Who… Gets the Shoutout of the Race?
Here’s a hard and fast rule: If you earn your first career victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, you get Shoutout of the Race. It should be obvious that this will go to Ryan Blaney.
You can only win your first race once. He earned that win the hard way, overcoming a dominant Kyle Busch in the closing laps. At the same time, Blaney didn’t back into a win. He was likely the second or third-best driver all day and put himself in position to capitalize.
Blaney even broke through while going through the entire race with radio issues. The Wood Brothers Racing team could not hear anything he was saying. As a result, they had to go back to the old-fashioned door and roof method in order to get information about the No. 21.
What… was that?
It seems like Hendrick Motorsports has some issues in the braking department. All four of the Hendrick Chevrolets suffered from brake issues during the race.
Chase Elliott had some issues with his brakes, but he generally overcame the issue to run well for most of the day. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had issues early on, but succumbed to a completely different issue altogether.
But, it was the other two issues that resulted in the most concern. On Lap 96, Jimmie Johnson had a complete brake failure at the fastest point on the track. In order to avoid a nasty right-front or head-on hit on the SAFER Barrier, Johnson spun himself across the apron of turn 1 and went hard into the wall with the right rear. Parts came off of Johnson’s Lowe’s Chevrolet and caused Jamie McMurray to crash further down the track.
Johnson exited the car under his own power, but quickly sat down next to the wall. It was a hard hit.
Later in the race, Kasey Kahne had a failure at the end of the frontstretch as well. In order to slow himself down, hemade the decision to ride the wall and grind himself to a stop. He walked away from the No. 5, but his day was done.
When issues happen to so many cars from the same team, the thought immediately goes to the parts themselves. Did Hendrick Motorsports receive a bad batch of parts? It has happened before.
The best example of this would be the 2002 EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. In that race, all six cars powered by Hendrick-built engines (Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Joe Nemechek, along with MB2 Motorsports’ Johnny Benson and Ken Schrader) had engine failures.
Where… did the pole-sitter end up?
Kyle Busch was the dominant man on the track Sunday, leading 100 laps. However, the No. 18 team chose to stay out when the vast majority of the field pitted for tires.
The hope was that track position and clean air would rule all. For the most part, it worked out. However, Blaney ran down Busch in the final laps and managed to overcome some rather blatant blocks to win.
Once out of the lead, Busch fell back to a ninth-place finish. A rather disappointing finish after being in the hunt all day.
When… did it all get sideways?
The first half of Sunday’s Axalta Presents the Pocono 400 was fairly pedestrian. Busch dominated the proceedings and pit strategy saw the field spread out all over the 2.5-mile triangle.
The race was thrown upside down as a result of Johnson and McMurray’s crashes right before the end of Stage 2. A series of drivers entered a closed pit to stop before the one-lap shootout.
Clint Bowyer was effectively put in the wall by leader Kyle Larson on the Long Pond Straightaway while taking advantage of the free pass. Then, once the stage ended, you had another split strategy that put Larson out of the top 10.
On that note, don’t be surprised if a new rule is made forcing drivers who enter a closed pit before a one-lap shootout to restart the next stage at the end of the line.
Much of the final stage saw drivers trying to make up for the pit strategy decisions. Everything only converged when Kahne crashed and nearly everyone stopped there.
Why… do we have so many first-time winners in 2017?
Blaney’s victory on Sunday means that he joins Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Talladega) and Austin Dillon (Charlotte) as first-time winners. That is the most in a season since 2011, where there were five. Those first-time winners were Marcos Ambrose (Watkins Glen), Trevor Bayne (Daytona-February), Paul Menard (Indianapolis), David Ragan (Daytona-July) and Regan Smith (Darlington).
Why is it happening? Partly due to having a number of drivers that were knocking on the door for a significant amount of time. When Aric Almirola won his first Cup race in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona back in 2014, it created a scenario where only a couple of Cup drivers in competitive rides were winless. Since then, a couple of those winless drivers have improved their form and hit pay dirt in their own right.
Currently, there are 11 full-time drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that are without a win. Only a couple of those drivers are in truly competitive rides (Erik Jones, who finished third on Sunday and Elliott). Those two are by no means locks to win this season, but it is possible that one or both of them could snag some Cup hardware. J
The others are either in decent equipment and simply don’t have the on-track form to compete for wins (Ex: Danica Patrick), those could challenge and don’t have the equipment (Ex: Landon Cassill) and those who have neither (Ex: Jeffrey Earnhardt).
Are we likely to see another first-time winner by the time the season ends in November. Possibly. But don’t be surprised if we do not.
How… will Sunday’s race be remembered?
Sunday’s Axalta Presents the Pocono 400 will be remembered for Blaney’s victory and Johnson’s huge hit. However, it will also be remembered for a series of shifting issues.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed to blow his second engine of the weekend by failing to successfully make the shift from third to fourth. He went to second and the engines went kablammo. Second-place finisher Kevin Harvick nearly suffered the same fate on lap 100. However, Harvick appeared to clutch the engine and get it into the proper gear before any terminal damage could result. It was a quick, veteran move that helped save a great finish.