Home / Cup Series / Thinkin’ Out Loud: NASCAR’s Tame Pocono 400 Turns Into Terrific Finish
(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: NASCAR’s Tame Pocono 400 Turns Into Terrific Finish

Who’s in the headline – For the third time this season, we have a first-time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It’s Ryan Blaney, who drove to the lead after a late-race restart with fresher tires than a dominant Kyle Busch. He then held off Kevin Harvick in a thrilling finish after Harvick closed in while Busch and Blaney duked it out for the top spot. It is the first victory for the Wood Brothers since Trevor Bayne’s improbable triumph in the 2011 Daytona 500.

What happened – The pole sitter for a second straight week, Busch was in control of the race. But once again, a caution at the end caused it all to fall apart. This time, the pit box was to blame as poor pit strategy made the difference. (Interim crew chief Ben Beshore is serving his first race on the box while Adam Stevens endures a four-race suspension). Staying out on the final caution, Busch ended up on track with 15-lap old tires while the pack behind him was loaded with fresh bologna. The end result was 100 laps led, a segment win… and a disappointing ninth-place finish.

Kyle Larson won the second stage, emerging briefly as a contender but faded down the stretch and came home seventh. Martin Truex Jr. also had a nice run through the field, coming from the rear to lead five laps. But ultimately, the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team never had the right track position at the right time.

The race was slowed by only four cautions, two of which came for the end of stages. The third was for Kasey Kahne losing his brakes on Lap 140 while the fourth was the day’s one big wreck. Both Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray had brake failures, hit the wall hard into turn 1 and caused a red flag of over 20 minutes.

Why you should care – Blaney’s victory marks another driver locked in the playoffs, provided there aren’t 17 unique winners and he stays inside the top 30 in points. Joe Gibbs Racing, meanwhile had another strong day and came up empty. They remain winless after 14 races this season.

Hendrick Motorsports had an abysmal day with Johnson and Kahne’s wrecks. Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed a shift for the second time on the weekend, resulting in a second blown engine. It was the first time three HMS cars failed to finish since Michigan in June 2013. Two of their four cars, Earnhardt and Kahne, remain outside of playoff position with 12 regular season races remaining.

NASCAR’s safety team was also raked over the coals after the Johnson/McMurray wreck for taking far too long to get to the car of McMurray.

What Your Friends Are Talking About

After last weekend’s racing, the No. 18 team of Busch and the No. 29 truck team of Chase Briscoe were both issued major penalties. They stem from pit road mishaps that resulted in loose wheels falling off on the racetrack. The teams each lost their crew chief plus the tire changer and carrier of their loose wheel for the next four races. Not only that, but those crew members are suspended from all NASCAR events. That means they can’t even go to an XFINITY or a K&N team to make money during the month or more they’re sidelined.

This punishment would make perfect sense in the scenario that led to that rule, where teams were only tightening three lug nuts on a wheel. If the car/truck was racing and the wheel fell off, it could injure a myriad of different people and that is dangerous. But this punishment does not fit these crimes. Both cases were unintentional pit road mistakes. Each one left the team already penalized, having to come back in and ultimately restart at the end of the longest line. NASCAR needs to change this rule for next season because it is simply too steep of a penalty for an oversight on pit road that was not about gaining a competitive advantage.

Monday, Johnson revealed he had surgery to remove a cancerous growth. During a doctor’s visit in January, his physician noticed a mole that was growing oddly. It turned out to be carcinoma, a non-spreading form of cancer. Johnson explained that this form does not spread, does not go to the glands and they just have to ‘dig it out’. He stated he calmed down significantly to the ‘C’ word after hearing that explanation.

Danica Patrick fought back to 16th Sunday after a fan video made her the focus of controversy during the weekend. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Danica Patrick had a confrontation with some fans at Pocono this weekend. A man went through a pass-through area where drivers head to the garage from pit road. When security stopped the man, Patrick acknowledged him but refused to sign an autograph. Other fans booed her for this reaction. But instead of walking on, she confronted the fans, explaining that her job is not to sign autographs. It is to drive a race car and work with her crew chief to make it better.

