NASCAR Race Weekend Central
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The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2015 Axalta We Paint Winners 400 at Pocono

Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, 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?

Sometimes, it’s about more than just your finishing position. For defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., it could have ended in disappointment in his 11th-place result, but instead, it was about seeing his longtime friend get a hard-earned win. Earnhardt joined Martin Truex Jr., looking as thrilled as if he had won the race himself. Truex won a pair of Xfinity Series titles driving for Earnhardt before getting his first Sprint Cup ride.

In some ways, Earnhardt probably was just as thrilled. After all, he knows what it’s like to struggle through a winless drought, and his appearance in Victory Lane was clearly important to Truex. It’s easy to think of the drivers as fierce competitors, but sometimes they remind us they can also be close friends.

What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?

Going into Sunday’s race, many feared that the bumps in turn 2, a side effect of Pocono Raceway’s revamping of the infield tunnels, would cause mayhem Sunday. But that didn’t prove to be the case. What did give some drivers fits, though, were the tires on their racecars, which were prone to giving out at inopportune moments during the race. Several teams had problems, with some resulting in spins or crashes. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, Danica Patrick and Sam Hornish Jr. all found out the hard way while others like Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard got lucky and were able to get to pit road without too much damage.

While some of the issues could have come from debris on track, two-tire pit strategy or contact with other cars, tires in general are a frustrating piece of the NASCAR puzzle these days. It seems that they either don’t wear at all or have catastrophic failures instead of doing what a good racing tire should: wearing out before the end of a fuel run and making driving difficult, bringing strategy into play. With the technology that goes into producing tires these days, surely there’s something that could be improved.

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Kurt Busch summed it all up after the race when he said that while his team did everything well, they didn’t do everything quite well enough for the win. Busch led the field to green after winning the pole, but never led a lap on Sunday. He didn’t run badly, staying inside the top 10 for the vast majority of the day and finishing a respectable fifth. Busch has been both fast and solid this season, and with his Chase berth all but assured anyway following his Richmond win he can afford to experiment. As long as Busch doesn’t fall behind, there’s nothing to worry about for the 2004 champion.

Earnhardt won this race a year ago, and he visited Victory Lane again this time around, but this time it was to congratulate his friend Truex on his win. Earnhardt had a top-five car at times, but some late contact with teammate Kasey Kahne cost him a few positions in the closing laps, dropping him just outside the top 10 to 11th. Like Busch, Earnhardt and his team aren’t worried, and if they’re learning something for the Chase, they have no reason to be.

When… did it all go sideways?

Some days it’s just not your day, and Sunday was not Menard’s day. The Richard Childress Racing driver was caught speeding during his first pit stop, which came under green flag conditions. He was too fast on every segment of pit road, leading to speculation that his tachometer and dash light were not correct. Sure enough, Menard sped through every segment on his return trip for a pass-through penalty. Menard finally served his penalty, a stop and go, without incurring any more, only to cut a tire a couple of laps later. Small things like these, when they add up for a team, lend a new appreciation for what they can go through every week en route to what many perceive as a subpar finish. Sometimes, the finishing spot doesn’t come close to telling the story.

Why… did Truex win the race?

Truex’s win at Pocono should surprise exactly nobody. The driver has led more laps than anyone else the last four races and has looked capable of winning since Daytona. This victory has been coming for at least a month, and if not for a little bad luck along the way, Truex could easily have three or four. His Furniture Row Racing organization, a far cry from the backmarker who was barely making races a few years ago, has the look of a team that could easily reel off three or four wins before Chase time. They had a win along the way with Regan Smith, but even former champion Busch couldn’t make them look like a real title threat. They look like one now.

For Truex, the win was emotional on many levels, redeeming his own fall from racing grace at Michael Waltrip Racing (ironically, Truex was the beneficiary of Spingate, but didn’t take part in it and likely didn’t even know what was happening). Off-track, he dealt with longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex’s battle with cancer, plus the death of his grandmother last Wednesday. His Victory Lane celebration was memorable for that, an injection of real, pure human emotion in a sport that sometimes seems bland and vanilla.

How… did the little guys do?

Furniture Row Racing; Truex (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy): It was a month coming, and finally the No. 78 team was able to seal the deal at Pocono. For the fourth race in a row, Truex led more laps than any other driver, but this week, he also led the one that counts. Nobody should be surprised after the season the team has had. Old friend Earnhardt, who visited Victory Lane with Truex, had one more message for him on Twitter afterward.

