WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – History will record that Chase Elliott won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race by a whopping 7.560 seconds over reigning champion Martin Truex Jr.
That description, however, doesn’t do justice to Elliott’s magnificent drive over the final 32 laps of Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen, with Truex hounding him every inch of the way before running out of fuel with two corners left.
“Holy cow, I don’t know what to say-just so thrilled, so emotional, so much relief,” said Elliott, who notched his first win in NASCAR’s foremost series in his 99th start, after recording eight second-place finishes. “Working on three years, I hadn’t won one.
“I came here with a great opportunity today, and I was able to get it done.”
The victory came with a sense of accumulating tension that was almost palpable, as Truex repeatedly closed up on Elliott in the braking zones but couldn’t make a run off the corners.
And then there was the final lap. There were audible gasps when Elliott wheel-hopped into Turn 1 and lost the six car-length advantage he had built on the second half of the 2.45-mile road course on the penultimate lap.
“I started to wheel-hop, and I knocked it out of gear in order not to spin out, and luckily I had a big enough gap where he couldn’t get me-but what a day!” exclaimed Elliott, who led 52 laps.
Elliott led the field to green for a restart on Lap 59 of 90, after race leader Kyle Busch had to return to pit road on Lap 56 to take on fuel after a snafu on the previous lap left him 10 gallons short of a full tank.
It took Truex most of Lap 59 to pass Kurt Busch for second, and by then Elliott had pulled away to a lead of more than 1.5 seconds, on the way to Chevrolet’s first victory since Austin Dillon took the checkered flag in the season-opening Daytona 500.
“I could get right to him,” said Truex, who steadily closed the gap until he got almost to the rear bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. “I chased him down from a ways back after that restart. I took a little too long to get around the 41 (Kurt Busch).
“He checked up, got a lead on us, I just tried all I could to chase him down, and I got there with plenty of time. “It’s just every time I’d start putting together some good corners and get close enough to him to even think about making a move, I’d get sideways behind him. He did a good job of putting his car exactly where it needed to be and not making a mistake.”
And even though Elliott wheel-hopped into Turn 1 on the final lap, Truex’s fuel situation ultimately made the mistake moot.
“He missed Turn 1 on the final lap, but I missed the inner loop on the (next-to-last) lap and lost five car lengths to him, so when he made that mistake in 1, I was too far back to capitalize,” Truex said. “We ran out of gas anyway coming off of Turn 5 that last lap, so it was really all a moot point. He was going to win regardless.”
After the fueling glitch, Kyle Busch drove from 31st to finish third without benefit of a subsequent caution. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, ran fourth and fifth, respectively.
Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, William Byron, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.
lliott’s victory, with his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, spotting for him on the backstretch, was the 250th for Hendrick Motorsports and the first since Kasey Kahne won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 23 of last year.
When Elliott crossed the finish line for the last time-before running out of gas himself and getting a push to Victory Lane from teammate Jimmie Johnson-he got a loud standing ovation from the fans in the frontstretch grandstand.
“That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, and I just want you all to know that,” Elliott said. “And I am very grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
“Let’s go get some more.”