By Holly Cain – NASCAR Wire Service
For the second-consecutive day Kyle Larson took his first lead of the race with five laps remaining and held off road course ace and fellow Californian A.J. Allmendinger for a trophy. Larson completed the rare weekend sweep at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International Sunday afternoon with a clutch win in the NASCAR Cup Series’ Go Bowling at the Glen.
Larson made a dramatic pass on his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott on a restart with five laps to go on the historic road course. As the race leader, Elliott got to choose where to lineup alongside Larson for the green flag and chose to start on Larson’s outside, setting up the dramatic contention for position.
Larson maneuvered past Elliott in the wide-sweeping turn with both Allmendinger and Joey Logano able to get around Elliott as well. Allmendinger gave chase to Larson, but for the second day in a row, Larson, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet again proved too much.
It was the second-consecutive NASCAR Cup Series victory for Larson, 30, at Watkins Glen – finishing .882-seconds ahead of Kaulig Racing’s Allmendinger. It’s Larson’s 18th career win and second of the 2022 season for the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Team Penske’s Logano finished third just ahead of Elliott, who could take some considerable consolation in officially securing the 2022 Regular Season Championship – his first – at the end of Stage 1 on Sunday.
Larson immediately addressed the winning move.
“That was really my only opportunity (to go for the lead), I’m not proud of it,’’ Larson said, “But being in the inside lane, the right lane, being the leader, choosing the left lane, it definitely wins out. But when it gets late in the race, it’s definitely risky.
“I knew that was my only opportunity to get by him. I feel like our cars were pretty equal today. Had a lot of fun after rate green flag cycle trying to chase hi down. Kind of burned my stuff up a little bit.
“But the restarts kept me in it and kept our team in it. I’m proud of my guys. Good to get another win here at Watkins Glen and get some more bonus points going into the Playoffs, we haven’t had a lot here this year.’’
Larson said he anticipated having a conversation with Elliott and reiterated that he was only making a move, he felt necessary, to go for the victory. Something he thought Elliott would have done as well.
“We have a competition meeting tomorrow.,’’ Larson said. “I think if I was in his shoes, I would understand the risk that I’m taking, taking the left lane also. I’m not proud of it but I did what I felt like I had to do to get the win.’’
For his part after the race, Elliott said only, “Congratulations to Kyle and everybody on the 5 team and at Hendrick Motorsports for getting the win.’’
Elliott – who led a race high 30 of the 80 laps – again took the company line when asked what he would say to Larson, “Congratulations. … always good to see HMS win. The boss [Rick Hendrick] deserves all the great wins that come for this company.’’
Trackhouse Racing driver Daniel Suárez finished fifth, followed by Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell, who led 14 laps.
Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher and Petty GMS Racing’s Erik Jones rounded out the top 10.
German driver Mike Rockenfeller – a sportscar ace and former Rolex 24 at Daytona winner – posted the best finish (30th) among a series-high seven international entries at Watkins Glen.
Formula One world champion Kimi Räikkönen had a solid effort in his NASCAR Cup Series debut – running as high as eighth place in Stage 2 before pitting. His day in the No. 91 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet came to an early end, however, when he was nudged off-track and into a tire barrier while racing among a large group of cars on the ensuing restart.
Räikkönen 41, of Finland, climbed out of his car and appeared fine physically. Although disappointed with the finish to what looked like a promising day, he said he was still overall happy with his debut in NASCAR’s big leagues.
“It was good fun, you know, and I felt more confident all the time and had some good battles and the car felt like it had a lot of speed in there, but that’s how it goes sometimes,’’ said Räikkönen, who officially finished 37th in the 39-car field.
With one race remaining in the regular season and one spot still to be settled for the 16-driver Playoff field, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney holds a 25-point advantage over Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. for the final transfer position should no new winner emerge next week. They finished 23rd (Truex) and 24th (Blaney) on Sunday and both drivers are still looking for their first victory of the year.
Blaney heads into the regular season finale next week at Daytona International Speedway as the defending race winner. The Coke Zero Sugar 400 in Daytona Beach is set for Saturday night (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with the 16 drivers qualifying for the 10-race Playoffs that begin Sept. 4 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.