NASCAR Cup Series
Kyle Larson Defeats Chase Elliott for Watkins Glen Victory
Aug 22, 2022
There was an element of déjà vu to the Go Bowling at The Glen.
For one, it’s the second year in a row that Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the win on behalf of Hendrick Motorsports at the Upstate New York road course. But more prominently, it’s the second time this season that Larson has won at the expense of his teammate.
The first came in February at Auto Club Speedway when Larson effectively blocked Elliott into the wall while racing for the lead. Larson took home the trophy with general manager Jeff Andrews expressing conviction that everything would be fine between the two most recent Cup Series champions.
"I think certainly nothing intentional there by Kyle," Andrews said back in March. "I know we'll go back and talk about it in our meetings tomorrow and Tuesday, and we'll look at all the facts and we'll look at what happened, and we'll talk about it as a company."
Talk about déjà vu.
Fast forward to Sunday and Larson took the lead on the final restart with five to go but not without locking up his brakes and driving up the track and into Elliott as a result. Elliott would fall to fifth over the final laps as Larson successfully fended off AJ Allmendinger for the second day in a row.
The same two drivers finished first and second in that race too.
Another case of déjà vu as it were.
Elliott was left visibly frustrated as he and crew chief Alan Gustafson debriefed with team owners Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon. When the television cameras came calling, Elliott offered a short congratulations to the No. 5 team even if the body language offered little to support it.
The 2020 Cup Series champion was never going to publicly take the media bait during a post-race press conference either.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE THIS INTERNALLY?
"Just offer congratulations and get ready for next week."
SHOULD FONTANA AND THE GLEN BE VIEWED TOGETHER OR SEPARATELY?
"It doesn't matter. Today is done. Just thinking about (Daytona) and what I can do to be better there. There's nothing I can do different, today, right?"
WHAT DO YOU ...
"Let me answer that for you. It does not."
You get the drift.
Whatever conversations there are to be had, they will be had on Monday morning during the team meeting and Andrews was left to once again play public relations officer with the press in the immediate aftermath of the battle between teammates.
"We talked and I think you saw Chase talking with Mr. Hendrick and Jeff Gordon as well," Andrews said. "As you can imagine, certainly don't blame him for the frustration. Two great race cars ran towards the front all day long. Great job on the strategy. Everything was coming our way to play out nicely there for a 1-2 finish.
"It's a tough, tough racetrack from a restart standpoint. Turn 1 is known for that kind of contact, shaking things up there at the end. Certainly, hate that for Chase and Alan and that team, as hard as they worked all day, the car they had all day. At the same time I know there was no intent by Kyle certainly to have that happen. That's the last thing we want to have happen and as a team, we'll work on that internally."
That last line emphasized for the déjà vu nature of what happened in February.
Andrews was adamant that this was just an example of two contenders racing hard for the win on a corner of a race track that tends to produce this kind of contact when one or both parties is less forgiving than they would be earlier in the race.
"Certainly nothing egregious there at all," Andrews said. "You have two guys racing down into Turn 1 as fast as they possibly can, standing on the brakes, trying to get cars to turn right down there.
"As I said, it's tough, right? It's known for that here. Again, it's unfortunate. The last thing Kyle wanted to happen was that, I promise you. It's unfortunate for Chase and Alan and that race team, the way that turned out for them today."
For his part, Larson knows he probably took too much advantage of his teammate, but after getting beat on the previous restart, the 2021 champion wasn’t going to lose the race in the same way twice.
"I kind of got put in a bad spot on the restart before because he had the dominant position on me with the nose ahead," Larson said. "Every time I was in the right lane yesterday in Xfinity, I was in the same spot, I would always get pinched into the curb. A lot of times I got passed by the time we got to Turn 2.
"I figured it was probably going to be the last restart of the weekend. I told myself if I had a nose ahead of him before we got to the braking zone, I was going to have to try my best to maintain that, not let him get a nose ahead of me, pinch my corner off, end my chance of winning."
Larson got precisely the launch he wanted and stayed in the throttle too long to make the corner clean. It's a reality he owned up to during his press conference.
"I had a good restart and I got in there hot," Larson said. "Did what I had to do to 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."
Both Elliott and Larson have been locked into the playoffs for weeks and these final races are about positioning themselves for a deep run into the autumn months. For example, Elliott clinched the regular season championship after the first stage and earned an additional 15 bonus playoff points at the start of each round for the distinction.
A race winner receives five playoff points for each victory and that’s what was on the line Sunday. That’s not to mention that Larson could still finish the regular season second in the standings, which would pay 10 playoff points for the start of every round as well.
Elliott has a massive points lead over the rest of the field and has the easiest path to the championship race. Larson is attempting to reach that same tier by the end of next weekend's race at Daytona.
"All those bonus points help," Larson said. "Even as I went into the Playoffs last year, was winning a lot, I think we entered the Round of 8 almost a full race ahead of the cutoff. That gives you a lot of comfort. Not that you have total comfort, but ...
"Yeah, so winning today, getting some bonus points, everything helps. Everything will benefit you as you go on as the Playoffs start."
But now Larson will once again have to mend some fences with his teammate, so any underlying tension doesn’t carry over into the final round. Andrews, Gordon and Hendrick no doubt want to see both drivers, if not all four, advance all the way to Phoenix.
"I feel like we've been in a good spot," Larson said of his relationship with Elliott. "We were able to talk after the incident at Auto Club, moved on past that pretty quickly.
"I haven't seen an interview. I haven't seen anything about Chase today. I think at Auto Club it was more of an accident. Today it was hard racing at the end on a restart.
"I'm sure it will warrant some sort of conversation, but I don't know. So, we have a quick week this week with testing at Martinsville, followed by a Saturday night race at Daytona. It's a much shorter week. Look forward to getting back on track."
As for Hendrick and Andrews, the company's vice chairman has an idea of how to manage this situation, too. After all, past is prologue and it's just another example of déjà vu.