WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.—Chase Elliott bowled down the competition at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.
Elliott started from the pole and led 80 of 90 laps en route to his second win on the 2.45-mile road course.
And similar to last year’s Go Bowling at The Glen, the 23-year-old driver held off multiple challenges by Martin Truex Jr. to score his second win of the season and the fifth victory of his career.
“That was awesome,” Elliott said. “I’ve never been so far from home and felt like I was at my house. What a day! We had such a fast NAPA Camaro and these guys called a great race.
“We just stayed mistake free and Martin was a little quicker those last few runs, but the track position was key and I didn’t mess up Turn 1 this time, so that was good.”
Elliott led the first 20 laps en route to the Stage 1 win. Kyle Busch spun coming into the first turn on Lap 2. He dropped to 10th, battled his way through the field then ran into William Byron while battling for fourth-place. Busch then brake-checked the No. 24 Chevrolet causing damage to both cars and inciting the ire of Chad Knaus, who warned his young driver, “If I see the 18 come back around here without you knocking the (expletive) out of him, we're going to have a problem.”
Hamlin finished second in the segment followed by Truex, Kyle Bush, Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Larson, Jones, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola. Larson remained on the track and assumed the lead on Lap 23 as the others pitted. When the No. 42 pitted on Lap 29, Elliott regained the lead.
Elliott had checked out when Reed Sorenson spun in the Inner Loop on Lap 32. The race returned to green with Elliott and Harvick leading the pack. Truex moved to third and was coming for the No. 9 Chevy when Bubba Wallace spun in Turn 5 to trigger the third caution on Lap 38—the first of two altercations with Kyle Busch.
“He just run me the (expletive) over,” Wallace said. “That’s exactly what happened. Two years in, or rookie stripe or what, I’m going to get my respect on the track, and I don’t care who does it. Some guys fail to think about the young guys, I guess, or with me.
“So I won’t put up with no (crap). So I flat-out wrecked his ass back. I guess we’re even—we’ll see. That’s what happens when you get run over. You pay ‘em back. I won’t be like, ‘Oh, it’s Kyle Busch. He didn’t mean to.’ (Screw) him.”
Elliott won the second stage under caution. Truex coasted to second followed by Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Hamlin, Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Jones, Blaney and Johnson.
The top nine driver remained on the track for the start of the final stage on Lap 43. Daniel Hemric and Ty Dillon went spinning in the Inner Loop on Lap 52. With 35 laps remaining, Truex loomed large in the rearview mirror of Elliott. Elliott held off Truex long enough to pit for the final time on Lap 59. Truex came in for service on the following lap and Paul Menard took the point.
Johnson spun off the course in the Inner Loop after contact with Blaney. Moments later, Bubba Wallace punted Kyle Busch for an earlier altercation while battling for 10th-place. Elliott cycled back to the front when NASCAR called the fourth and final caution on Lap 62 to fix the tire barrier Johnson plowed into and clean up debris from the Nos. 18 and 43.
"He just drove through me in the carousel,” said Johnson, who finished 19th and moved back into the top 16 in the standings. “I tried to hear what he was trying to say...but his lips were quivering so bad when he came to speak. 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 tight now, so clearly not happy with his actions”.
A battle ensued between Elliott and Truex when the race returned to green with 25 laps remaining. Truex slammed the right side of the No. 19 Toyota into Elliott and damaged his front fender.
“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.”
Elliott suspected a left rear tire going down after the altercation, but held a .276-second lead with five circuits remaining and extended his advantage by .454-seconds at the finish. The victory was a source of encouragement for the driver of the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet after a rough few weeks.
“We've never done this as a team,” Elliott said. “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 Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) has at some point, but as a group we've never done that.
“I just feel like that to me is I feel like the biggest piece of the whole weekend is 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.”