After three full-time seasons and 98 races of heartbreak, Chase Elliott has finally reached Victory Lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The Dawsonville native held off a closing Martin Truex Jr. in a two-front battle (Truex and diminishing fuel) to win the Go Bowling at The Glen, his 99th career Cup start.
Denny Hamlin recorded his first career pole at Watkins Glen International and his first of the 2018 season, starting alongside Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Busch. Kurt Busch and Paul Menard failed post-qualifying inspection and were ordered to the rear.
It did not take long for Elliott, who started third, to pounce on the front row as he took second from Busch in turn one. A lap later, Joey Logano hit the wall and had to pit for repairs, though no caution came out. In an unfortunate ending for the #22 team, Logano was forced to retire from the race after being informed he was on the five-minute crash clock, which he nor his team had not been aware of.
On lap four, another Ford driver brought out the yellow flag as Aric Almirola spun in turn seven. The restart occurred on lap six with Busch and Truex on the front row. A good restart and strong-performing car enabled Busch to pull ahead of the field, increasing his lead to over 2.5 seconds by lap 10. Two laps earlier, David Ragan spun in turn one, though no yellow came out.
With three laps remaining before the conclusion of Stage #1, Elliott and Hamlin, who had been fighting for third, along with other drivers pitted. Busch did so a lap later, while Truex stayed out for the remainder to win the stage. Behind him were Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher, Menard, and Matt Kenseth.
Truex and those who didn’t pit earlier visited pit road during the stage interlude. Coming off pit road, the order consisted of Truex, Johnson, Bowman, and Byron. Buescher and McDowell, who exited the pits in fifth and eighth, respectively, were penalized for having crewmen over the wall too soon. With Truex pitting, Busch inherited the lead.
Stage #2 began on lap 25 with Busch and Hamlin occupying the top two spots, but Elliott once again quickly disrupted the JGR 1–2 when he overtook Hamlin for second. After two laps of chasing the #18, Elliott made his move shortly before the two crossed the start/finish line to claim first. With less than ten laps left in the stage, his advantage had grown to 1.3 seconds over Busch.
As the second stage reached its closing laps, some drivers like Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer began their stops. At the front, Elliott remained at the top to score the stage victory. Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Hamlin, Erik Jones, Truex, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Daniel Suárez.
Elliott and Kyle Busch did not pit between stages. Among those who did, Blaney and Johnson won the race off pit road, but the latter was hit with a penalty for driving through too many pit boxes while entering his.
The final stage commenced on lap 44 with a poor run by Elliott through the esses that promoted Busch to the lead. Newman spun on lap 47, though there was no caution. Elliott began charging on Busch, but could not pass him; over the radio, crew chief Alan Gustafson told Elliott to be “take care of the fuel” as the fuel window neared its closure.
Matt DiBenedetto brought out the next yellow flag on lap 52 when his #32 car stopped near the Inner Loop. Bush, Elliott, and the other leaders took advantage to refuel; Busch’s race suddenly took a turn when issues surfaced while he pitted, forcing him to return to pit road.
“We have to pit here to refuel something broke while fueling,” Samantha Busch tweeted. “[Crew chief] Adam [Stevens] not sure what happened. Going to have to come in and start really deep in the field”.
Following the fiasco, Busch found himself in thirty-first, while Elliott assumed the lead. Elliott and Kurt Busch led the field to the lap 58 restart, but Truex quickly passed Busch for the runner-up position.
As Elliott led Truex, Kyle Busch mounted a comeback, entering the top ten by lap 67; in just ten laps, he had improved by 22 spots. During the run, Kenseth’s car stopped on track, but it was not enough to necessitate a yellow flag.
With less than 20 laps to go in the race, Truex began closing on Elliott. By lap 75, the distance between them was less than a second. In addition to worrying about the attacking #78, Elliott also had to watch his fuel gauge.
By lap 83, with seven laps remaining, the margin was just 0.283 seconds. Despite multiple single-car incidents like drivers brushing the wall, the race stayed green as Truex attempted to overtake Elliott. With just two laps, Truex went wide, which Elliott capitalized on to retain the lead.
Eventually, Truex’s race hopes finally crumbled when he ran out of fuel. With Truex out of the picture, Elliott sailed off with the win; to round out his successful day, his fuel tank was also empty following celebrations.
The victory is Hendrick Motorsports‘ 250th in the Cup Series. For HMS, it is a welcome sign of progress as the four-car stable has uncharacteristically struggled for much of the 2018 season; the win is just HMS’ first of the year. Due to Elliott’s car running out of gas, Johnson had to push him to Victory Lane.
Although his car was out of fuel, Truex was able to muster it to a second-place finish. A trio of JGR cars finished behind him with Busch, Suárez, and Jones in third, fourth, and fifth, respectively. Larson, McMurray, Byron, Kurt Busch, and Harvick closed out the top ten.
Elliott is the fourth driver to record his first career Cup win at The Glen and the first since A.J. Allmendinger in 2014; Steve Park (2000) and Marcos Ambrose (2011) are the other two. At 22 years of age, Elliott is also the youngest winner in the race’s history.
The Dawsonville Pool Room, which celebrates every win by an Elliott family member by sounding its horn, continued the tradition on Sunday. The building’s Twitter account posted: “Call the fire department we may burn the whole place down!!!”
The win tops off an eventful weekend for the Elliott family. On Saturday, Chase’s father, 1988 Cup champion and Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, announced he would return to NASCAR after six years to contest the Xfinity Series race at Road America. Fittingly, like his father, Chase had eight runner-up finishes before finally scoring his first Cup win. On another coincidence, Bill’s first Cup victory also came at a road course (Riverside International Raceway in 1983).