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History, Elliott Repeat Themselves At The Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 5 2019
Chase Elliott emerged victorious for a second straight year at Watkins Glen. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – There’s a new King of the Road at Watkins Glen International, and the guy who finished second here Sunday afternoon qualifies as NASCAR road-racing royalty, too.

Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. reduced the 34th annual Go Bowling at The Glen to an invitation-only affair, same as they did almost one year ago to the day. The result was a near carbon copy of what transpired suddenly last summer, as Elliott prevailed to score his second consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory on the iconic Upstate New York road-course.

Elliott, 23, started on pole, won all three stages and led a daunting 80 of 90 laps _ including the final 28 circuits _ around the 2.45-mile/11-turn natural terrain layout en route to a margin of victory of 0.454-seconds over Truex.

Recall that Elliott led a race-high 52 of 90 laps and finished a dominant 7.56-seconds in front of Truex last Aug. 5, the day he posted his first Cup victory. Elliott held off the relentless pursuit of Truex _ the 2017 Cup Series champion _ over the final 34 laps one year ago. And like last year, Chase’s NASCAR Hall of Fame father _ “Awesome Bill” Elliott of Dawsonville, Ga._ served as his spotter.

That amounted to a massive amount of been there/done that for Chase, Hendrick Motorsports’ rising 23-year-old star. 

The checkered flag waves for Chase Elliott on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

“I mean, I felt like it was really similar,” said Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. “Heck, I thought…it felt the exact same, and he was a little faster than I was, and I was just trying not to mess-up. Yeah, luckily, if I had messed-up in Turn 1 like I did last year (on the final lap), I think he’d have got me. I think he was close enough to do it. Luckily had a fast enough car to stay out front.

I felt like Martin was closer to us this year than he was last year in the closing laps, so that was a little different. Obviously wanting to get that first win was a big deal, too. I just definitely felt as the race went on today, I felt like more comfortable in that position and that’s a good thing. That’s a position you have to be comfortable in. And the only way to get better at that is just to be in that spot more often. Happy to have had a pressure-filled situation and be able to come out on the right end of it.” 

The outcome was framed during the final restart after the fourth caution period stretching from Laps 63-65 _ a story unto itself. Elliott and Truex were locked into each other running 1-2, respectively, when they dove into Turn 1’s sweeping right-hander and exited nearly side-by-side. The pair continued through Turn 2 and up into the track’s signature Esses complex, where Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing entry made contact with the left rear quarter panel and tire of the No. 9. Elliott survived that skirmish and was first into the Bus Stop chicane _ and held P1 for the rest of the day. Truex managed to close to within 0.276-seconds on Lap 85, but couldn’t orchestrate a winning pass.

“I thought I was going straight, and I thought he just turned-in early, so I didn’t really know what happened,” Elliott said of the restart sequence. “Obviously I wasn’t real happy about it. At the time I was just worried that I was going to have a flat tire because of it, and then we ended up side-by-side through the Esses, still ended up hitting each other through there, which is fine. It’s really narrow. I don’t know on the restart thing, I’m not sure. Maybe I didn’t turn-in soon enough. But yeah, we hit nonetheless and I was worried about that tire.”

Truex, who won this event in 2017 and three of the last four starts on the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway road-course, confirmed he was trying to force Elliott into throwing away the lead.

Martin Truex Jr. caught but couldn’t pass Chase Elliott. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

“Chase did an excellent job, just not making mistakes,” said Truex, driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. “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. Just wish we could have been a tiny bit better. But really it was all about restarts and track position, and if I could have just got by him on that last one we would have set sail, I believe. But we didn’t and he won and he did a good job, and overall it was a good weekend for us.”

In comparison, Elliott’s weekend fell into the “dream” category, in that he won everything but Saturday’s opening practice session and Sunday’s 50/50 fan raffle.

“Yeah, I mean, we’ve never done this as a team,” said Elliott, who posted his fifth victory in 135 Cup Series races and second win of 2019. “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 chief) Alan Gustafson has at some point, but as a group we’ve never done that. 

“To me, 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.”

With the start of the 10-race NASCAR Playoffs looming next month, Elliott notched his first top-10 result since Pocono Raceway ‘s “Tricky Triangle” in Long Pond in June _ a stretch of seven races. Elliott secured a Playoff berth with his victory at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in May and followed that win with an impressive run of four consecutive top-five finishes. But since his previous most recent top-five (fourth at Pocono on June 2) he had recorded three DNFs _ on the road-course at Sonoma, Daytona International Speedway’s high-banked trioval and last weekend at Pocono-2.

