Key Moment – Qualifying was rained out which put Jimmie Johnson on the pole for the Party in the Poconos 400. The rest, as they say, is history.
In a Nutshell – Jimmie Johnson led early, Jimmie Johnson led in the middle, Jimmie Johnson led late. That’s all she wrote.
There were a myriad of caution flags in the last 34 laps that presented several restarts; any of them could have caught Johnson out. But there was no jumping the gun this time, one week after a Dover penalty killed Johnson’s chances. His 63rd career victory was also his first at Pocono since he swept both races there in 2004.
Dramatic Moment – At one point, Ryan Newman was on an alternate pit strategy that could have resulted in him possibly outlasting Johnson to the finish, assuming a meteor hit the track, the cars suddenly ran on solar power and a dark cloud descended over just Johnson’s car. Other than that, there wasn’t any drama in the entire race.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Love it or hate it, the Chase is the only thing that can make this year’s title race anything but a blowout. Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are on a completely different level from the rest of the competition right now. Certainly, they have had a couple of off races but they’re 51 points ahead of second place and looking to rack up as many bonus points as they can before the Chase starts.
AJ Allmendinger is going to be in the No. 47 next week to help them evaluate where their race program is lacking. Apparently Jeremy Mayfield, Tyler Walker and AJ Fike weren’t available to do a more thorough team health analysis? It would seem smarter for JTG Daugherty to pick someone like Elliott Sadler or Brian Vickers, who have actually won a race in the Cup series versus someone who’s most famous for taking Adderall in a nightclub in Kentucky. While Allmendinger has five top 5s in his 178 career starts, Sadler has three wins, 19 top 5s, and the experience of 431 Cup starts. Vickers has two wins and 24 top 5s in 268 Cup starts. There are a lot of reasons smaller teams struggle, and bad decisions by management can certainly be a big one.
After the win by Tony Stewart at Dover, people were questioning if Stewart-Haas Racing was turning the corner and heading in the right direction or if it was just a one-hit wonder. Quick answer: they’re gaining momentum. Stewart landed another top-5 finish, just ahead of his teammate Ryan Newman, who finished fifth for his second top 5 of the season. The road ahead is still a long and arduous one for the top two drivers at SHR to make the Chase. However, consistent top 5s could certainly lead to wins and at least a Wild Card in the Chase, if not a top-10 points finish in the “regular season”.
After Fontana in March, the mood over the new race car was upbeat and optimistic. A track that was notorious for hosting some less than exciting races had put on one of the best competitions the Cup Series had seen in a long time. Since then, though the bloom has come off of the rose and Sunday was the epitome of single-file, follow the leader racing. There were three on-track passes for the lead, all of which were Jimmie Johnson blowing by someone to regain his rightful place at the point. Drivers, after the race acknowledged that there was no way to make up ground once the cars stretched out after just a few laps of racing. It’s a damning statement, one that does not bode well for the Gen-6 car. The car is unquestionably faster than the older one but, similar to racing well at a short track, sometimes you have to slow down to put on a better show. If NASCAR could slow these cars down by 15-20 mph, the competition on-track would be far better than it is now.
Chase Elliott won the ARCA race at Pocono to become the youngest winner in the history of the historic sanctioning body’s life. While the feat is impressive, it is worth noting that Elliott was in a Hendrick-backed car with Cup support behind it against a less than stellar field of competition. There’s no question that the apple has not fallen far from the tree, though and Elliott has driving talent. It will be interesting to see how he progresses when he gets into the upper divisions of NASCAR against equipment and talent that are similar.
Another legacy driver who rose to the occasion this past weekend was Jeb Burton. The son of Ward Burton and nephew of Jeff, the 20-year-old from Halifax, Virginia scored the first win of his career in the Camping World Truck Series at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday night.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
While Jimmie Johnson was completely dominating the Party in the Poconos, Kasey Kahne was hitting the Oh No on the Allegheny Plateau. Kahne hadn’t even taken the green flag when he radioed Kenny Francis to tell him something fell off the car, causing a violent vibration. Kahne didn’t really come up to speed and was in the garage by his second lap, replacing his drivetrain. In the end, he came home with a 36th-place finish after logging laps for the majority of the day 21 laps down to his teammate.
Paul Menard was on his way to a finish around 15th that would have kept him in the top 10 for another week. Instead, on the final lap, he lost a tire and dropped back to a 30th-place result. While he’s still in the top 12, he needs to step up and grab a win or two to put himself solidly back in the top 10… or he’ll be on the outside looking in at the Chase.
Matt Kenseth ran in the top six for the first 134 laps of the race before he found himself on the outside of Juan Pablo Montoya in the Tunnel Turn. A slip by the No. 42 and some minor contact on the left rear quarterpanel dropped Kenseth from fifth to 26th. When the checkered flag flew, Kenseth had only gained one spot over the final 20 laps to wrangle a 25th-place finish.
