WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Kyle Larson took another step toward a regular-season NASCAR Cup title. Chase Elliott lamented a race he let get away.
Larson gained the lead from Martin Truex Jr. during green flag pit stops in the final stage Sunday, built a big lead and kept his hard-charging Hendrick Motorsports teammate at bay over the final laps to win at Watkins Glen International.
“I knew my car was good and the strategy worked out,” said Larson, who was constantly reminded by his crew that his lead was quickly shrinking over Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet. “We were able to maintain that gap for a while and eventually start to pull away. Good thing the 9 wasn’t close enough. He was really, really fast. He’s the guy to judge off of. I was definitely worried about him all day. He was so fast.”
Elliott was seeking his eighth road course victory and third in a row at The Glen, which would have tied Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin for the Cup record at the historic road course in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes.
Elliott was relegated to the back of the field before the race when his No. 9 Chevrolet failed inspection twice and crew chief Alan Gustafson was ejected. But just as he did at Road America a month earlier when he won from 34th on the starting grid, Elliott made a gallant charge but couldn’t overcome Larson’s big lead and crossed the finish line 2.45 seconds behind.
“I just hate it. I made too many mistakes to win,” Elliott said. “It was too late in the race to recover from it. That’s what cost us.”
Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
Larson also held off Elliott in overtime to win on the road course at Sonoma in June and leaves Watkins Glen tied with Denny Hamlin with 917 points for the series lead.
“It’s fun racing him,” Larson said after his series-leading fifth victory of the season. “I look forward to the next few weeks and even into the playoffs. There’s still a lot of racing left. It’s going to be fun. I’m glad there’s a fun little points battle. I feel like in years past it’s kind of been a blowout.”
It was the first Cup race after a two-week break for the Tokyo Olympics and there was no practice or qualifying.
The Cup series heads to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next Sunday.