After his tear in June in which he won three straight points races, fans wondered when Kyle Larson would finally take the NASCAR Cup Series championship lead. This question became reality on Sunday when he dominated the final stretch of the Go Bowling at The Glen for his fifth win of the year and a share of the points lead with Denny Hamlin, with Larson’s victories giving him the tiebreaker over his winless rival. It is his first win at Watkins Glen International and second of 2021 on a road course.
Brad Keselowski started on the pole in the first race in two weeks alongside Team Penske team-mate Joey Logano, though both drivers would experience misfortunes throughout their day beginning with Keselowski spinning from the lead on lap nine. Although Logano won the opening stage, Keselowski accidentally took him out in a spin in turn one during the final stage.
Larson finished second in the first stage ahead of Hamlin, Tyler Reddick, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, and Erik Jones. Elliott, who won the last Watkins Glen event in 2019, and Christopher Bell, who won at the Daytona Road Course in February, had started the race at the rear due to inspection failures.
James Davison produced the lone caution of the second half when his car stopped on track due to electrical issues. Martin Truex Jr. dominated the stage en route to the win ahead of Bell, Kevin Harvick, Larson, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Matt DiBenedetto, Hamlin, Logano, and Busch.
Truex continued to lead as the final stage began. Hamlin took the lead on lap 57 before Kurt Busch led a lap of his own. Larson assumed the top spot on lap 65 and would have pulled away had it not been for lapped traffic. Larson navigating through such cars enabled Elliott to narrow the margin on his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate, but Elliott could not make up enough ground as Larson drove off to his fifth win of the year and second on a road course. He is the first driver to win at Sonoma and Watkins Glen—long the only road courses on the Cup schedule until 2018—since Kyle Busch in 2008.
“In the beginning there, I knew I had a fast car and was able to close in on Joey and Brad pretty quickly, and just couldn’t really do anything with them at that point because they were a little bit better than me in the areas where I needed to build a run,” said Larson in his post-race press conference. “But I knew my car was good and had a lot of grip. Gave me confidence there, and once the strategies kind of worked out and I ended up mid-pack, I knew I needed to beat the #22 (Logano) and the #11 (Hamlin) to the front, and then I would have better tires than those guys in front of me, and the strategy would work out.
“Thankfully, that’s what happened. Our pit crew did a great job on the green flag stop and got us out in front of the #19 (Truex), and we were able to kind of maintain that gap for a little while and then eventually start to pull away, and thankfully the #9 (Elliott) was not close enough there at the end because he was really, really fast.”
Larson and Hamlin, who finished fifth, are now tied atop the standings with 917 points apiece, though the former has the edge on wins. Three races remain in the playoffs, and first-time winners in all three events besides Hamlin could knock him out of the playoffs despite being the points leader for much of the year due to his lack of victories. Of course, such an event is merely based on a hypothetical situation.
“[Hamlin is] so good at Daytona,” commented Larson regarding the regular season finale. “It would be nice to get a couple good weeks and get that point lead because I know he’s going to go there, and anything can happen at Daytona but I know he’s going to go there and he’s going to get stage points and he’s going to challenge for the win. I know he’s looking at me as the same. If he could go into Daytona being even or ahead, he’s going to feel like he’s got the advantage.
“I’d like to have a good couple weeks before we get there and give us a little bit of wiggle room.”
|1||4||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|2||11||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|3||9||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||90||Running|
|4||20||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||90||Running|
|5||6||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||90||Running|
|6||15||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|7||7||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||90||Running|
|8||5||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||90||Running|
|9||27||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||90||Running|
|10||13||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|11||14||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||90||Running|
|12||12||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|13||17||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|14||3||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||90||Running|
|15||16||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|16||8||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||90||Running|
|17||24||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||90||Running|
|18||19||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||90||Running|
|19||18||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|20||10||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|21||25||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||90||Running|
|22||2||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||90||Running|
|23||26||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||90||Running|
|24||29||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||90||Running|
|25||28||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||89||Running|
|26||31||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||89||Running|
|27||22||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Ford||89||Running|
|28||23||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||89||Running|
|29||30||77||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||89||Running|
|30||33||78||Kyle Tilley||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||89||Running|
|31||21||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||88||Running|
|32||35||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||88||Running|
|33||34||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||88||Running|
|34||37||15||R.C. Enerson||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||88||Running|
|35||1||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||87||Running|
|36||32||53||Garrett Smithley*||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||87||Running|
|37||36||51||James Davison||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||41||Electrical|
* – Ineligible for Cup points