Looking for the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Joey Logano became the youngest driver ever to win a Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono on Sunday, but when Mark Martin took the lead on the final restart, it looked for a while like the record would swing to the other end of the spectrum as Martin, had he held on to win, would have been the oldest driver to lay claim to a Pocono Cup trophy. That wasn’t meant to be, but Martin, who held on for second, showed that he’s still got what it takes to contend for race wins.
You have to wonder if races like this make Martin regret his decision to run a partial schedule as Michale Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. is driving toward a Chase berth and the No. 55, which has had three different drivers this year including Martin, sits 13th in owner points. You’d have to think Martin would be within striking distance of the Chase if he’d been in it every week. As it is, Martin, despite having run three fewer races, is ahead of drivers like Regan Smith, AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch in driver points and just 10 behind Jeff Gordon.
What… was THAT?
It’s not uncommon for a couple of teams to test NASCAR’s limits and, as a result, get a penalty for speeding on pit road. But when the final tally for the race is a series record 22 speeding tickets, with all but a couple of them coming in the same segment of pit road, it’s time to take a look at the possibility that it wasn’t the teams’ fault. Whether a line and a scoring loop weren’t correctly aligned, as most teams believed, or that NASCAR wasn’t clear on changes that were made since the repave, the sanctioning body had one opportunity to make it right by stopping the race and checking the scoring loops… and they blew it, thumbing their noses at the teams who lost track position because of the problem. And if they were too busy in the drivers’ meeting introducing the visiting celebrities for the week to thoroughly explain the changes, that’s also on them.
Sure, teams push the envelope; that’s why they have indicators on the dash that tell them when they’re too close for comfort. That every driver caught reported that the indicator stayed green the entire time (a warning light is yellow with red indicating they’ve hit or exceeded the speed limit) is very telling. At one point, Jeff Burton was tagged with a penalty while others passed him in the segment in question and were not penalized. Sure the issue went away when the teams slowed up… but they all lost spots due to a blunder by NASCAR, and every spot is a point — that NASCAR isn’t going to give back.
Where… did the polesitter wind up?
For the first time in 2012, the man who started on the pole was able to seal the deal and take the car to victory lane. Logano ended the day right where he started. His car was fast during the early going; then as pit strategy and many miles began to change things, the No. 20 faded just a bit as Dale Earnhardt Jr. dominated much of the middle of the event. But when it counted, Logano was able to stay out on a late caution while Earnhardt and others were forced to pit for fuel. Martin looked like he might have a shot, taking the lead on the final restart, but Logano, with a faster car, was able to loosen Martin up just enough to slip by and that was all she wrote as the No. 20 opened a commanding lead en route to the checkers.
The win was important for Logano not just this week, but going forward as his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing runs out at the end of the year and speculation had been heating up that Gibbs would replace Logano with another driver like Busch, whom Gibbs has hinted he’d like to sign. The win in itself may not be enough to save Logano’s seat, but it does buy him time to put some strong numbers on the board and prove that nobody else belongs in the No. 20.
When… will I be loved?
Early in a race, especially after rain has washed the track clean, racing above the established groove is generally unwise. And so it was in the early going at Pocono. After a strong 15th-place qualifying effort, Cassill tried to test the outside groove on the first lap of the race, but it just wasn’t there. Cassill couldn’t save it when his No. 83 Toyota broke loose, and he spun into the side of Truex, peeling the side off the No. 56 like a can opener before caroming back across the track and into the outside wall. The wreck also collected Allmendinger. Although Cassill’s day was ended almost before it began, Allmendinger and Truex were able to continue and salvage something, though it was probably little consolation for either driver: Truex limped to a 20th-place finish after lengthy repairs to his machine, and Allmendinger’s day ended for good on lap 66 when he pounded the wall in the No. 22 (which had steering issues after the earlier incident). Cassill’s mistake was that of a young driver trying to get more than perhaps he should have and was not intentional, but that was probably not much comfort for the young driver of a team struggling to stay in the Top 35.
Why… didn’t James Finch give an opportunity to a driver without a Cup ride?
With regular driver Busch serving a 10-day suspension, Phoenix racing owner James Finch needed to fill the seat of the No. 51 Chevy for Pocono. In order to do so, Finch finagled a three-way driver swap that put David Reutimann in the No 51, Dave Blaney in the No. 10 in place of Reutimann and Tony Raines in Blaney’s seat in the No. 36 at Tommy Baldwin Racing. Although it was great to see the small teams working together to help Finch out, it would have been nice to see a driver without a Cup ride (Raines has had some part-time deals this year) given the benefit of the Hendrick equipment that Phoenix races. Why not put Raines in the seat outright? Brian Vickers is in Le Mans this week preparing for the 24-hour race, but why not give a nod to Elliott Sadler, Kenny Wallace, Mike Bliss or Justin Allgaier — all of whom have experience at Pocono?
Reutimann wasn’t a bad choice for the No. 51 fill-in job; but instead of disrupting two additional teams, it would have been nice to see Phoenix give the ride to someone different.
How… did the Pocono repave affect the action?
Other than possibly causing the pit road timing issues if a painted line wasn’t properly aligned with a scoring loop, this was the best repave in terms of the on-track action that we’ve seen in quite some time. The track was faster, but kept the characteristics that make it so difficult, like the bulge in the tunnel turn. There was worry about the possibility of needing to restrict power as practice speeds of 211 mph were recorded going into turn 1, but in the end, plates weren’t necessary and the track was racy all day.
Unlike recent repaving jobs at Bristol, Daytona and Phoenix, the Pocono job actually improved the track without fundamentally changing it, and that’s something we haven’t seen in a long time. And the even better news is that it will only improve throughout the next few years as the pavement ages, which is likely to happen faster given Pocono’s Northeastern location and long, hard winters. The long and short of it is that Pocono has gone to great lengths to improve the fan experience in recent years, and has redefined itself in the process.