When the season isn’t going well, it can be harder to be congenial with constant fan requests, especially in the garage where teams are trying to get things done during their limited time on track during a race weekend. While Patrick could have handled it differently, she had every right to deny a request when a person with a hot pass was doing something they are not allowed to do. Hot passes afford fans a great experience. They do not offer an automatic opportunity for autographs.

Brakes were an issue for several drivers on Sunday, which fans don’t often think of when the circuit heads to Pocono. It was on the mind of Austin Dillon‘s crew chief Justin Alexander when he spoke to Frontstretch last week for Tech Talk. And what’s with almost all the Hendrick-supported cars having the same type of issue?

NASCAR informed crew chiefs they could potentially lose tires for race weekends due to inspection violations in the future. Teams start a race on the tires they use for qualifying. If a team fails inspection and doesn’t get to qualify, they start the race on brand new bolognas. That can be a significant advantage at some races. That is why NASCAR is looking at taking away that set of tires from a team should they continue to have pre-qualifying technical inspection issues.

Earnhardt’s missed shift problems resulted in two blown engines. He spoke to the media about it and was clearly bothered this issue resurfaced. It is something he’s done for years and the fact it is suddenly a problem has him concerned for the return to Pocono and the upcoming road course races. It is a safe bet Earnhardt was already glad he doesn’t have to go back to Charlotte in 2018; Sunday had to make that realization even sweeter.

BOWLES: Earnhardt Worries After Early DNF, His Fourth Of 2017

Bubba Wallace made an impact at Pocono as the first African-American since Bill Lester in 2006 to start a NASCAR Cup race. Unfortunately, it all didn’t go as planned with his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. An early pit road speeding penalty knocked him off the lead lap and it was a fight just to finish 26th. Wallace then passed out on pit road after the race and was treated and released at the infield care center.

BOWLES: Wallace’s Big Day

Remember the days of standard start times? Why is a track with no lights and a history of rain events starting a Cup race at 3:00 p.m. ET? Any kind of weather problem is going to totally screw up the day. For some reason, the focus group studies they did a few years ago that showed fans really want to have consistent start times don’t matter anymore and NASCAR is just going to drop the rag whenever the TV partners tell them to. When a sport is struggling with ratings, pissing off fans and begging for delayed events is not a wise move. Of note, Pocono itself referred a writer to NASCAR when he asked on Twitter about the later start time.

Who is mad

Johnson scored back-to-back wins at Texas and Bristol. Since then, he’s had one top-five finish, his win last week at Dover. The No. 48 team has the most wins of anyone this season, but HMS has had plenty of whiffs this year. That has to be frustrating for the seven-time champion, especially after a brake failure at the worst time possible at Pocono.

BOWLES: McMurray, Johnson Eliminated In Hard Wreck

McMurray had the same issue that Johnson had, on the exact same lap. Not only does he not get listed as part of the caution in the official race report, the safety team took an eternity to get to his mangled race car. Pocono is a big track but after seeing the response times by both Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NHRA safety crews the last week or two, something needs to be done. When lives are potentially at stake and seconds are the difference between life and death, it should not take a minute or more to get to a wrecked race car. Adding insult to injury, the No. 1 car was on fire and McMurray admitted in comments after the wreck he struggled to get out.

Who is happy

Erik Jones was pretty fast at Pocono late in the race. A two-tire call put him in the front two rows for the final restart. Unfortunately, Brad Keselowski ahead of him wasn’t as fast as the No. 77; it resulted in Jones falling back into traffic instead of fighting for a win. He still came home in third place, a career best in the Cup Series for this Rookie of the Year contender.

WOLKIN: Jones Earns Pocono Podium

Chase Elliott knocked out an eighth-place finish with segment finishes of sixth and fifth on Sunday. His HMS teammates came home in 35th, 36th and 38th. While it is far from a win, Elliott has to feel pretty good that he dodged a bullet. The poor luck he suffered through the last month or two is now aimed squarely at everyone else.

