Clean air reigned supreme on Sunday at Watkins Glen as Martin Truex Jr. was unable to pass Chase Elliott.
For all practical purposes, the Go Bowling at The Glen was over the moment Chase Elliott cleared Martin Truex Jr. off the final restart with 25 laps to go.
Truex knew the restart would be decisive too, as clean air had trumped speed all afternoon, so he proceeded to beat the hell out of Elliott’s door panel through the first several turns in the hopes of getting downforce on his nose so he could drive away.
He could never get clean air, and once Elliott cleared Truex, he stayed out front for the remainder of the race.
It looked much more perilous for Elliott than that, however, as Truex remained within less than a half second to almost a full second of the lead for the duration of the finish.
The closest Truex ever got was three-tenths of a second.
Truex was clearly quicker than Elliott and that allowed the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 to get within striking distance of Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, but not enough to get beside him or to his back bumper.
The only exceptions were when Elliott came across lapped traffic, the leader losing the precious clean air that afforded him the advantage in the first place. Elliott nearly lost the lead as he came across two lapped down drivers racing side-by-side for position.
But once Elliott emerged from those two instances with the lead, Truex could only drive deep into every corner as possible, hoping to force the leader to overdrive a corner himself.
That never happened.
Truex ran into a pocket of air every time he got close enough to Elliott. The 2019 Cup Series rules package, even with the 750-horsepower variation used on short tracks and road courses, didn’t provide enough power for Truex to burst the figurative bubble.
He even said as much over his team’s radio communication as he pursued Elliott.
“It’s like a wall of air, man,” Truex said to crew chief Cole Pearn.
New for this season’s rule configuration is a spoiler that is over 6 inches taller than the one used in 2018 when both Elliott and Truex battled for the win here in 2018. There are other aerodynamic considerations, but the spoiler creates a wake of dirty air that buffets a trailing car in the corners.
“We passed everybody we needed to at the front there; just couldn’t get the 9,” Truex said of his battle with Elliott. “We were definitely faster than him, but you’ve got to be a lot faster than somebody here to pass them today with this package.
“We did as good as we good with what we had, and, really, it all came down to that last restart. We beat and banged hard for it going up through the Esses, but he came out on top, and that was the race.”
Elliott started the race from the pole, and as such had an extremely fast car, but suspected that Truex had a faster car at the end of the race — track position and clean air making the difference.
“I felt like he was a little faster than we were really in all reality, and track position was king, and just having the clean air I think made the difference,” the back-to-back Watkins Glen winner said during his post-race press conference. “Getting out in front of him on the restart and then guys doing a good job on pit road and not having any mistakes, that was a big deal.”
Elliott took some degree of exception to how hard Truex raced him on that final restart. There was even concern in the No. 9 camp that Elliott may have punctured a tire due to contact from the No. 19.
Both Elliott and Truex agreed that it was going to take a bobble or a mistake for the outcome to have changed.
“The guy in front had to have a little bit of a bobble at the right time,” Elliott said. “You could bobble, but you just couldn’t do it at the wrong spot. So, I just tried really hard to not to make any mistakes and not give it to him.
“I felt like he was a little better. If he was going to beat me, I wanted him to come up there and out–brake me and pass me. I wanted to make it as hard as I could on him and not hand it to him was my goal.”
Mission accomplished for Elliott.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pass him,” Truex added. “I’d get to two-lengths and lose all grip. I was really trying to keep the pressure on him, just hoping for a mistake; but he did a great job. Hit all his marks, and his car was good in some key areas where there was just no way I was going to get a run on him.
“You really fight a penalty (running) behind guys with this package, and, like I said, I passed some other cars that were up front but weren’t near as fast as we were.”
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