roughly two hours and had the Cup drivers starting the race on wet weather tires.

Saturday's Xfinity Series 82-lap "Sunoco Go Rewards 200 at The Glen" at first looked like it would be a showdown between series regular Ty Gibbs (No. 54) and Cup interloper William Byron (No. 17) with a little AJ Allmendinger (No. 16) and a couple other Series regulars thrown in here and there for most of the race.

That all changed on the lap-78 restart, when Gibbs spun in the "Bus Stop" while trying to pass Byron for the lead, causing Byron to spin with him and handing the lead of the race to Kyle Larson (No. 88) with only five laps left in the race. That would be the race winning moment for Larson and the race losing moment for Gibbs.

For the next five laps, the top three cars — Larson, Allmendinger and third place Sammy Smith (No. 18) — would basically run away from the rest of the field. Larson would ultimately win with a .273 second margin of victory over Allmendinger.

"I got lucky," Larson told the NBC Sports reporter after climbing from his car. "I think my only shot was if the 17 and 54 — Willy and Ty — got really racing."

Larson continued, "The seas parted, and I was able to get through but then I had AJ (Allmendinger) behind me so just trying to hit my marks best I could. He definitely made me nervous with me being out in front of him."

"So cool to get a win here and Rick Hendrick is here too. Wish William and I could have fought for the win there, though," he added.

The 82-lap "Sunoco Go Rewards 200 at The Glen" took two hours, 35 minutes and 14 seconds to complete at an average race speed of 77.651 mph. There were 8 cautions for a total of 23 caution laps, along with 15 lead changes among seven drivers.

Fast forward to Sunday, and once the rain stopped and the standing water and puddles had been blown off the track. It would be the Cup Series' first experience with the "Next Gen" car racing in the rain and/or in wet conditions on wet weather tires. The start of the 90-lap "Go Bowling at The Glen" would look very different from the end, due to several of the experienced road racers and wet track racers showing just how experienced they were.

Michael McDowell (No. 34) let his road-racing expertise shine, leading twice for the third most laps lead in the race with 14. Also, Chase Briscoe (No. 14) would lead seven laps and win stage one, as he was the first car to switch to regular slick racing tires making him a good two or three seconds faster than the rest of the field, which was immediately noticed by the rest of the field's crew chiefs, kicking off a round of green flag pit stops to switch their drivers to "slicks."

As it always happens, the cream rose to the top, and by the middle of the race most of the regular frontrunners had found their way to the top of the field. Drivers like Joey Logano (No. 22), winner of stage two, Chase Elliott (No. 9), who clinched the regular season championship after the stage two break, Kyle Larson (No. 5), Saturday's winner and AJ Allmendinger (No. 16), Saturday's second place finisher.

The lap-86 restart with four laps to go would be the race winning move for Larson. On the restart, Elliott lead on the outside and Larson was on the second row on the inside. As the cars fan out, heading into the 90-degree first turn, Larson braked into turn one and pushed Elliott wide in turn one. Allmendinger followed Larson and was in second place entering the Esses.

From there on out, it was basically déjà vu from Saturday, with Larson leading with Allmendinger in hot pursuit. Larson ultimately won his second straight Watkins Glen race with a .882 second margin of victory over second place Allmendinger.

Larson immediately addressed the winning move, which booted his Hendrick Motorsports team mate out of first place.

"That was really my only opportunity (to go for the lead), I'm not proud of it," Larson said to the waiting NBC Sports Reporter, "But being in the inside lane, the right lane, being the leader, choosing the left lane, it definitely wins out. But when it gets late in the race, it's definitely risky."

Larson continued "I knew that was my only opportunity to get by him (Elliott). I feel like our cars were pretty equal today. Had a lot of fun after the green-flag cycle trying to chase him down. Kind of burned my stuff up a little bit."

"But the restarts kept me in it and kept our team in it. I'm proud of my guys. Good to get another win here at Watkins Glen and get some more bonus points going into the Playoffs, we haven't had a lot here this year," Larson added.

Larson would also say he anticipated having a conversation with Elliott and reiterated that he was only making a move he felt necessary to go for the victory — something he thought Elliott would have done as well.

"We have a competition meeting tomorrow," Larson said. "I think if I was in his shoes, I would understand the risk that I'm taking, taking the left lane also. I'm not proud of it but I did what I felt like I had to do to get the win.," Larson said.

The 90-lap "Go Bowling at The Glen" took two hours, 17 minutes and 52 seconds to complete once the race got started at an average race speed of 95.962 mph. There were only five caution flags for 11 total caution laps, with two of the cautions being for stage breaks. There were 12 lead changes among nine different drivers.

Next up on the schedule is the Cup Series' regular season finale Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

Hard to believe it's already here, as it seems like the 2022 season has flown by. Along with the Cup Series, the Xfinity Series will also be in attendance at the "World Center of Racing."

The NXS regular season finale will be at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 16.