Who’s in the headline – For the first time in month, Kyle Busch is not the main story coming out of a Cup race. He was half a lap from taking another trophy, but it was his teammate Matt Kenseth who came home with the hardware. In a crazy race that featured seven cautions in the first half and then turned into a fuel-mileage deal, it was Kenseth who was the first car across the line. Joey Logano sat poised to take the win, but ran out of fuel with just over two laps to go. Martin Truex Jr.‘s attempt to sweep Pocono also ended with an empty fuel tank on the 158th lap. Busch ran low on the final lap and it was Kenseth, who saved fuel for the entire final stint of the race, that swept by and crossed the line under the checkered flag. It was Kenseth’s first career win at Pocono and first victory on fuel mileage.
What happened – The race started off with a surprising accident by Kasey Kahne. Mimicking the Jeb Burton‘s practice incident on Saturday, Kahne lost it off of turn three and slid down into the pits, hitting the inside wall of pit lane hard. The subsequent damage to the wall resulted in a red flag. After NASCAR issued a competition caution, Kevin Harvick blew an engine and ended with a 42nd-place finish. Over the next 50 laps, five more cautions flew for everything from cars losing power and getting plowed into from behind to Brad Keselowski running into some of his pit crew and his front tire carrier losing his cargo that resulted in a caution to pick it up. With seven cautions before the crossed flags, it looked like the race was well on its way to a record number of yellows; however, after Alex Kennedy spun and backed it into the wall on lap 93 the race ran caution-free. The end result was a large number of the race teams tried to run too far on their final tank of gas. Logano ran out of gas from the lead on lap 158. Truex Jr. ran out on the same lap. Busch looked poised to win his fourth in a row but ran out as he crossed the start/finish line. Another dozen cars ran out of gas over the final two laps, which let some teams who did not look poised to accomplish it finish in the top 10.
Why you should care – With a repeat winner, there isn’t too much to really care about other than Busch attempting to make it into the top 30 in points. Busch held the second position as the laps were winding down. Had he tried to conserve and make sure he finished the race, he would have broken into the top 30 in points. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t make it to the finish line unassisted, so he was scored as the first car one lap down in the 21st position. The result is he did gain 10 points and is now just 13 points out of the top 30. Assuming Busch does get in the top 30, the person who took the biggest hit at Pocono was Kahne. The driver of the No. 5 finished dead last and is now 15th in points and, for all intents and purposes, on the outside looking in at the Chase by 15 points.
What your friends are talking about – Kahne and Burton both made heavy impact with the pit wall at the entrance to the pits this weekend. As safety continues to evolve, we can anticipate a change at Pocono. It may be an extension of the wall that separates the pit road from the race track. It may involve moving the pit stalls towards turn 1. It could even involve a reconfiguration of the Victory Lane so that the track can utilize the pit area directly in front of it. One thing is for sure, there will be a different configuration next season when we come back to the Pocono Mountains.
For those fans who have the pleasure of enjoying hot passes at NASCAR races, you can anticipate there will be new restrictions placed on access to pit road. During Kahne’s wreck there were fans standing in front of a pit box just two stalls from the impact.
NASCAR called for a competition caution on or about lap 15 for Sunday’s race. They called it because an ARCA car dropped some fluid during Saturday’s race and Pocono Raceway cleaned the racing surface overnight. As we have seen repeatedly with these cautions, hardly any teams changed four tires. Those who came down pit lane changed two or no tires for the most part and seven teams didn’t bother pitting at all. NASCAR feeds us a line of crap that the competition cautions are for safety so that teams can check tire wear. Either have the teams all have to change four tires or don’t have the caution at all. This contrived BS is ridiculous and serves no purpose.
The big story off of the track this week is Rob Kauffman, principal in Michael Waltrip Racing and president of the Race Team Alliance announcing that he had invested into Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. At the track, Kauffman met with the media to make a statement but did not elaborate on what the ultimate organization will look like. He emphasized that he is a business partner and co-owner of MWR with Michael Waltrip. This investment is apparently designed to put the best product possible on the track. Whether that is two, three or four cars is yet to be determined and is apparently dependent on how well the MWR teams run for the remainder of the season.
Who is mad – Logano has finished second to Kyle Busch in two of his last three wins. He hasn’t been able to win a race since his victory in the Daytona 500. He has one career win at Pocono and was in the top four the previous two visits to the track. He had the strategy to take the win, but it required a lot of fuel saving and, in the end, he came up short. While he’s in the Chase, he has to feel like he’s chasing the Joe Gibbs Racing cars, and a win on Sunday would have been a big momentum swing for his team.
