Sunday's motors: Flawless Chase Elliott repeats at Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen, N.Y. — Chase Elliott put an emphatic end to his summer-long struggle, making a statement with a dominating win on the road course at Watkins Glen International.
A year after racing to his first career NASCAR Cup victory at The Glen, Elliott won a second time in the No. 9 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday, besting Martin Truex Jr. just as he did a year ago. Elliott, who started from the pole, led 80 of 90 laps around the speedy 2.45-mile layout to become the first repeat winner in nearly a decade, since Marcos Ambrose in 2011-12.
“I think it’s huge,” Elliott said after his fifth career win. “We’ve had fast cars at times, but one thing or another ended up for a bad weekend. The way we did it was the biggest thing. That’s the kind of effort you have to put on often to compete with the guys in the field.”
Elliott had already qualified for the postseason with his win at Talladega in May, but after four straight top-fives he hadn’t had a top-10 finish since June at Pocono, a span of seven races. He also led 400 laps in the opening 13 races but had led only nine laps since until Sunday.
It was a two-car race for more than half the 220.5- mile distance and the entire final 40 laps.
Truex began to exert some pressure after sitting behind Elliott for more than 10 laps in the final segment. Elliott held his ground until Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota closed with six laps to go, waiting to pounce on a mistake that never came.
“I tried to do all I could. Chase did an excellent job just not making mistakes,” Truex said. “He hit his marks. His car was really fast in the key areas that you need to be. I just couldn’t get a run on him.
“Really, it was all about restarts and track position,” Truex said. “If I could have just got by him on that last one we could have set sail.”
With two laps left, Truex still couldn’t get close enough to make a move as Elliott drove flawlessly, winning by 0.454 seconds.
Denny Hamlin was third, Erik Jones (Byron) fourth for Gibbs and Ryan Blaney fifth in his No. 22 Penske Racing Ford after starting from the rear of the field. Penske Racing’s Joey Logano was never a factor and finished 23rd, dropping to second in points, 13 behind Kyle Busch.
Seven-time champion Jimmy Johnson finished 19th but still made up ground in the race for the final playoff spot with new crew chief Cliff Daniels calling the shots.
Truex was chasing a sweep of the two traditional road races on the schedule. He won at Sonoma in June for the second straight time and has five straight top-two finishes on road courses.
Elliott won the first two stages, dominating the first, and Truex moved into contention about a third of the way through the race.
Truex began to challenge Elliott for the lead entering the first turn on Lap 55, moving briefly inside on the 90-degree, downhill right-hander but backed off to wait for another shot. They were alone at the front of the field, 12 seconds ahead when Elliott dived to pit road on Lap 60 for his final stop. Truex followed suit the next time around and was back behind Elliott when he got back on track but a little bit farther behind.
Truex stayed back but like last year began to close the gap with 20 laps left. Elliott, who overcame some mistakes in the closing laps a year ago that nearly opened the door for Truex, maintained a steady lead of just a few car-lengths for almost the entire stage, the two 5 seconds ahead of Hamlin in third.
The race was stopped when Johnson, desperate for a good finish, spun out coming out of the carousel turn, a sweeping right-hander, and seconds later Bubba Wallace spun Kyle Busch, who was running 10th on Lap 62. Busch and Wallace had banged each other while racing down the front straightaway before Wallace had the last tap, sending Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota around entering the first turn. Busch, who started third, finished 11th, right behind brother Kurt.
Elliott and Truex were back in front for the restart on Lap 66 and Truex challenged right off the green flag, the two exchanging bumps speeding up through the esses as Elliott never relinquished the lead despite damage to his Chevy.
“I think the left rear damage was the biggest concern,” Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “It was pretty significant. There’s nothing you can do. There’s no reason to panic. We’d done the best job we could. I knew it was up to Chase. Chase was going to have to run a perfect race and he did.”
Lewis Hamilton overtook Max Verstappen near the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix to earn his 81st Formula One race victory and extend his championship lead.
The Mercedes driver is now only 10 wins behind seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher’s record of 91.
Mercedes made a strategic gamble with about 20 laps to go to bring Hamilton in for a second tire change, while Red Bull decided to keep Verstappen out on track in the hope he could defend on a difficult track for overtaking.
It proved a Mercedes masterstroke.
The much quicker tires helped Hamilton swallow up Verstappen’s 20-second lead and he finally got past the Red Bull on lap 67 of 70, having failed to overtake him several times earlier in the race.
“You have to put complete faith in the team. I had to put all the doubts out of my mind,” a jubilant Hamilton said. “I’m tired, which is how it should be.”
Sebastian Vettel finished behind Verstappen in third place for Ferrari ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr.
In Kent, Wash., John Force raced to his record-extending 150th Funny Car victory in the NHRA Northwest Nationals.
The 70-year-old Force won for the first time since the Colorado event last year, beating Ron Capps in the final with a 3.971-second run at 320.58 mph in the Peak Auto Lighting Chevrolet.
The 16-time season champion won for the ninth time at Pacific Raceways.
Force’s first career win came June 28, 1987, in Montreal — exactly 700 Funny Car races ago.
Austin Prock won in Top Fuel, and Matt Hartford topped the Pro Stock field.
Prock won for the first time in his career, beating points leader Steve Torrence in the final with a 3.875 at 307.86. Hartford denied Greg Anderson’s bid to sweep the Western Swing, going 6.606 at 209.33 in the final round in a Camaro.