From green flag to checkered flag, Chase Elliott pushed his No. 9 Napa Chevy to the limits in a dominating victory on Aug. 4 at Watkins Glen in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series twenty-second race of the season.
Elliott led all but 10 of the 90 laps around the intricate 2.45-mile road course, featuring both left and right-hand turns along with dramatic changes in elevation not normally found on a NASCAR course, and faced serious competition from only one driver all day, last year’s nemesis, Martin Truex Jr.
In 2018, Watkins Glen served as the background for Elliott’s first NASCAR win after he recovered from near disaster in turn-one to hold off Truex Jr. for the checkered flag. This year the two appeared to be racing by themselves as Truex Jr. attempted to chase down Elliott for the final 50 laps of the race while they maintained an almost 10-second lead over the rest of the field.
“I’ve never been so far from home and felt like I was at my house, so thank you. You all are awesome. What a day! We had such a fast NAPA Camaro and these guys called a great race,” Elliott said. “We just stayed mistake free and Martin (Truex Jr.) was a little quicker I felt like those last few runs, but the track position was key, and I didn’t mess up into Turn 1 this time, so that was good.”
Overcoming a six week slump that included three DNF’s, crew chief Alan Gustafason’s strategy of pushing the fuel window and leaning hard on his car’s speed in the uphill Essess and Carousel of Watkins Glen led to an almost flawless race that saw Elliott only yield the lead when he was on pit row.
The turning point came on lap 65 during the final restart of the day as Truex Jr. fought hard for track position, banging doors with Elliott through the first three turns, in an aggressive series of moves for the lead. Although no visible damage showed on either car from the exchange, the No. 19 Toyota was never quite the same and Elliott went on to lead the remainder of the race and win by a margin of .454 seconds.
“I tried to do all I could. Chase (Elliott), he did an excellent job just not making mistakes. All I could do was get to within two car lengths or one-and-a-half at the closest in braking,” Truex Jr. said. “Just trying to force a mistake, but he hit his marks and his car was really fast in the key areas there where it needed to be and leaving a few of the key corners.”
For Chattanooga native and life-long NASCAR fan Kasey Flynn the race provided an almost storybook ending to a bucket-list trip as he watched the race with girlfriend Emily Gilmer in the Pool Room of downtown Dawsonville.
“I’ve always wanted to watch Elliott race in the Pool Room, and knowing he won at the Glen last year I figured this was a good weekend to make the trip,” Flynn said. “I was already planning a visit to see Emily, so this was just the cherry on top.”
Capturing a memento of their visit the couple snapped selfies in front of the local eatery as Gordon Pirkle Jr. sounded the siren to alert the community that Elliott had won his second race of the season and the fifth race of his career.
“I usually leave it on for about 15 or 20 minutes,” Pirkle Jr. said. “It gives everybody a chance to come by and celebrate with us.”
Tony Brown and his son, Matthew, were amongst the roughly two-dozen people who gathered in the street to cheer and wave at the stream of cars that passed by, honking their horn as passengers yelled out the windows.
“We happened to be here visiting the museum (the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame) and noticed that the race was on and almost over,” Brown said. “We had never been to the Pool Room before, so we came on over to see what it was all about.”
Fans celebrated along Bill Elliott Street for another twenty minutes before Pirkle Jr. silenced the siren and talk turned to next week’s race, the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway (where Elliott has an average finish of 7.4 over 7 races in his career), when it was agreed that everyone would meet again to watch Elliott continue is pursuit of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Championship.