Trevor Bayne is part of the Roush Fenway Racing stable who have been struggling this season to compete for top 10s, let alone wins. He was crashed out of last weekend’s Brickyard 400 and was looking to just have a solid finish at Pocono. He had himself in the mid-teens and was looking for a quality finish when a piece of a header went through his nose, took out the radiator and killed his engine. The entire RFR stable has struggled to finish well when they haven’t had issues. It is even harder to swallow when it is a fluke incident.
Cole Whitt is battling hard to keep himself in the top 30 in points. A part of the small budget Front Row Motorsports team it is a struggle to keep himself in position to hang onto that 30th position. When trying to get everything you can on the restarts you put yourself in some precarious positions. The last thing you expect when you do that is to be drilled by one of the powerhouse team members. Whitt went into turn one on a restart on the inside of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR’s most popular driver drove down onto the right front of Whitt’s car. The damage wasn’t too severe but cost Whitt some spots. In the end he still managed a 27th-place finish.
Who is happy – Greg Biffle is the flagship driver for RFR these days but he’s not immune to the struggles of the entire organization. Biffle managed a top five at the Coca-Cola 600 with a runner-up run, but that was his only run in the top-five positions before Sunday. Biffle used some strategy and some fuel mileage to take advantage of the people who ran out at the end of the race to come home in a fifth-place position. While it wasn’t a run for the win it was still a great boost for a struggling team.
Clint Bowyer spent the entire weekend having to field inquiries about his team owner and how that would affect his future in the sport. He’s trying to get himself in position to make the Chase on points, which is going to be a challenge at this point with Busch coming quickly from behind. Bowyer ran an unassuming race which included some conservative pit calls. In the end he crossed the line in eighth position for his second consecutive top 10. It is only the second time this season he’s strung together two or more top 10s in a row. Bowyer is in a real battle to make the Chase, but the events at Pocono worked in his favor on Sunday.
Landon Cassill scored his second finish above 20th all season on Sunday thanks to some successful fuel strategy and some strong driving. Cassill has been doing yeoman’s work with underfunded cars this season and Sunday was his best effort on a non-plate track this season. Interestingly, Michael Waltrip tweeted a compliment about Cassill during the race which elicited a response from a fan that the MWR co-owner should hire him. If he continues to work his magic in the No. 40 someone with some stronger equipment should give him an opportunity.
When the checkered flag flew
Kenseth scored his first career victory at Pocono Raceway in 32 career starts. The win is his 33rd career triumph in 565 career starts. 33 wins puts Kenseth in a tie with Busch and Fireball Roberts for 20th on the all-time win list. This is Kenseth’s second victory of 2015.
Brad Keselowski rebounded from trying to kill his crew members for a second-place run. It is his fourth top-two finish of the season and third second-place run. This was Keselowski’s third career top-two at Pocono. Sunday was the 13th time in his career that Keselowski has come across the finish line in second position which is in a tie for 53rd all-time.
Jeff Gordon finished third for his 15th career top-three run at Pocono. This was Gordon’s second podium run of the season. Gordon’s third-place run was his 228th career podium finish, which is fourth on the all-time list.
Matt DiBenedetto finished 29th to claim the Rookie of the Race honors.
Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. With five races left before the Chase, all of the race winners are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events. Kyle Busch will be locked in assuming he can make it into the top 30 in points, which would mean down to 14th in points would make it in.
The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 21 races without wins and their standing in points:
10) Jeff Gordon
12) Paul Menard
13) Ryan Newman
14) Clint Bowyer
15) Kasey Kahne
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $7,460704 in 21 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,726,242.
In the Xfinity Series it has been $1,493,473 for the winners and $269,196 for last place following 19 races.
After 12 Truck races the winner has $634,145 and the last loser has banked $117,788.
What is in the cooler – If you are a fan for gratuitous wrecking, then Sunday’s first half of the race was right up your alley. Seven caution flags and a red flag, four of them for accidents, made the race look more like an ARCA race with young, raw racers rather than the best stock car drivers on the planet. The second half of the race was all about strategy with 67 consecutive green-flag laps and a fuel gamble by some 20 teams. In the end you still couldn’t pass and track position meant everything so, it was just another aero dependent Cup series race. We’ll give it three cold Pocono Pale Ales from Barley Creek Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – After back-to-back 2.5-mile tracks that were treated like road courses by crew chiefs, the series actually heads to the second road course on the schedule. Watkins Glen has the potential to provide a ticket to the Chase for a driver who isn’t currently in point position to make it in. Of course it could also be another win for Kyle Busch. Tune in to NBC Sports Network at 2:00 p.m. ET. If you aren’t in front of a TV or just like to listen to your races, you can hear the action on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.