WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Kyle Larson beat Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott on a restart with five laps to go and won the weather-delayed NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.
Elliott had control of the race late, but a caution gave Larson a chance and he took advantage, moving Elliott to the left coming out of the first turn and pulling away for a weekend Xfinity-Cup sweep.
AJ Allmendinger was second, Joey Logano third. Elliott fourth and Daniel Suárez fifth.
“I did what I felt I needed to do to get the win. I knew that was my only opportunity to get by him, I’m not proud of it,” said Larson, who won for just the second time this season. “The restarts kept me in it. It’s good to get another win. Hopefully, it will build some momentum.”
The race began on rain tires with a single-file start and pole-sitter Elliott was passed early by Michael McDowell, who started third. But strategy played out as the race wore on with Elliott, Larson, and McDowell, all on a two-stop strategy around the 2.45-mile natural terrain layout, holding the upper hand.
Elliott regained the lead with 18 laps to go in the 90-lap race and when the final pit stops were complete he was just over 2 seconds ahead of his teammate. McDowell was more than 10 seconds behind, but a spin by Joey Hand in the first turn brought out a caution and bunched up the field for a restart with eight laps to go.
Elliott held off Larson when the green flag waved and quickly built a half-second lead, but a spin by Loris Hezemans brought out the caution that changed the outcome.
Early in the second stage, Logano passed Todd Gilliland for the lead and Kyle Busch moved in behind him, but as the laps in the stage began to dwindle Elliott was lurking in fourth, backing off near the end of the segment to save fuel. Logano held off Busch for his fourth stage win of the season.
Lightning strikes and rain delayed the start two hours. It was the first time the Next Gen car raced in wet conditions on the grooved tires and Chase Briscoe took advantage. As the track began to dry he was one of the first drivers to pit to put on the faster slicks and the strategy worked as he held on to win the opening 20-lap stage, his fourth stage win of the season. Ellliott wrapped up the regular-season title in the opening segment.
Fifteen drivers are locked into the playoffs, with Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. still battling for points. They entered the race separated by 26 and started side-by-side on Row 13. Truex picked up only one point.
Former Formula One champ Kimi Raikkonen drove the No. 91 Chevrolet for TrackHouse Racing in his Cup debut. Raikkonen, who qualifed 27th, had veteran crew chief Darian Grubb atop the pit box for guidance. The Finn made it into the top 10 in the second stage but was taken out in the final stage at about the midpont of the the race when he was slammed hard on the right side going through the bus stop, ending his day.
“I had a good line there. Unfortunately, I had no time to react,” Raikkonen said. “That’s how it goes.”
He was one of the record seven drivers from foreign countries competing in a series race and came out of retirement to compete for TrackHouse owner Justin Marks, whose goal is to expand the NASCAR’s international reach by fielding a Cup entry for international racers.
The Cup regular season concludes Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.