Triumph and tension for Hendrick Motorsports at Watkins Glen
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and William Byron before the race at Watkins Glen. (HHP/Tim Parks)
WATKINS GLEN, NY — Kyle Larson won the last NASCAR Cup Series race, at Auto Club Speedway (California) in February, when late-race contact with teammate Chase Elliott caused a murky situation.
Sunday was already seen for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates at Watkins Glen International.
With five laps to go on the final restart, the two rushed into Turn 1 side by side to take the lead.
Larson locked the brakes, prompting the #5 Chevy to drift down the track toward Elliott, essentially ending his run.
A disgruntled Elliott did not answer any questions related to the incident after crossing the line in fourth as Larson took the win.
“It doesn’t matter. The day is over, just thinking about Bristol (Daytona), what I need to do to be good there,” Elliott said. I can do today, now. So it doesn’t matter, does it?
“I’ll tell you, it’s not. It does not matter.”
Regarding the final reboot, Elliott took the blame, without much buffer for discussion.
“I’m sure I did. It was my fault.”
Despite a disappointing finish, the No.9 driver won the regular season championship, after picking up stage points in the first segment.
“It’s 15 (playoff points) isn’t it? So that’s a big deal. Get us more than we’ve ever had,” Elliott said. “I don’t know the exact number, but that takes us to a position we’ve never been in before. We’d like to keep adding more. I had the opportunity to add more today, but I didn’t. do.
Jeff Andrews, president and managing director of Hendrick Motorsports, remained static in the face of the dispute between the two drivers.
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“We spoke after the race, I think you saw Chase 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 racing cars, raced forward all day. Great job on the strategy. Everything was looking to go well there for a 1-2 finish. It’s a rough and difficult race track from a restart standpoint, and Turn 1 is known for that kind of contact and for shaking things up at the end.
“I certainly hate it for Chase, and (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and this team as hard as they worked all day, and the car they had all day. At the same time and know that there was no intention of Kyle, certainly for that to happen. This is the last thing we want to see happen. As a team, we will work on this internally. But today, and in the short term here, we’re going to focus on the great race cars that were here on the track today, and the good job we did with that, and also the regular season points championship.
On the winning side, Larson understood Elliott’s frustration, but knew his chances of winning depended on the balance of the final restart.
“I had this restart before, and I was kind of put in a bad position because he had the dominant position on me with his nose in front,” Larson said. “Every time I was in the right lane yesterday at Xfinity, I was in the same spot, and I was always getting pinched in the curb, and often getting passed when we had to turn two.
“I figured this was going to be the last restart of the weekend, and I figured if I got a nose in front of him before I got into the braking zone, I was going to have to do my best to hold that and not let it put a nose in front of me and pinch my corner, and end my chance to win,” Larson continued. “I had a good restart, and I got in there, I did what I had to do to win. Again, I’m not necessarily proud of that, especially with a teammate, but I feel like I had to execute that way to get the win. .
Larson’s successful execution now gives the organization a potentially uncomfortable Monday morning meeting.
Although Larson thinks his relationship with Elliott will not be hampered, Sunday’s incident involved two riders chasing victory.
“I feel like we’ve been in a good position,” Larson said. “We were able to talk after the incident at Auto Club, and we moved on pretty quickly. I haven’t seen an interview, I haven’t seen anything on Chase. At Auto Club, it’s was more of an accident. Today was a tough race at the end on a restart. So I’m sure that will warrant some kind of conversation, but I don’t know. We’re having a fast week this week with some testing at Martinsville, the Saturday night race at Daytona, so it’s a much shorter week. Can’t wait to get back on the road.”