When the checkered flag flew:

  • In his 68th career Cup start, Ryan Blaney became the 189th different driver to win a race in NASCAR’s top series.
  • His win is the 99th career victory for the Wood Brothers racing organization. It’s their first since February 2011 with Bayne.
  • Blaney is tied with 62 other drivers who have notched a single win triumph in the Cup Series.
  • On this day 45 years ago, David Pearson drove the Wood Brothers iconic No. 21 to a win at Michigan.
  • Harvick finished in second for the third time in his career at Pocono. He’s never won at the track.
  • Second is Harvick’s best result of the season.
  • Harvick has scored 49 career runner-up finishes, a number which puts him alone in 10th on the All-Time list. He moved ahead of Lee Petty.
  • Erik Jones, running third was Rookie of the Race.
  • Jones is tied with 95 other drivers for 242nd on the All-Time podium list with his first career top-3 result.

Fourteen Cup races into the season, there have been ten different winners. With 12 races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are eight new winners, someone with a victory will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 18 unique drivers hitting up Victory Lane (remember, Joey Logano’s encumbered Richmond win does not count for playoff purposes).

For now, you have Johnson leading the pack with three victories. Brad Keselowski and Truex are next up with two wins. Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, and Ryan Blaney have one each.

Joey Logano has slid to the edge of the playoff bubble less than two months after his Richmond win was labeled an encumbered finish. (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Here are the remaining seven playoff drivers after Pocono with their points position:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  1. Kyle Busch
  1. Chase Elliott
  1. Jamie McMurray
  2. Denny Hamlin
  1. Clint Bowyer
  2. Joey Logano

Playoff Points Through Pocono

Martin Truex Jr. – 18

Jimmie Johnson – 15

Brad Keselowski -12

Kyle Larson – 8

Ryan Blaney – 8

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 5

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Austin Dillon – 5

Kyle Busch – 4

Kevin Harvick – 3

Chase Elliott – 2

Denny Hamlin – 2

Joey Logano – 1

Matt Kenseth – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

How many beers would you give Sunday's race from Pocono?

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Pocono was another one of those races where the finish redeemed a less than captivating day. 13 lead changes among nine drivers saw just two on-track passes for the lead. Aero has always played a role at Pocono but it definitely was a key factor in the way Sunday’s race unfolded.

A first-time winner who passed Busch and held off a charging Harvick is a captivating story. But is Blaney able to hold off his challenger without aero push?

The Wood Brothers win salvages a less-than-satisfying day, but Pocono was a rather boring race when you get right down to it. This one gets two lukewarm Iron City beers from Pittsburgh Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – We head to the Irish Hills of Michigan for next weekend’s Cup race. The action can be seen on FOX Sports 1 starting at 3:00 p.m. ET. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
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.

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25 comments

  1. Avatar

    I would like to know who the idiot is that decided on the 3:00 start time. The Michigan races are also 3:00 start times, which will put the race conclusion at approximately 7:00. I go to both Michigan races, and stay by the Detroit airport. The problem we run into is that most of the restaurants around there close by 8:00 on Sunday evening. And Denny’s just doesn’t cut it compared to Bob Evans! Hope the Bob’s in Jackson stays open!

    It was so cool to see Ryan Blaney win. His next win, which I hope is this year, and I don’t see why he wouldn’t win again this year, will be way cooler! Why? It will be number 100 for the Wood Brothers.

    What would take it to the max, and I know this won’t happen, would be Blaney standing on the podium at Homestead holding the Cup trophy, with Glen, Leonard, and Delano Wood standing beside him, and A. J. Foyt, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Dan Gurney joining them. Bet Richard would be there with them too! Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

  2. Avatar

    NASCAR has given this stretch of races a roughly 5 hour window from 3pm-8pm. Off the top you can take away about 40 minutes since the green flag is at roughly 3:25 and add in the 15 minutes for the stage breaks (the rough differential of running laps under caution versus green). Any kind of weather delay will almost guarantee a short race or a Monday race since part of the genius of this is that none of these tracks have lights.
    Didn’t NASCAR try these late starts once already about 8 or 9 years and it was so successful that they went to the so-called uniform starting time initiative?
    This will kill attendance for those who have a 4-6 hour trip and used to return home at a decent hour after a 1 pm. start. At some point attendance will start to matter again once there are no networks to overpay for programming on startup sports networks.

