WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Like father, like son.
Mired in a confounding losing streak since the start of his NASCAR Cup Series career in 2016, Chase Elliott finally broke into the win column, holding off road-course ace Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday at Watkins Glen International.
The son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, whose first Cup Series win also came on a road course — Riverside International Raceway in Moreno Valley, California, in 1983 in his 124th start — Chase celebrated a triumph he will cherish forever.
Out of fuel after the finish, the 22-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia, native was pushed to victory lane by the banged-up No. 48 Chevrolet of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson — a Hendrick Motorsports teammate and one of his staunchest supporters — as Bill Elliott raced to join the celebration after working as his son's spotter.
Toss in the raucous cheers of the sellout crowd, and it doesn't get much better than that.
"It's something I'll never forget," said the younger Elliott, who has eight second-place finishes in his Cup Series career. "I was going to do a burnout, but I ran out of gas. Certainly glad that we were on the front end today."
Elliott's victory came in his 99th Cup Series start and was the 250th win for Hendrick, breaking a 37-race losing streak for one of NASCAR's signature teams. It also assured Elliott of a spot in the playoffs as he became only the fifth driver outside of the "Big 3" of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Truex to win a points race this season. The dominant trio have combined to win 16 of 22 races in 2018, and Truex tried his best to add to that pile.
He ran second to Elliott for most of the final stage and began to steadily close as both drivers tried to save enough gas to reach the end of the 90-lap race. It turned into a two-car breakaway with the rest of the field more than 11 seconds back.
Truex's Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota closed to the back bumper of Elliott's No. 9 Chevy as it bobbled slightly out of the first turn on the final lap around the 2.45-mile natural terrain layout. When Truex's No. 78 Toyota skidded, though, Elliott regrouped and pulled away, and Truex sputtered home, out of fuel.
"I just tried all I could to chase him down, and I got there with plenty of time," Truex said. "It's just every time I'd start putting together some good corners and get close enough to him to even think about making a move, I'd get sideways behind him. He did a good job of putting his car exactly where it needed to be and not making a mistake."
Truex was bidding to become the first Cup Series driver to win three straight road races since Tony Stewart accomplished the feat across the 2004 and '05 seasons. Busch finished third, 20 seconds behind, followed by Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, a triumvirate of Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. Denny Hamlin finished 13th after starting in pole position.
The race promised to turn into a fuel mileage battle as the laps wound down, and nobody has been better with the strategy than Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. All three of Truex's road-course wins were earned in such fashion, including last year at Watkins Glen and two months ago at Sonoma Raceway in California's wine country.
"You feel satisfied," Elliott said. "It's a huge deal. It has not been an easy year. We were getting closer, closer, closer and finally got it done."
Elliott won the race's second stage and brought the crowd to its feet with a pass of Busch. Elliott pulled out to a half-second lead while Truex was fighting to get back to the front after a restart mired him in 12th. Midway through the segment, the Big 3 were running in the top 10, but Elliott dominated and beat Busch by 1.3 seconds.
Busch's day was ruined when Matt DiBenedetto brought out a caution just past the midpoint of the race. The fuel probe malfunctioned on the ensuing pit stop, and the crew only got a few gallons into the No. 18 Toyota. That forced Busch to pit again, dropping him out of contention after dominating the opening segment.
"Every year we come here, we have a fast car and fail to execute, whether that's just called bad luck or whatever," Busch said. "Last year we had a lug nut get stuck in the caliper; this year we had fueling problems. It never ceases to amaze me."
Paul Menard was dealt a blow to his playoff chances before the race started when the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford failed inspection Sunday morning and was sent to the rear of the 37-car field.
Menard entered the race tied for 16th in season points with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who started 23rd. Stenhouse finished 16th, 12 spots ahead of Menard, and leads him by 10 points. The top 16 drivers make the 10-race playoffs, which start in mid-September, and only four races remain in the regular season.
Joey Logano started on the third row and was gunning for his second Watkins Glen sweep. He won both the Xfinity Series and Cup Series races in 2015, and he won the Xfinity Series race Saturday. He lasted less than three laps Sunday after sliding off course and then heading to the garage with a broken radiator, his day done.