When Kyle Larson won the second race of the 2022 season at Fontana in February, it looked as though he was going to pick up right where he left off in his championship year of 2021. Then, he went through a long regular season dry spell, but he now has another notch in the win column and some valuable momentum as he begins to prepare to defend his Cup Series title.
After moving Chase Elliott out of the way in turn 1 on the final restart, Kyle Larson was able to hold off A.J. Allmendinger in the final five laps to win the Go Bowling at the Glen, scoring his second win of the 2022 season and his second in a row at Watkins Glen.
After a long green flag run past the halfway point, a pair of quick cautions late in the race gave Larson the chance he needed. And on the final restart with five to go, Larson gave himself the chance he needed when he drove deep into turn 1, locking up his brakes and running Elliott wide in the first corner to take the lead.
Go Bowling at The Glen unofficial results
- #5 - Kyle Larson
- #16 - A.J. Allmendinger
- #22 - Joey Logano
- #9 - Chase Elliott
- #99 - Daniel Suarez
- #34 - Michael McDowell
- #8 - Tyler Reddick
- #20 - Christopher Bell
- #17 - Chris Buescher
- #43 - Erik Jones
For Larson, Sunday's victory ended the longest winless streak he's gone through since joining Hendrick Motorsports. However, the friendly fire from Larson on Elliott complicated matters both on the track and internally within the Hendrick team.
"I knew everybody's aggression was gonna be higher as each restart went on. I didn't want to put myself in that position to get passed by AJ or Joey, who are really aggressive behind me," Larson told NBC Sports. "It's just part of racing at road courses, especially this year it seems like. Again, not proud of it, but we knew what we had to do."
As was the case at Fontana, where Larson took his teammate out of a chance to win with a late-race block into the wall, Elliott was left fuming in post-race. Before speaking to the media, Elliott was seen on pit road having an animated conversation with both car owner Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon.
"Congratulations. He did a great job," Elliott told NBC Sports. "Seriously, they deserve it. I'm looking forward to [Daytona] (sic) next week and trying to get a win for our team."
Wet and wild
The start of Sunday's race was complicated by inclement weather. After lightning in the area delayed the scheduled start of the race by almost an hour, a heavy downpour led to NASCAR declaring a wet weather start and having the teams put on treaded tires. However, pooling and standing water led to heavy spray and visibility issues during pace laps, which delayed the start further until conditions improved.
Once the race got underway, the track quickly began to dry out throughout stage one, which saw Michael McDowell take the lead and show his strength on road courses. McDowell, trying to be a playoff spoiler, contended throughout the day and led twice for 14 laps before getting shuffled from third back to sixth on the final two restarts.
The international experience
Sunday marked a historic day for the NASCAR Cup Series, as a record seven different countries were represented in the starting field. And of the five non-series regulars of foreign birth, most observers' eyes were on 2007 Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who made his Cup debut behind the wheel of Trackhouse Racing's Project 91 Chevrolet.
Raikkonen fared well in the first half of the race, running up in the top 10 in stage two while varying pit strategies played themselves out. But he didn't get a chance to build on that first half during the second half of the race: On a lap 45 restart, Raikkonen was involved in a chain reaction to a spin by Austin Dillon in the inner loop, which saw him climb over the left rear of Loris Hezemans before hitting the tire barrier on the inside of the track head-on, ending his day.
"It was good fun, you know. I felt more confidence all the time, had some good battles," Raikkonen told NBC Sports. "It's a shame. I think the car felt like it had a lot of speed in there. But that's how it goes sometimes."
Of the international drivers, Hezemans also had a strong outing, running inside the top 15 at one point before a spin into the gravel trap between turns 10 and 11 brought out the final caution and relegated him to a 33rd place finish. In the end, former 24 Hours of Le Mans champion and German driver Mike Rockenfeller would end up with the best finish, running up in the top five on an alternate pit strategy at one point before finishing 30th ahead of Hezemans, Daniil Kvyat of Russia, Raikkonen, and England's Kyle Tilley.
While Chase Elliott's day was ultimately spoiled by the race-deciding run-in between him and Larson, he was still a winner in one category. At the end of stage one, Elliott officially clinched the NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship, giving him a bonus 15 playoff points that he will carry throughout the postseason. Elliott ended Sunday's race with a 134 point lead over Kyle Larson, giving him a lead of nearly two full races' worth of points.
Meanwhile, the status quo was preserved at the playoff bubble, as Ryan Blaney now holds a 25 point advantage over Martin Truex Jr. for the final playoff spot. With the regular season finale at Daytona now at hand, Blaney -- the defending winner of Daytona's August race -- will try to preserve his points gap over Truex to be the final driver to make the 16-man playoff field. However, Blaney and Truex's playoff standing remains perilous, as both could be knocked out of the playoffs if a new winner emerges in next week's winner-take-all affair.
Race results rundown
- With his sixth-place finish, Michael McDowell scored his tenth top 10 finish of the season, giving him double-digit top 10s for the first time in his Cup career. McDowell's 10 top 10s doubles his previous career-high for top 10s in a single season, which he set last year when he earned five top 10s in 2021.
- With his eighth top 10 finish of the season, Chris Buescher has now tied his career-high mark for top 10 finishes in a single season. Buescher has now scored eight top 10s three seasons in a row dating back to 2020.
- After a rough season so far, Cole Custer is finally getting to enjoy some time out front. After leading two laps at Richmond last week, Custer led seven laps on an alternate pit strategy late in the race, tying his career-high for the most laps he's ever led in a single race -- Custer also led seven laps at Talladega last fall. Custer's strategy would ultimately pay off, as he was able to parlay it into an 11th place finish.
- Despite only getting the opportunity to run NASCAR late in his career, Joey Hand has continued to impress as the designated road course ringer for Rick Ware Racing. Hand ran as high as third mid-race and was running within the top 15 late, but a spin in Turn 1 resulted in Hand backing into the tire barrier and sustaining significant left rear damage. Hand finished a disappointing 31st.
- In stage two, it looked as though Sunday was going to be a banner day for rookie Todd Gilliland. Gilliland had the lead on the first restart of the day and was able to hold it for five laps, but disaster then struck when Gilliland broke an axle while leading. Gilliland was left with a DNF in 38th, his fourth of the season and his first due to a mechanical failure.
The NASCAR Cup Series regular season ends with a bang, as the Cup Series field will head to Daytona International Speedway for their last chance to make the playoffs in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 next Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET.