On Sunday, Chase Elliott was trying to do something that just few others have done at Watkins Glen International: Win three straight races at the famed road course.
Boy, did he give it his all.
After taking the initial green flag from the rear of the field for failing pre-race technical inspection multiple times (rear-window air deflectors), Elliott surged to eighth at the end of the opening stage.
But Elliott’s race took a turn for the worse on lap 30, when the No. 9 Chevrolet locked up its front tires entering Turn 1, flatspotting both tires. The untimely error forced Elliott to pit, getting off strategy. He ended Stage 2 in 33rd.
“Flatspotting the tire was ultimately the straw that broke it,” Elliott said post race. “Just my bad, completely my fault. I hate it. Can‘t do anything about it now. Just move on and try again.”
When the final stage began, Elliott was able to methodically move his way through the field, though remained over 10 seconds behind the battle for the race lead between Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. When those two opted to make their final pit stops, the No. 9 car was able to put some quick laps together, gaining valuable time.
But after making his final pit stop with 30 laps to go, Elliott’s No. 9 car turned into a rocket, making up over 10 seconds on Larson. Elliott went from battling near 10th to passing Truex for second with a handful of laps remaining.
Dwindling the lead down to 2.4 seconds is the closest Elliott got, as Larson held on for his series-high fifth win of the season.
“I made too many mistakes to get the win, unfortunately, and made it too late in the race,” Elliott said. “Been kind of an uphill battle all day, but everybody was just super prepared coming into the day, and our NAPA team just did a really good job of fighting it.
“If I hadn’t have let them down there, I think we would have had a shot at it. I’ll try to clean some things up and make less mistakes next time. Maybe it’ll work out.”
Winning seven of the previous 11 road course races, Elliott stated Sunday was frustrating because compared to his previous two dominating performances at Watkins Glen in 2018 and 2019, this might have been his best car.
“I think that was the best we‘ve been here,” Elliott added. “I‘m proud of that. You hate to feel like you brought your best effort and not get the result you want.”
The No. 9 team won’t have long to wait to look for another road course victory, as the Cup Series will make its inaugural start on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next Sunday (Aug. 15).