Saturday's motors: Chase Elliott goes for three-peat at Watkins Glen; Brad Keselowski on pole

John Kekis
Associated Press

Watkins Glen, N.Y. — Three-peat at Watkins Glen? Not on Chase Elliott’s radar.

OK, maybe a little bit.

“I’m just excited to be going back. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Elliott, the reigning NASCAR Cup champion, said this week on a Zoom call. “Every time you go to the track, look, it’s always going to be tough. As I’ve said many times before, past success doesn’t equal future success and I don’t think that’s any different this weekend. I anticipate everybody else will be better than they were last time we were up there. And we just try to make sure we match it ourselves to have another shot.”

Chase Elliott goes for a three-peat at Watkins Glen on Sunday.

The NASCAR Cup Series resumes at Watkins Glen International on Sunday after a two-week break for the Tokyo Olympics, and Elliott will be chasing a little history.

He’s won the past two races at the natural terrain road course in the Finger Lakes region of New York – last year’s race was moved to the road course at Daytona International Speedway because of the pandemic and Elliott won that one, too — and another victory would put him in select company. Only Mark Martin (1993-95) and Jeff Gordon (1997-99) have won three in a row at The Glen since NASCAR began racing there annually in 1986.

Brad Keselowski of Rochester Hills starts on pole alongside Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney is third, giving Team Penske the top three spots. Kyle Larson will go off fourth, Kevin Harvick fifth, points leader Denny Hamlin sixth, and Elliott 11th. There was no practice or qualifying.

Elliott will be making his 17th Cup road course start for Hendrick Motorsports. What he, crew chief Alan Gustafson and the rest of the team have accomplished with the No. 9 Chevrolet on the circuitous layouts is remarkable: seven wins across five different tracks, nine top-five finishes and 326 laps led. He’s one victory shy of tying Tony Stewart for second all-time in road course wins and two behind Gordon.

And it all began at Watkins Glen in 2018, when he started third and led the final 33 laps to score his first career Cup victory after finishing second eight times.

“I think, for me, it’s a great honor to be even on the same page as Tony or Jeff,” said Elliott, who had to hold off Martin Truex Jr. in both his wins at The Glen. “Whether we can ever get there or not, to even be in the same sentence, or … on the same page, I think is very cool. While I appreciate it and I think it’s a very cool achievement, it’s not at the forefront of my focus.”

Gordon figures his record will soon fall given that NASCAR has switched the schedule to include seven road courses instead of the customary two.

“I know this record’s going down. Chase has been dominant,” said Gordon, now second in command at Hendrick Motorsports. “I know what kind of equipment he has and I’ve seen how good he is on these types of tracks. Now you’re going to give him more opportunity, so it’s going down.”

Xfinity race

At Watkins Glen, Ty Gibbs passed road race ace AJ Allmendinger after a restart with four laps to go and won the Xfinity race at Watkins Glen International on Saturday.

It was the third win in 10 Xfinity races this season for the 18-year-old grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs. Points leader Austin Cindric was third, Pole-sitter Justin Allgaier fourth, and Harrison Burton fifth.

Gibbs is a part-time rookie driver in the series this season, concentrating on the ARCA Series. It’s just a matter of time before he makes a big jump.

Trucks race

At Wakins Glen, Pole-sitter Austin Hill won the NASCAR Truck Series race at Watkins Glen International on Saturday, taking the victory when lightning struck nearby and rain halted the race with 11 laps to go.

Hill held off John Hunter Nemechek on a restart with 15 laps left as thunderstorms neared, with Sheldon Creed, Todd Gilliland and Parker Kligerman in close pursuit. The race was red-flagged because of a lightning strike and with an Xfinity Series race on deck.

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