Kenseth’s former Roush Fenway teammate Carl Edwards started strong, only to end with a whimper. Edwards was second on the grid, thanks to his point position and actually passed Jimmie Johnson on the first lap to lead the first nine laps of the race. He stayed in the second spot for 60 laps before beginning a gradual slide that took him to ninth by lap 110. In the end, Edwards crossed the line in 18th.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Ryan Newman tried a different pit strategy on Sunday and fortunately, the end result was he caught the caution flag just right that left him at the front of the pack and resulted in a top-5 finish. Having not scored a top 5 since Daytona, this was a very uplifting result for the No. 39 team.
Greg Biffle was a middle of the pack driver for 80% of Sunday’s race but, when it came time to pay the money, Biffle was at the front. The rapid fire restarts at the end of the race allowed for him to move from seventh to fifth to second. While the drought wasn’t quite as long as Newman’s, this was still the second top 5 of the year for Biffle and his first since race seven in Texas.
Kurt Busch left Dover quite disappointed after vying for the win before coming home in 12th place. He made up for that quickly this week as one of the few drivers who was able to make a significant move forward early. Busch started 20th, but was in eighth by lap 20. He then spent the remainder of the race in that general vicinity, taking the checkered flag in seventh and gaining two spots in the standings to 15th.
There was a group of drivers who all made a substantial move to the front, primarily in the late stages of the race that started in the 20s. Joey Logano started 21st and finished 10th. Jeff Burton started 24th and finished 11th. Jamie McMurray started 22nd and ended up 13th while Montoya started 25th and wound up 14th. Had to give each of these drivers a little love for making the move from the 20s to the teens.
- Jimmie Johnson has won 63 races in his 13-year Cup career. That puts him 21 wins short of the top five on the All-Time Wins list.
- Johnson’s win was his third of his career at Pocono and his 16th career top 10 at the triangular track in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
- Johnson’s win is his third of 2013, which ties him with Matt Kenseth for most in the series. It also marks the 11th year in his 12 full seasons of Cup racing that he has notched three or more wins in a season.
- The second-place finish for Greg Biffle is his second top 5 of the season and his first in the last 7 races. Biffle has finished in the top 5 at Pocono three times in his career.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the line in third place. Earnhardt has four top-5 finishes this season and six at Pocono in his career.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 26th and won Rookie of the Race.
- Joey Logano has more top 5s and top 10s than Greg Biffle but his two DNFs are the reason he is 16th in points and Biffle is in the top 10.
- Denny Hamlin is now 76 points out of the top 20 with 12 races to go to the Chase cutoff. If you listen closely, there is an overweight woman warming up her vocal chords in the pits.
- NASCAR announced its Next roster for 2013. Playing off of the Next Nine that it debuted in 2011, this is a group of drivers that have the potential to be future stars of NASCAR in the years to come. Michael Self is a name on that list that many fans won’t recognize. He will become a more common name in the future after winning the East/West shootout for the K&N Series at Iowa on Friday night.
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson’s victory, combined with Carl Edwards finishing 18th, gives him a 51 point lead heading into Michigan. Johnson can now take an entire weekend of racing off and still not lose the points lead. Without the Chase, this point race would be looking like a walkover. Edwards hangs onto second, by 18 over Clint Bowyer. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s podium finish at Pocono moved him up two spots in the points to fourth, five ahead of Kevin Harvick, who caps off the top 5. Bowyer and Earnhardt are both in the top 5 without the benefit of a win.
At the head of the second half of the top 10 is Matt Kenseth. While he is tied for the lead in wins, he’s got three DNFs which slots him in 103 points out of the top spot. Kyle Busch is six points behind Kenseth after coming home sixth at Pocono. In eighth place is Kasey Kahne, whose disastrous 36th-place run at Pocono only cost him one spot in the standings. Next, Brad Keselowski led a couple of times in Sunday’s race but wound up 16th when the checkered flag flew. The defending champ finds himself ninth in points with no wins in the bank yet this year. Rounding out the top 10 is Greg Biffle on the strength of his second-place run. Biffle gained three spots on Sunday thanks to that finish. Right now, Tony Stewart is the only driver outside of the top 10 with a win. He’s got a lock on the first Wild Card spot for the Chase right now. Jeff Gordon would have the second since he is 11th in points.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – The only thing missing at Pocono on Sunday that you’ll see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the giant balloons. The passes on track that occurred beyond three laps from a start or restart could be counted on a couple of hands and feet. Fortunately, there were five caution flags in the last 34 laps so that the restarts afforded some contrived excitement. The fact that there were Ambien commercials during this race was ironic; it was a sleep-inducing affair rating a single, warm, moldy can of Schmidt. Not sure what it will take the make this better but slowing these cars down would go a long way.
Next Up — The series heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan for another barn burner at Michigan International Speedway. Even though Fontana afforded the most exciting race of the season to date, its sister track in Brooklyn isn’t going to be able to duplicate it thanks to the recent repave. The fresh surface is going to keep everyone pinned to the bottom for the entire event with minimal passing for the lead. Turn your tubes to TNT at 1:00 PM on Sunday or set your radio on your local MRN affiliate at the same time.
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