WOLKIN: Truex Win Turns Him Into Title Contender

Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Call this one a mixed result for Mears. 16th place was the No. 13 team’s best finish since Martinsville, but that 15th-to-20th area is where the team should be capable of most weeks. Remember, they’ve got the same stuff as Truex, and Germain’s performance hasn’t quite reflected what they’re capable of. It hasn’t always been Mears’ or his team’s fault, but the results need to be like this one more often. Mears was quick to congratulate Truex, who is a de facto teammate through the pair’s alliance with RCR.

Circle Sport; Ty Dillon (No. 33 Yuengling Chevy): Bear in mind that the No. 33 was a full RCR effort this week, but the team has a solid top-20 finish for Dillon, who started 29th and raced his way to 18th. He beat older brother and Cup regular Austin Dillon by one position this week, and that should make for some interesting conversation at the next family get together.

HScott Motorsports; Michael Annett & Justin Allgaier (No. 46 Sherwin Williams Chevy & No. 51 SEM Chevy): Allgaier needed a decent day after two straight finishes of 42nd or worse, and he bounced back to grab a 20th-place result at Pocono. Annett has had some terrible luck in 2015. Whether a second car was too much, too soon for Harry Scott or something else is afoot at the Circle K, Annett has had a much rockier 2015. After having some strong runs for Tommy Baldwin Racing last year, he has only cracked the top 25 twice this season. This week was not one of them; Annett didn’t have trouble on track, but struggled home in 34th.

Hillman Smith Racing; Landon Cassill (No. 40 Interstate Moving Services Chevy): It might seem odd to criticize some teams in this section for finishes that are praiseworthy for others, and it certainly illustrates the disparity between teams even in the same basic bracket. Cassill grabbed his second top 25 in a row with his 25th-place lead-lap run, and for his team, that’s quite an achievement.

Tommy Baldwin Racing; Bowman (No. 7 Accell Construction Chevy): Bowman spun just past halfway, but damage to the No. 7 was minimal, and he went on to grab a solid 26th-place lead-lap finish. TBR has shown some definite improvement in the last couple of seasons and would really be one to watch with a little more funding.

Front Row Motorsports; Brett Moffitt & Cole Whitt & David Gilliland (No. 34 Dockside Logistics Ford & No. 35 Ford & No. 38 MDS Ford): All three FRM drivers took home top-30 finishes this week, with Gilliland in 27th, Whitt 28th and Moffitt 30th after a somewhat more eventful day. The No. 34 got up into the slippery high groove and spun by Brad Keselowski, who also got into trouble in the same area during the closing laps. Keselowski was quick to take his share of the blame afterward, though some initially blamed Moffitt.

Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): Wise narrowly avoided Bowman’s spin but got through unscathed to finish 29th. When you talk about a small team improving in stages, from top 35s to top 30s and so on, this team is in the stage where the occasional top 30 isn’t a bad day. This week falls into that category, for sure.

BK Racing; JJ Yeley & Jeb Burton & Matt DiBenedetto (No. 23 Dr. Pepper/Heinz Toyota & No. 26 Maxim Fantasy Sports Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): Yeley was on on pit road by lap 38 due to overheating – his car was venting water as his crew looked under the hood. He did make it to the end of the race, but his teammates both had better days, with DiBenedetto again showing the way for the team in 32nd and Burton on his heels in 33rd. Yeley brought up the rear in 36th. Consistent high 30s finishes are about where the team is right now, so no surprises but no huge disappointments, either.

GoFAS Racing; Travis Kvapil (No. 32 Visone RV Parts Energy Ford): Kvapil, making his first GoFAS Cup start of 2015, drove the car to a 35th-place result, about par for the course for the No. 32 this season. This team is one which has been stagnant for a couple of years.

JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Clorox Chevy): Allmendinger was racing inside the top 10 late in the game when the No. 47 stepped out just enough to get him sideways. The issue happened while racing with Ryan Newman; both drivers suffered heavy damage as a result of the lap 141 crash. Allmendinger went on to finish 38th, still in search of the magic the team seemed to have found in 2014.

Premium Motorsports; Brendan Gaughan (No 62 Chevy): Gaughan struggled to keep pace for most of the race until an electrical issue knocked him out in the final quarter. Owner Jay Robinson is in over his head on this venture, a 40th-place finish not much better than a 43rd starting spot. Gaughan is a steady, journeyman driver but he can only do so much in an underfunded car.

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

17 comments

  1. Avatar

    Joey Logano’s grandmother died very recently in the middle of a busy week, (his fathers mother), not a word from him and nobody seemed to know. Good for him keeping things private. He was Ct. bound.

  2. Avatar

    Amy, They were single file by lap 3. They were single file with 10 to go and pretty much finished that way. So obviously, the problem is the fans.

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      Love today’s society in general…demonize the truth tellers and continue to tow the false narrative no matter how many people have their eyes open and can see the sport for what it is currently and that the Emperor clearly has no clothes on.

