WATKINS GLEN, NY — Chase Elliott didn’t need to say a word. It was clear through his silence on the radio in the final laps, his hand gestures while talking to car owner Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon on pit road and his steely glare in the media center how he felt after a teammate. Kyle Larson ran him up the track on the final restart, took the lead and won Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International.
While Elliott fumed after his fourth-place finish, he didn’t badmouth his teammate publicly, but it was clear that winning the regular-season championship — and the 15 playoff points that go with it — didn’t leave Elliott overjoyed.
Asked how he would handle the matter with Larson, Elliott said: “Just offer congratulations and get excited for next week.”
Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, hinted that more than that will happen between the drivers.
“What’s most important is that we have a good cohesive race team internally,” Andrews said. “I think Chase has done a fantastic job. I commend him, for all the grief that was there, some of the things that could have been said. But, again, we will work on it internally.
“I can’t sit here and tell you that Jeff or Mr. Hendrick or I have a plan for anything to do, but we have to have a cohesive race team going into these playoffs. We will work on that.”
Larson said the key to the race was the choice Elliott made for the final restart with five laps left. Elliott started on the left with Larson on the right.
“I knew that was my only chance,” Larson told Marty Snider of NBC Sports. “I’m not proud of it. But being in the inner lane, the right lane, being the leader, choosing the left lane, it necessarily wins. But when it comes late in the race, it’s definitely risky.
“Like I said, I knew that was my only chance to pass him. I felt our cars were pretty even today.”
Asked if he could have done anything different on the restart, Elliott said: “Yeah, I’m sure … it was my fault.”
Both of Larson’s wins this season came at Elliott’s expense.
In Larson’s first win of the season – in February at Auto Club Speedway – Larson forced Elliott into the wall late in the race while fighting for the win.
“I think at Auto Club it was more of an accident,” Larson said. “Today, it was difficult racing at the end on the restart.”
Elliott started a string of whines on his team radio after that incident at Auto Club Speedway. Sunday, he said nothing on the radio.
So did Elliott view Sunday’s incident as similar to what happened at Auto Club?
“It doesn’t matter,” said Elliott, who led a race-high 29 laps. “The day is over… there’s nothing I can do about today. It doesn’t matter.”
He is right but maybe there is something he can do on the track to Larson in the future.
“Honestly, I think in my position you have to expect that I’m not going to get breaks,” Larson said. “You have to weigh all that stuff as you roll around carefully. That’s all that went through my mind.
“I think and I hope it will be good, but we will see. I didn’t finish his day today, but I probably took a win from him. I think we have raced well in the past. The next 11 weeks, 10 weeks in the playoffs, there’s more than just me to worry about.”