The NASCAR Cup Series kicked off the final stretch of the regular season on Aug. 8 with a race at Watkins Glen International. Chase Elliott entered as the favorite to lock up the win, but he could not chase down his teammate. Kyle Larson led for the majority of the final stage and locked up his fifth points-paying win of the year.
The final stage featured a fascinating battle between the Hendrick Motorsports drivers. Larson held a 10-plus-second lead over Elliott, but the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet had the faster car. The road course aficionado proceeded to chase down Larson throughout the final segment, passing Martin Truex Jr. and other drivers to pull within three seconds.
However, Larson pressed his advantage over the final five laps. He saw Elliott in his rearview mirror and began pushing the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro to the limit. Larson navigated through lap traffic and avoided incidents before taking the checkered flag and doing a burnout.
With the win, Larson gained considerable ground on Denny Hamlin. He entered the race 13 points behind the Joe Gibbs Racing driver in the standings, and he made the necessary moves to catch his peer. According to the unofficial standings, Larson and Hamlin now sit in a tie for the top spot with three regular-season races remaining.
Late Contact Ruined Bell’s Opportunity to Win a Second Race
A wild battle unfolded during the final stage of the race at Watkins Glen. Truex held the top spot and had an advantage over the 37-car field, but one of his teammates was not ready to go quietly into the night.
Christopher Bell hung on Truex’s bumper for much of the final stage, showcasing the speed of the No. 20 JGR Toyota Camry and his skills on road courses. No matter what Truex did, Bell hung with him while remaining within a half-second of taking the lead. Bell made it appear very possible that he could take the top spot before the end of the race, but an incident with fewer than 40 laps remaining disrupted his day.
Bell followed Truex through a corner as Kyle Larson attempted to pass him on the inside. The driver of the No. 20 attempted to block by hugging too close to the inside of the track, but the strategy did not pay off. The No. 5 hit the No. 20 on the right rear, sending it spinning out of control off of the track. Bell lost his spot behind Truex while Larson took over second.
Team Penske Struggled After Solid Starts
Heading into Sunday’s race, the Team Penske trio held the top spots in the starting order. Brad Keselowski sat on the pole while Joey Logano joined him on the front row. Ryan Blaney started third. The three playoff drivers all sat in favorable positions to lock up more playoff points, but they all experienced issues on the road course.
Keselowski was the first to turn heads for the wrong reason. The driver of the No. 2 Ford Mustang kept locking up his front tires while navigating around Watkins Glen and fighting off Logano. He ultimately lost control of the stock car, spinning out of the way before the end of Stage 1 while his teammate went on to win the segment.
Similarly, Blaney spun midway through the race. He began to wheel hop while navigating one of the many turns and then lost control. The No. 12 spun off of the track while Matt DiBenedetto and other drivers moved past him.
The harmless spins were not the only issues involving Team Penske drivers. A third incident impacted both the No. 2 and the No. 22. Keselowski spun out of control for a second time and collided with the right rear of Logano’s stock car, causing damage and knocking them both out of contention.