Chasse Elliott climbs a hill at The Glen (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

You know, the past month and a-half has been awful,” Elliott said. “We’ve had fast cars at times. It wasn’t just a complete lack of speed. But one thing or another ended up for a bad weekend.  Yeah, to kind of have a weekend that wasn’t as poor as the last six have been was really nice, and then the way we did it I think was the biggest thing.”

Victory also allowed Elliott to join an elite foursome to have won back-to-back races at WGI. NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin (1993-95) and Jeff Gordon (1997-99) both won three consecutive races here, while Tony Stewart went back-to-back (2004-05). More recently, Australian Marcos Ambrose (2011-12) is the only driver in the last 10 years to have won consecutive Cup races at WGI.

Elliott posted his eighth top-10 result of 2019 and second top-10 finish in four starts at WGI. He remained eighth in the championship standings and has accumulated 14 Playoff points. He is three points behind Kurt Busch, who finished 10th in his No. 1 Monster Energy Chevy, in the overall standings.

I think Chase has shown that he can win at any track,” said HMS team-owner Rick Hendrick. “He’s really good with equipment, doesn’t tear up anything. I think if we can get the car good enough for Chase, he can win a championship, and he can win it this year. So we’ll just have to keep tuning on the car and giving him good stuff like they did today. He’s just so smooth, so good _ reminds me a lot of his dad. Knows when to race, doesn’t wreck a car, but he can be aggressive when he needs to.“

Truex, a four-time winner this season, led a trio of JGR Toyotas across the finish line. Denny Hamlin was third in the No. 11 FedEx Cares Camry and Erik Jones ran fourth in the No. 20 DeWalt Camry. Truex _ who led only one lap (59) _ posted his ninth top-10 finish in 14 races at Watkins Glen and his 14th top-10 result in 2019. Hamlin earned his seventh top-10 finish in 14 races at The Glen.

Ryan Blaney was the highest-finishing Ford, in fifth, in his No. 12 PPG Mustang fielded by Team Penske. And Matt Tifft (24th) was the highest- finishing rookie in the No. 38 Maui Jim/Surface Sunscreen Ford.

JGR’s Kyle Busch, a two-time winner here and four-time winner in 2019, exited WGI with a 13-point championship lead over reigning series champ Joey Logano of Team Penske after a topsy-turvy afternoon. Busch rallied for an 11th-place finish on a day that saw him spin in Turn 1 on Lap 2 after contact with William Byron. Busch repaid that transgression by tapping Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevy in the rear headed into the Bus Stop, forcing him into the grass near the end of Stage 1.

Once the flag fell on that segment at Lap 20, “Rowdy” Busch brake-checked Byron during a cool down lap between Turns 1 and 2, with Byron’s Camaro ZL1 sustaining significant front nose damage that required several additional pit stops. Byron finished 21st but scored bonus man-points with crew chief Chad Knaus and Hendrick for not allowing Busch to “push him around.”

He (Byron) got the worst end of the deal when Kyle brake-checked him and knocked the front end out of the car,” Hendrick said after his 24-year-old protégé finished 21st. “But sometimes in the heat of the battle you want to do things, and if you thought about it a little bit more maybe you’d just settle down and go finish the race. But in the heat of battle _and I didn’t know Chad told him to (retaliate) _ but if I’d had a radio I’d probably tell him the same thing.”

Busch later was sent into the spin cycle via a Lap 63 encounter with Bubba Wallace, whose No. 43 Victory Junction Chevy entered by Richard Petty Motorsports punted Kyle’s No. 18 M&M’s Hazelnut Toyota into the entrance of Turn 1 after they had exchanged sheet metal down the front stretch. Once again, the crowd went wild. Wallace, who finished 28th, later triumphantly exchanged high-fives with members of Elliott’s crew in Victory Lane for helping the Team Chevy cause.

About the only hiccup in Elliott’s performance occurred during his series of three burnouts, including a sliding dud in full view of the fans seated in the sold-out front stretch grandstands. Elliott ran his car out of fuel in the process, forcing it to be pushed into Victory Lane by a Dodge Ram wrecker.

“Yeah, I’m sorry my burnout rated about a C-minus. I ran out of gas again,” Elliott joked. “I would have done more, but it happens. Just thank you! I’ve never been so far from home and felt like I was at my house, so thank you. You guys (fans) are awesome!”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 5 2019
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