Kyle Larson wins at Watkins Glen after lucky break; Elliott on pole today

Published 9:51 pm Saturday, August 20, 2022

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Kyle Larson zoomed past Ty Gibbs and William Byron when the two leaders made contact with under five laps to go, then held off AJ Allmendinger to win the Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International on Saturday.

Byron and Gibbs dominated the 82-lap race around the 2.45-mile road course but came together after the final restart. Byron swung wide coming out of the first turn, a 90-degree downhill right-hander, and the two were side-by-side up through the esses before they collided. Larson was in the perfect spot to take advantage and zoomed past into the lead, holding off Allmendinger for his first road course win in the series.

The 40-year-old Allmendinger, the series points leader, had won three of the four road course races in the series this season for Kaulig Racing.

“I got lucky,” said Larson, one of a handful of Cup regulars in the field. “They raced side-by-side into there and got together, the seas parted, and I was able to get through.”
Sammy Smith was third, followed by Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala. Byron finished 25th, two spots ahead of Gibbs.

Byron had command of the race with Gibbs always lurking, but when Gibbs barely beat Byron out of the pits prior to the restart to begin the final stage, Gibbs assumed the lead after the green flag waved and Byron turned into the stalker.

A crash by Daniel Hemric brought a caution and set up one of the treacherous restarts that Watkins Glen International always produces. But Gibbs, with Byron, Larson, and Allmendinger right behind, assumed the lead again after a clean restart with 18 laps left and Byron moved in behind in second and slowly began to narrow Gibbs’ slim one-second lead before Ross Chastain slid off course into a sand trap to set up the decisive final restart with five laps to go.

Byron held off Larson on a restart midway through the second stage and had a 2.7-second lead over Gibbs when the 20-lap segment ended.

Justin Allgaier’s day ended quickly. He spun out on the third turn heading uphill in the esses on the fifth lap and slammed the Armco barrier lining the track, ending his day.

“I thought I had enough of a run there,” Allgaier said after departing the care center. “I hate it for our team. It just really stinks. I felt like we had a car capable of not only getting up front but contending for the win.”

Gibbs passed Byron for the lead on lap 11 and both pitted during a caution near the end of the first stage. Allmendinger stayed out to take over the top spot but was beaten on the restart by Smith, who held on to capture the stage.

The 19-year-old Gibbs, doing double duty in both Xfinity and Cup in relief of injured Kurt Busch, started on the front row alongside polesitter Byron, who showed his displeasure by slamming Gibbs after their altercation. Byron led 35 laps and Gibbs 25,

The Xfinity Series begins its playoffs Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway.

 

Elliott edges Larson to take pole

Chase Elliott won the NASCAR Cup pole on Saturday at Watkins Glen International, edging Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson for the top spot.

Elliott, a two-time winner at The Glen, turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 10.477 seconds around the 2.45-mile natural terrain road course. Larson, who won last year’s race at The Glen, finished in 1:10.516, just ahead of Michael McDowell.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Elliott said. “We’ll try to give them a good run tomorrow.”

William Byron was fourth and Tyler Reddick, winner of the past two road races on the Cup schedule, will start fifth as Chevrolet took four of the top five spots.
AJ Allmendinger was sixth, followed by Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric, Daniel Suárez and Kyle Busch.

Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., battling for the final playoff spot with just two races left in the regular season, will start side-by-side in Row 13.

“Definitely not the day we wanted, for sure,” Truex said. “We’ll just keep working on it, battle and fight through it and get all we can like we always do.”

Former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen, who came out of retirement for the chance to enter NASCAR’S top series, qualified 27th in his Cup debut. Raikkonen is driving for TrackHouse Racing and its Project91 program designed to raise NASCAR’s international exposure.

“I wish there were more laps to put everything together,” Raikkonen said. “I thought I was pretty OK. It’s good.”

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell blew the engine during practice in the No. 20 Toyota and will start at the back of the 39-car field.

 

Playoff spots on line today

There are two races left in NASCAR’s regular season, and Chris Buescher has only one avenue to make the playoffs — winning.

His next chance comes Sunday at Watkins Glen International, a high-speed road course where one small mistake in the 90 laps around the 2.45-mile track can ruin a day.

“I think it’s going to be a tough race to win,” said Buescher, who finished second to Daniel Suárez on the road course at Sonoma in June. “I feel really strong about our opportunity, our chances. I know what we’ve been able to do as an organization and what I’ve been able to do behind the wheel at some of these other road courses.”

Last week at Richmond, Buescher gave another indication that RFK Racing is making strides with the Next Gen car. He drove the No. 17 Ford to the back bumper of leader Kevin Harvick in the closing laps before fading to third as Harvick claimed his second straight win.

“We’ve got to remember that it’s big progress for us,” said Buescher, whose lone Cup victory in 245 starts came in a weather-shortened race at Pocono six years ago.

Watkins Glen and the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway on Aug. 27 are also the last chances for Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. to make the 16-driver playoff field.
They are not among the 15 who have won this season and sit second and fourth in points, separated by just 26. That leaves little margin for error if neither can get to victory lane and there is no breakthrough by one of the other winless drivers.

“It feels odd,” said Truex, who has four career road course victories, including at Watkins Glen in 2017 on the way to the Cup championship. “I feel like we missed some opportunities throughout the year and it’s been frustrating, honestly. But we’re still not out of it. We’ve got two shots. We’re working hard and trying to put ourselves in position to have a shot to win.”

Blaney, who signed a long-term contract with Team Penske this week, has made the playoffs every season since 2017 and has a pair of top-10 finishes in five career starts at The Glen.

“You can’t stress yourself out about it. It’s either going to happen or it’s not going to happen, whether you make the playoffs or not,” Blaney said Saturday before practice, adding, “You just have to have an open mind about anything can happen and you just have to do your best.”

ROUGHING IT

Watkins Glen zoomed in popularity a decade ago with three straight fender-banging finishes involving the trio of Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowki and Marcos Ambrose. If there’s a late caution in Sunday’s race, watch out.

“At the end of these road courses, those are wild cards, too,” Busch said. “I don’t know that we can get five wide on the front stretch at Watkins Glen, but watch us. We’ll try and see what happens.”

STREAKING HARVICK

Harvick snapped a 65-race winless streak at Michigan two weeks ago and last week made it two straight. Three in a row promises to “be very difficult,” he said, though Harvick won at Watkins Glen in 2006.

FOREIGN FACTOR

Former Formula One champ Kimi Raikkonen of Finland is coming out of retirement to make his Cup debut for Justin Marks’ TrackHouse Racing. He’s among a contingent of international drivers entered at Watkins Glen that could elevate the stress level.

Also in the field are sportscar aces Mike Rockenfeller of Germany and Englishman Kyle Tilley, NASCAR Euro Series champ Loris Hezemans of the Netherlands and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat of Russia.

Raikkonen worked with Suárez to prepare for the race.

“It’s a new experience. I don’t know how it’s going to go,” Raikkonen said Saturday.

ODDS AND ENDS

FanDuel Sportsbook puts two-time Watkins Glen winner Chase Elliott as the favorite. He can clinch the regular-season title by gaining just four points. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson won last season at The Glen. … Chevrolet is going for its 11th consecutive road course win in the Cup series. … Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace is the grand marshal. … No Cup race at Watkins Glen has been won from a starting position outside the top 20. The deepest in the field for a winner was Steve Park in 2000 from 18th.

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