    • Avatar

      you know it is all our fault for not “appreciating” the way things are in the sport these days.

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        I know..we are just a bunch of nothing no good malcontents… :) :) :)

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          I would rather sit on the bench with any of the no good malcontents than just accepting NASCAR the way it is right now. We’d have a lot of fun together.

          • Avatar

            I think watching you regulars go back and forth about the sport would be just as much fun to watch as any Cup race that has been held thus far this year.

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            Heck yes we would. I have a “little update” that gets circulated to family and friends with my viewpoint of the key points of the race the following Monday, it is not for the faint of heart… Providing I am watched any of it of course”. And we just laugh and laugh, it’s good or the soul! The people I know are like the people who post on The Frontstretch and they are totally fed up too! It’s fun being a malcontent!!!! Tim..come and join us….lol!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  3. Avatar

    Just not that interesting of a race. Last year it was better, but this track having 2 races is silly. The race was run mostly single file except for the restarts when the usual mayhem went on just like most of the tracks.

    congrats to Martin Truex and his team, they’ve been showing they have it together and finally got the win.

    As far as the tire issues, well, this has been an ongoing problem for years. For a brief period in 2014, Goodyear appeared to actually have a tire that would wear out rather than fail and it produced a few good races. But that was shortlived and by mid season 2014, it was back to rock hard tires or failures. Certainly the tire situation plays a part in why there is little or no passing regardless of what the “loop data” says. Cars taking the lead under green flag stops and showing multiple cars passed is misleading information at best.

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      Gina, I understand where you are coming from in regards to Pocono having in two races but can it really be attributed to single file racing when just about every race is single file with the pit strategy determining the winners? In my opinion NASCAR needs to rework the cars to get some air under them.

      I agree with you on the tires as well. The tires have been rock hard for too long. As you said Goodyear had a softer tire mid-season 2014 it didn’t last long as I recall the teams, (especially the 48) were very vocal of not liking the tire due to suddenly having to manage the tires. For the short time that they ran the tires I felt the racing was better as it really put racing back into the drivers hands and did away with some of the “slot-car” action that fans had been seeing up to that point.

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        I agree with both of you on the tires. It used to be really interesting when tire management was part of the equation. You’d see guys lose positions early in a run and then gain them back when the leaders ran their tires down. I miss that. If someone wanted to push the tires to make the entire fuel run and the tire blew, oh well, you should have come in earlier.

        I still felt Pocono exceeded my expectations. For the first time I actually DVR’d it, sat down an hour after it started, and didn’t watch one commercial or any Michael Waltrip/Chris Meyers segments. Maybe that’s why it exceeded my expectations…LOL.

        • Avatar

          That’s what I don’t understand Bill. Back in 2014 when they ran a softer tire the reaction from NASCAR and the Booth when there were tires going down wasn’t that teams pushed it too hard or should have managed their tires better. Instead the reaction was that Goodyear failed in some way which for anyone that has followed racing for a couple of decades would find to be a curious reaction. It was as if NASCAR and the guys in the booth forgot all about the concept of tire management from their pasts. I sort of looked at it as fallout of the “everybody wins” and no one is held for their actions society that seems to be all the rage now. Let’s not point out that you as a driver ran your tires into the ground, instead we’ll go take it out on the tire manufacturer.

          • Avatar

            Exactly right, the softer tires did force drivers to manage their tires and as noted, the 48 team wasn’t very good at it. It didn’t take long for Goodyear to go back to rock hard tires after that. Also as you say, the booth constantly harping on the tire failures — well, that happens sometimes in racing but like it has become in our society in general, it is always someone or something else who is to blame.

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          Bill, It’s the only way to watch without pulling all your hair out.

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            Yes DVR so you can FF thru the majority of the race and in particular the Mikey Waltrip segments makes watching the race more pleasant.

            As the summer gets warmer though, I was thinking of trying Matt M’s method of pony bottle racing during the broadcasts. Of course I won’t be able to DO much of anything after that, but it is also a way to make watching less annoying.

      • Avatar

        Chris, I hear you. It isn’t just Pocono. There are a lot of tracks where the racing is pretty much a single file event, including Charlotte. Last year’s Pocono races were pretty good as I recall, but that was with last year’s rules package.

        I’m not blaming Pocono per se but IMO NASCAR is really to blame for making more changes to the cars that weren’t necessary.

        Or of course as is the wont of the various media/writers – just blame the fans for not being willing to accept whatever junk we see on the track and refusing to call it great racing.

  4. Avatar

    I hope Danica has learned that if the right side of the car is pancaked by the wall there is a good chase the tire rub will cause flat tires and a spin and maybe more body damage. I guess she needs harder tires.