Who’s in the headline: Kurt Busch, and rightfully so, is the man to watch in the Sprint Cup Series after winning Sunday’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 from Pocono Raceway. Not only does he now have a stop in the 2016 Chase, but Busch also heads into next week’s race at Michigan International Speedway as a defending race winner. The third-year Stewart-Haas Racing driver has established himself as the most consistent driver in the sport, standing as the only one to complete every lap through 14 races. Busch put a win on his 2016 list after passing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with 32 to go.
What happened – It was a Team Penske sweep of qualifying, but the Ford duo didn’t last long, as each suffered separate problems in the opening 25 laps; Joey Logano was bumped by an angry Ryan Newman, while Brad Keselowski was slapped with a penalty for an illegal body modification during a pit stop.
That opened the door for the powerful Joe Gibbs Racing stable. Matt Kenseth took the lead spot for 28 laps before a Hendrick Motorsports return saw rookie Chase Elliott steal the spotlight for a majority of the afternoon. Leading for 51 laps, Elliott joined Kevin Harvick, Earnhardt and race winner Busch atop the board for Chevrolet.
Behind the leader, though, was a heavy dose of trouble for many contenders. Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon were a few of the big names that found the wall during what was a frantic, drama-filled 400-mile race.
Why you should care – The racing at Pocono Raceway continues to be on the upswing. After years of abysmal action, the Tricky Triangle is on a hot streak since the track was repaved in 2011.
Though it fell victim to rain, the race was one of the best of the year on the NASCAR circuit. It featured 14 lead changes — up two from last year’s version — and showcased why Pocono Raceway President/CEO Brandon Igdalsky is making the track a fan favorite.
Toyota’s dominance was put to a halt on Monday afternoon. Chevrolet horsepower, along with the Team Penske duo for Ford, were the quickest drivers on the day. While Kenseth was out front for 31 laps, he was the only Toyota driver to compete for the victory.
What your friends are talking about – Following a formidable drive by Chase Elliott, how can people not be talking about this rookie? Among the top-5 finishes in his first season on the Sprint Cup Series stage, the one achieved Monday afternoon in Pocono stands as the most robust, as the 20-year-old led 51 laps (more than any driver) before falling short of a first win. Extending a run of 12 straight top-20 finishes, Elliott not only shows his ability to contend for wins, but also to stay out of trouble for months in a row.
No normal crew chief? No problem for Kurt Busch and the No. 41 team, as the lack of Tony Gibson and addition of Johnny Klausmeier proved to have little effect on the team’s status on the racetrack. With a fresh, reinforced engineer outlook, Klausmeier brought Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing the win in Pocono.
Sometimes, the winning team isn’t the only one that proved a thing or two in terms of championship-esque performance. Team Penske drivers Keselowski and Logano started out front after sweeping Friday qualifying and took off with a two-second lead before the competition caution on lap 15. The race, however, took a downward spiral for the team when Keselowski was penalized for a body modification, while Logano found Ryan Newman‘s front bumper — and rear-end damage — while racing into turn 1. Luckily for the duo, each incident occurred early in the race, giving them a solid amount of time to bounce back. Finishing third and fifth, the teammates made a statement despite not making a trip to Victory Lane.
Who’s mad – Tony Stewart was having his strongest run since coming back from his injury. Qualifying sixth and running inside the top 10 for the entire time he was on the racetrack, he proved he has what it takes to be competitive once again. Unfortunately for Stewart, he got loose on a restart coming off turn 1. To make matters worse, teammate Danica Patrick was on his outside when he got loose, destroying both cars. Stewart was so mad after the incident that he refused to speak to the media.
Who’s happy – Elliott had a great run in the No. 24 Chevrolet. The rookie, who had never led more than one lap at an intermediate track in the Sprint Cup Series entering Pocono, paced the field for a race-high 51 laps. Using notebooks from predecessor Jeff Gordon, he was able to hold off several former Cup champions, including Kenseth and Harvick, while out front before finishing fourth.
Kyle Larson won Saturday’s inaugural XFINITY Series race at Pocono Raceway and appeared to be a favorite entering Monday’s event. However, the No. 42 team was on a different pit cycle for the majority of the day. Leading eight laps en route to an 11th-place finish, he earned his third straight top-15 finish.
Oh, and Reed Sorenson finished in the top 30 for the first time since Homestead in 2014.
When the checkered flag flew –
Kurt Busch scored his 28th career Sprint Cup Series win in his 554th start.
This is Busch’s third win at Pocono Raceway and first since 2007.
The victory is Busch’s first of 2016, extending a streak of three straight different winners this season.
Busch ties Rex White for 25th on the all-time wins list.
Finishing second, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tied his best finish of the season for the fourth time, also finishing second at Bristol, Texas and Atlanta.
Chase Elliott finished fourth after leading 51 laps.
Ryan Blaney scored 10th in the first Pocono race for the Wood Brothers since 2008.
What is in the cooler – For a race at Pocono, formerly considered one of the worst tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, Monday’s event was quite entertaining. A combination of aggression on restarts, a slick and green racetrack created yet another memorable race at the three-turn track. While it is a shame the weather was horrendous throughout the weekend, at least Monday proved that rain-outs aren’t all that bad.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The next race for the Sprint Cup field sits in the Irish Hills of Michigan, where a newer version of the aero package will be put to the test on the 2-mile circuit. The race can be viewed Sunday, June 12, at 1 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 and can also be heard on Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
About the author
Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.
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