Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and William Byron before the race at Watkins Glen. (HHP/Tim Parks)

Triumph, Tension For Hendrick Motorsports At Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Kyle Larson last won a NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway (Calif.) in February, where late-race contact with teammate Chase Elliott spurred a murky situation. 

On Sunday, it was déjà vu for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates at Watkins Glen International.

With five laps to go on the final restart, the two barreled into turn one side-by-side for the lead. 

Larson locked up the brakes, prompting the No. 5 Chevrolet to drift up the track into Elliott, essentially ending his race. 

A disgruntled Elliott was short when addressing any questions related to the incident after crossing the line fourth as Larson went on to the win.

Chase Elliott led a race-high 30 laps. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“It doesn’t matter. The day’s done, just thinking about Bristol (Daytona), what I need to do to be good there,” Elliott said. “There is nothing I can do about today, now. So, it doesn’t matter does it?

“I’ll answer that for you, it does not. It doesn’t matter.”

Regarding the final restart, Elliott took the blame, without much buffer for discussion.

“I’m sure I did. It was my fault.”

Despite a disappointing ending, the driver of the No. 9 clinched the regular season championship, after earning stage points in the first segment. 

“It’s 15 (playoff points) right? So, it’s a big deal. Get’s us more than we’ve ever had,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what the exact number is, but it gets us to a position that we’ve never been in before. We’d love to keep adding to it. Had an opportunity to add to it today, but didn’t.” 

Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, stayed static when addressing the conflict between the two drivers. 

Déjà Vu: Larson Beats Allmendinger For Watkins Glen Sweep

“We talked after the race, I think you saw Chase there talking to Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and Jeff Gordon as well,” Andrews said. “As you can imagine, and certainly don’t blame him for the frustration. Two great race cars, ran toward 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, and turn one is known for that kind of contact, and shaking things up there at the end.

“Certainly hate that for Chase, and (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and that team as hard as they worked all day, and the car they had all day. At the same time and know there was no intent by Kyle, certainly to have that happen. That’s the last thing we want to have happen. As a team, we’ll work on that internally. But today, and short-term here, we’re gonna focus on the great race cars that were here today at the track, and what good job we did with that, and the regular season points championship as well.”

Larson in victory lane. (HHP/Tim Parks)

On the winning end, Larson understood Elliott’s frustration, but knew his chance of winning hung in the balance of the final restart. 

“I had that restart before, and I got kind of put in a bad spot 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, and I would always get pinched into the curb, and a lot of times I got passed by the time we got to turn two.

“I figured it was going to be the last restart of the weekend, and I told myself if I had a nose ahead of him before we got to the braking zone, I was gonna have to try my best to maintain that and not let him get a nose ahead of me and pinch my corner off, and end my chance of winning,” Larson continued. “I had a good restart, and I got in there hot, 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.”

The successful execution for Larson, now gives the organization a potentially uncomfortable Monday morning meeting. 

Though Larson feels that his relationship with Elliott won’t be hindered, with Sunday’s incident being the case of two racers going for the victory.

“I feel like we’ve been in a good spot,” Larson said. “We were able to talk after the incident at Auto Club, and moved on past that pretty quickly. I haven’t seen an interview, I haven’t seen anything about Chase. At Auto Club, it was more of an accident. Today it was hard racing at the end on a restart. So I’m sure it’ll warrant some sort of conversation, but I don’t know. We have a quick week this week with testing at Martinsville, Saturday night race at Daytona, so it’s a much shorter week. Look forward to getting back on track.”