WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Last season at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott led the race late but had a hard-charging Martin Truex Jr. in his rear-view mirror challenging him to the very end.
This season at Watkins Glen … Elliott led the race late but had a hard-charging Truex in his rear-view mirror challenging him to the very end.
Fortunately for Elliott and the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team, the striking similarities didn’t end there. On both occasions, Elliott also came away victorious.
“It felt the exact same, and he was a little faster than I was, and I was just trying not to mess up,” Elliott said of the late-race battle. “If I had messed up in Turn 1 like I did last year, I think he'd have got me. I think he was close enough to do it. So, yeah, luckily had a fast enough car to stay out front.”
Elliott’s win last year at Watkins Glen was the first of his NASCAR Cup Series career, and after eight runner-up results prior to that point, the driver acknowledged at the time that one of the emotions that came pouring out was relief.
Just like last season, he felt the pressure Truex was putting on him as the laps wound down, but he found himself with a different mindset this time around.
“I felt more comfortable in that position, and that's a good thing,” he said. “That's a position you have to be comfortable in. And the only way to get better at that is just to be in that spot more often. Happy to have had a pressure-filled situation and be able to come out on the right end of it.”
Elliott now has five Cup Series wins, all of which have come in the past 37 races after he went winless in his first 98 events.
What made this one different, he noted, was that he won it from the pole, and the trip to Victory Lane came after he also won Stages 1 and 2 and led 80 of the 90 laps run in the process.
“This was the first time we've ever gone somewhere and sat on the pole and led the most laps and won the race,” he said. “I've never done that in my career, and I'm sure (No. 9 team crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) has at some point, but as a group we've never done that.
“That, to me, is I feel like the biggest piece of the whole weekend, just knowing that we're the type of team and the caliber of team that can go and put on those kind of performances.”
The 80 laps led were the second-most ever in a Watkins Glen race, and Elliott now ranks second among active drivers in laps led at the New York road course.
The feat stood out to Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
“Any time you can lead all the laps in a race and end up winning, that's kind of like whipped cream and a cherry,” Hendrick said. “You don't get to do that very often. In all my 35 years I don't think there's been many of those.”
Key in the fallout from the dominant win were the seven playoff points that Elliott accumulated in the process – one apiece for the two stage wins and five for the race win.
He now has 17 for the season, which ranks him sixth among the playoff contenders. He’ll look to add to that total in the final four races of the regular season before the 10-race playoffs kick off at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Those playoff points are huge, and I think that's the key to those guys and the advantage that those guys have, the guys that have four or five wins already,” Elliott said. “Those guys that have won often and won that much, they're just about a lock for Homestead. Almost. They have a heck of a lot of help to get there.
“That's the kind of position you want to put yourself in before the final 10 start, for sure.”