WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Kyle Larson was looking for momentum. He earned it for the second time in a row at Watkins Glen International.
The reigning NASCAR Cup champion, who had not won since his only win of the season at Auto Club Speedway in February, beat Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott on a restart with five laps to go to win Sunday’s weather-delayed NASCAR Cup race .
Elliott was chasing his eighth career road win and controlled the race until the end, but the caution gave Larson a chance and he took advantage, moving Elliott to the left exiting turn one before going on to sweep the Xfinity-Cup weekend. It was Chevrolet’s 11th consecutive win at the track.
“I did what I felt I had to do to get the win. “I knew it was my only chance to get by him, I’m not proud of that,” said Larsson, who won 10 races last season. – Restarts kept me in it. Good to get another win. I hope it will give some momentum.”
AJ Allmendinger was second, Joey Logano third, Elliott fourth and Daniel Suarez fifth.
Elliott declined to criticize his teammate during the interview, but the frustration was palpable.
“Congratulations to Kyle and everyone on Team 5. He did a great job,” said Elliott, who wrapped up the regular season title. “Seriously, they deserve it.”
The race started on rain tires with one start, the only one of the day, and Michael McDowell, who started third, got past pole sitter Elliott early. But the strategy backfired as the race wore on, with Elliott, Larson and McDowell all using a two-stop strategy on the 2.45-mile natural terrain while holding the lead.
Elliott regained the lead with 18 laps to go in the 90-lap race, and when the final pit stops were completed he was just over 2 seconds ahead of his teammate. McDowell was more than 10 seconds behind, but Joey Hand’s spin in the first turn brought out the caution and piled up the field for the restart with eight laps to go.
Elliott chose the outside lane for the restart and held off Larson as the green flag flew, quickly building a half-second advantage. But Loris Hezemans’ spin revealed a caution that changed the outcome.
Larson won the Xfinity race on Saturday as teammate William Byron and Ty Gibbs battled for the top spot on the final lap.
At the start of stage two, Logano passed Todd Gilliland for the lead, with Kyle Busch following him, but as the laps on the stage began to dwindle, Elliott was holed up in fourth, backing off at the end of the segment to save fuel. Logano held off Busch for his fourth stage win of the season.
Lightning strikes and rain delayed the start for two hours. It was the first time a Next Gen car had raced in wet conditions on grooved tires and Chase Briscoe took the lead. As the track began to dry, he was one of the first drivers to pit to put on faster slicks and the strategy worked and he held on to win the opening 20-lap stage, his fourth stage win of the season.
Battle for points
Fifteen drivers are locked into the 16-driver field for the playoffs, with Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. still battling for points. They raced 26-man apart and started side-by-side in row 13. Truex scored just one point, finishing one spot ahead of his rival.
Kevin Harvick entered the day off back-to-back wins at Michigan and Richmond, but he qualified outside the top 20 and was never a factor, finishing 12th.
Former F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen drove the No. 91 Chevrolet for TrackHouse Racing in his Cup debut. Raikkonen, who qualified 27th, had veteran crew chief Darian Grubb in the pit box for guidance. The Finn made it into the top 10 on stage two but was knocked out on the final stage about midway through the race when he was hit hard on the right side while going through a bus stop, ending his day.
“I had a good line there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to react,” Raikkonen said. “That’s how it goes.”
He was one of a record seven foreign drivers to compete in the series and came out of his career to compete for TrackHouse owner Justin Marks, whose goal is to expand NASCAR’s international reach through the International Drivers’ Cup.
The Cup regular season concludes Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.