DIX, N.Y. (AP) — William Byron dominated the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, notching his Cup Series-leading fifth victory of the season.
Driving the No. 24 Chevrolet for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, Byron overtook Michael McDowell in the first quarter of the 90-lap event and pretty much remained in control the rest of the way. He led 66 laps in all, including the final 33.
Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin was second, nearly 3 seconds back, followed by Christopher Bell, AJ Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs.
It was Byron’s first win on a road course in six Cup seasons, this one coming in the penultimate race of the regular season. Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth but failed to lock up the regular-season title for Joe Gibbs Racing. He and Hamlin will vie for the regular-season crown next weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
Always-unpredictable Daytona will be the last chance for more than two dozen drivers — most notably 2020 series champion and fan favorite Chase Elliott — to make the 16-team playoffs.
Elliott, a two-time winner at the Glen, had hoped to lock up a postseason spot Sunday. But the Hendrick star qualified in the middle of the pack and then ruined his chances when he ran out of fuel with 36 laps to go. He lost a lap and all hope of winning.
Elliott will have to win at Daytona to make the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season. Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez will be equally anxious at Daytona. The two are in a tight race for the 16th and final spot. Both would be eliminated from contention if either doesn’t win and there’s not a repeat winner.
Former series champions Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski eased their nerves by locking up playoff spots at the Glen, both securing spots because Byron was a repeat winner.
McDowell, who notched his second Cup win last week at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, endured several struggles on pit road that cost him a chance at winning back-to-back races. He finished 36th, last.
McDowell, who led 17 laps and won the opening stage, was penalized early in the second for driving through too many stalls while entering his pit. The pass-through penalty dropped him from second to 17th. He had another pit-road penalty in the final stage, that one for crew members going over the safety wall too early.
McDowell ended up back in the pits with 15 laps to go with an engine issue.
“The highs and lows of motorsports,” McDowell said. “I think we had one of the fastest cars here today.”
The series goes to Daytona for the regular-season finale on Saturday night. Austin Dillon is the defending race winner.