I think a lot of people have been wondering just when Chase Elliott would get his first win, but Watkins Glen was not at the top of the tracks you would think of. And especially not this weekend with the likes of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick being so strong on road courses. Watkins Glen is a more technical track than Sonoma so you would think that a more experienced driver would rule the day. And that very nearly happened.
Kyle Busch had a very strong car and looked like it would come down to a battle between him and Truex. But Busch had a pit issue where the team was unable to get fuel into his tank due to a gas can nozzle issue. That forced Busch to pit again and sent him to the back of the field. Meanwhile, Elliott continued to hold the lead over Truex. Elliott gave it his all, as did Truex in a great battle down to the wire. Truex ran out of fuel but still finished second. Busch driver his rear off and made it as far as third place when Elliott crossed the finish line. This was only Chevy’s second win of the season.
If the leader got out in front, he could nearly check out on the field, which says that either the top three cars were that hooked up, or the others were really off. Denny Hamlin, who started on the pole, never was able to really check out even when he had the lead. Busch just never let him get far ahead. Hamlin had pit road issues again that caused him to finish a disappointing 13th. Without the penalty he was probably a Top 10 car, but he never really had the horsepower or drive off to really compete with the other Toyotas.
Joey Logano won the Xfinity race and had high hopes for Sunday but wound up being the first driver out on lap 1 when he had a little help from behind and shot through the sand run off. That ended his day.
AJ Allmendinger hit just about everyone but the pace car and wasted a good starting position, ending up 15th. Never say never, but this was his best chance at making the playoffs. He might do well enough at the upcoming Charlotte roval course to grab a win in 2018 but more than likely Watkins Glen was his best shot this season.
Daniel Suarez continued to improve this weekend with a 4th place finish after starting 21st. Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson both showed speed this weekend but they never were a threat to win. A good points day for both, but McMurray needs a win since he is so far off the pace in points. William Byron impressed me with an 8th place finish after starting 16th. He was the last Chevy in the Top 10 that was surprisingly dominated by Toyota and Chevy.
Elliott’s win gives some thoughts to ponder. Jimmie Johnson might have been able to get a Top 10 had he not had a run in with Allmendinger. That could have potentially given Chevy 5 cars in the Top 10. So either Chevy teams are starting to figure out the new car or Elliott winning at a road course isn’t all that far fetched. The two other young driver wins came at Daytona where the restrictor plate levels the field a bit. A road course takes a lot of drivers out of their comfort zone giving drivers like Allmendinger and others a shot. Elliott had a fast car so maybe this win shouldn’t be surprising at all.
Perhaps Michigan will tell us about Chevy’s progress. Larson and Elliott are both good there so if they can hold off the Ford parade they have a shot at another win. In June, Ford dominated the Top 10 at Michigan placing 7 cars in the Top 10. Last August, Chevy won the race, had 6 of the Top 10 cars and Ford had just one driver in the Top 10. But that was last year.
Michigan should be a great opportunity for Kyle Larson. He has had speed most of the season and has been one of the few stars for Chevy in 2018. He also has 3 wins at Michigan since 2016. Michigan is a horsepower track and the Big 3 have lots of that. Should be a good race!
(Image courtesy of GM News Photos)