For the second day in a row, Kyle Larson outran AJ Allmendinger in a late shootout to win a race at Watkins Glen (N.Y) International, this time coming in the NASCAR Cup Series race on the road course.
Larson, who won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race while Allmendinger ran second, led the final five laps around the track after taking the lead on a restart. The Hendrick Motorsports driver claimed the lead from his teammate, Chase Elliott.
The teammates restarted on the front row, with Elliott on the outside and Larson to the inside. As the neared the right-hander of Turn 1, Larson locked up his brakes and moved up into Elliott, which sent him off onto the runoff. That opened the window for Allmendinger, who restarted behind Larson to take second as Larson took the lead.
“I knew that was kind of my only opportunity. I’m not proud of it,” Larson said. “But being in the inside lane, the right lane, being the leader, choosing the left lane, it definitely wins out. But when it gets to late in the race, it’s definitely risky.
For Larson, his weekend sweep came after he’d gone winless in NASCAR competition since his victory in the Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in February.
Elliott had led a race-high 30 laps until the final restart. Twenty-four of those were in the final stage.
“I felt like our cars were pretty equal today,” Larson said. “Had a lot of fun after the green flag cycle trying to chase him down. Kind of burnt my stuff up a little bit. “The restarts kept me in it, kept our team in it.”
Allmendinger earned his first top five and fourth top 10 of the season in 12 starts. All but one of the top 10s have been on road courses.
“To finish second in a Cup race in your first year as a team isn’t bad,” Allmendinger said. “But god, when you are that close, it’s disappointing.”
Finishing behind Larson was Allmendinger, Joey Logano, Elliott and Daniel Suarez.
Michael McDowell, who led 14 laps early in the race, finished sixth for his 10th top-10 finish of the season.
“It is disappointing,” McDowell said. “I don’t think we quite had enough for (Elliott) or (Larson). I tried to hold them off as long as I could, they just had a bit of pace on me. They were pushing me hard enough that I was getting wide and making mistakes. I tried to make a move on that second-to-last restart there and got a pretty good run on the 5 and went to the inside and it just didn’t work out. We got jammed up on the bottom and everyone was smashing into each other and we lost a couple of spots. That was pretty much it at that point. It is just disappointing. We’ve gotta win to get into these playoffs. But I am proud of everybody at Front Row. We had a fast car and we were in the hunt. It just wasn’t quite enough.”
The top 10 was completed by Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Erik Jones.
The race was slowed by three caution for cause in addition to the stage breaks. Two came within the final 12 laps of the 90-lap race.
With Larson’s win, there still remains one available playoff spot going into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway. Ryan Blaney, the last driver above the cutline, finished the race in 24th. Martin Truex Jr., the first driver below the cutline, finished one spot in front of Blaney.
Blaney has a 25-point advantage over Truex going to Daytona.
Originally set to begin just after 3 p.m. ET, the race didn’t start until 5 p.m. ET due to delays caused by lightning and rain.
The race started in wet conditions with NASCAR having the field start singe file. Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led the first lap without any issues. But the first incident came as Lap 2 began when Austin Cindric locked up his tired entering Turn 1 and made contact with AJ Allmendinger, who spun off the track. Right behind him Corey LaJoie and Harrison Burton also spun off the track.
Michael McDowell, who started third, was in second by Lap 3. On Lap 4, he charged by Elliott through the esses to take the lead. Reddick soon followed him. One lap later, Larson, who started second, had to serve a stop and go penalty after he missed the bus stop on the backstretch.
On Lap 7, cars began switching to dry tries, beginning with Buescher.
By Lap 10, McDowell and Reddick had a 9-second advantage over Elliott in third. By Lap 12, Todd Gilliland was in third and behind McDowell by 11 seconds. McDowell dove to pit road to put on slicks as he ended the lap, ceding the lead to Reddick.
McDowell returned to the track in 10th in the middle of a battle with Briscoe and Buescher that, when the pit cycle was over, would be for the lead. The hornet’s nest grew when Reddick exited the pits right in front of them. But he then immediately missed the bus stop, resulting in a stop and go penalty. Reddick claimed he experienced brake shake as he approached the turn.
Briscoe cycled to the lead with five laps to go in the first stage with McDowell hot on his rear bumper. McDowell would stay there until the No. 34 team elected to pit, along with Buescher, with three laps left in the stage.
That allowed Briscoe to win the stage over Reddick. Meanwhile, Kimi Räikkönen finished the stage in 19th after starting in 27th.
Chase Elliott, who finished outside the top 10, claimed the regular season title with the results of the stage.
Now in dry conditions, NASCAR reverted back to double-fire restarts for the restart on Lap 24. Todd Gilliland led over Logano at the green.
Gilliland held the lead until Lap 29 when Logano briefly got by him in Turn 1, only to cede it back to Gilliland when he went too far off track. But moments later, Gilliland dropped off the pace and went to pit road with a broken axle. That left Logano leading over Busch, McDowell, Ty Dillon and Joey Hand.
With nine laps left in the second stage, Reddick and the No. 77 of Mike Rockenfeller spun together in the bus stop, but no caution arose from it.
Logano went on to win the stage over Busch, McDowell, Elliott and Ty Dillon.
After that group of drivers pit, McDowell was the leader over Elliott, Joey Hand (last pit on Lap 12), Buescher and Larson on the restart with 45 laps to go.
McDowell was able to narrowly keep the lead over Elliott, but they wouldn’t complete the lap before the second caution for an incident.
It was caused by a wreck involving Kimi Raikkonen and Austin Dillon in the bus stop. Dillon was turned from contact with Ross Chastain. As cars clogged the exit of the bus stop, the 2007 Formula One champion was shoved out of the groove by Loris Hezemans and sent into a tire barrier nose-first. Raikkonen exited his No. 91 Chevrolet, ending his day. He wound up 37th out of 39 cars.
“I had a good line there, but everybody seemed to come to the left,” Raikkonen told NBC Sports. “Unfortunately, I had no time to react.”
McDowell kept the initial lead on the ensuing restart with 42 laps to go. But on the next lap, McDowell got loose in Turn 5, which allowed Elliott to his inside and take the lead. By 38 laps to go, Elliott led by one second. He’d eventually give up the lead during a pit cycle.
With 26 laps to go, Chase Briscoe and Chastain spun in the bus stop after Briscoe appeared to put pressure on Chastain entering the turn, resulting in contact with them.
Austin Dillon led with 20 laps to go as Elliott closed in on him in third position. Elliott caught him by the next lap, passing him for the lead in Turn 5. Larson quickly followed to take second.