  3. Avatar

    That was a CLASSIC Pocono race! As usual Pocono exemplifies everything motorsports demands of top performers – strategic, mechanical & driver expertise – exposes chinks in that armor. You people that like “stages” & want more, & expect motorsport races to resemble monster truck rallies or drifting exhibitions really need to stick with that BS & stuff your Nascar opinions in your socks.
    “Stages” remove a lot of the race strategy that was in team’s purview, & dictates it to them, like spoon feeding a bunch of babies. I could understand it with the CWT kids, but it ruins a major dictating facet of each & every NXS & Cup race. Ditch the “chase” & the “stages”!
    Brakes are ALWAYS a primary issue at Pocono. Turn 1 at Pocono & Watkins Glen are the two stand alone hardest braking zones on the circuit. Failures happen for any number of reasons, but they often times are induces by set-up decisions & driving technique, which just one example of “stages” equalizing the field & giving teams & drivers that have not set-up & driven properly a un-fair & un-sporting chance to mitigate their poor performance.
    The loose tire rules are that way for a reason. Hard to sympathize with guys who go without work or even with teams to fold as a result of penalties. So be it! That is a small price to pay to mitigate the likelihood of maiming or killing someone as a result. Do a you tube search & see for yourself what can results from loose wheels. If anything MORE sever penalties!
    Powdy’s no pit call at the end was a team decision & not exclusively the rookie CC call. Funny he was worried about BK, but 8 others got him too. Yet if he pitted, everyone else would have stayed out, lol. Aka: Rock & a Pocono place!
    Inspection fail-ers loose a set? I love it! It adds up to make perfect sense to me. Brilliant idea & probably does close a “charter” team gray-zone loop-hole. Since “charter” teams do NOT need to qualify to make the main-game, I would not put exploiting 10 lap fresher tire for an advantage by them.
    Hum? What the h*ll is up with the #22 crew. That (+1 playoff point) ain’t looking so hot! Look at some of the guys he’s behind & I like, HUH? How is this possible from Team Penske? They better get their **it straight over there. No “chase” for a high dollar team like the #22 is unthinkable. Many heads will roll!

    • Avatar

      Great breakdown BB!
      The only point I would contend is the penalty for dropping a jack before the lugs were tightened (much different than a loose wheel) In stick and ball sports, you officiate based on “advantage gained” (otherwise, you’d call a foul or penalty on every play)
      Busch lost positions are tore up a fender. No need to add a penalty/suspension.

  4. Avatar

    the race could be improved just by fox losing the waldrip brothers from the broadcast . it makes me sick here to here there know it all remarks on coming jaws on any situation.

    • Avatar

      I cannot help feeling that Jr will.be on fox coverage next year.

      • Avatar

        He cannot string a sentence together for long periods of time, but they always over estimate the appeal of Jr. So I would not be surprised. Desperate as usual without a clue as to what the real issues are with the sport. And Ralph will not help at all….

  5. Avatar

    I guess Chad won’t use those brake components during the chase.

    Another nail in the Diva’s coffin. Just what a sponsor wants. I wonder who’ll bail on her now? I saw her for a few seconds in the Notell Motel on Saturday and she looked just as enthusiastic as she probably does in the car. I still think the driving is a distraction she doesn’t really want to do.

    Maybe Jr’s problem is in the shift linkage.

    • Avatar

      Lordy, Lordy..if we all could talk about the Notell Motel out in the open! Hell…might humble and stumble some high and mighty! But NASCAR is iron clad in that not happening. EVERYTHING WITH OUR DRIVERS IS WONDERFUL, NOTHING TO SEE HERE…MOVE ALONG!

  6. Tom Bowles

    Fixed Matt. Thanks for pointing that out.

  7. Matt

    Rather hard to blame the questionable late race strategy on Adam Stevens in that he was at home in NC when it happened. Recall he is serving a four week suspension as a result of the runaway tire at Dover. If he did in fact make that call over his cell phone we now have a new working definition of “phoning it in”.

  8. Avatar

    Was happy to see blaney and the 21 in victory lane. Brad k did a good job of the victory lane interview with the rave winner.

    Johnson made comment about how hard the hit was he took. Do we have another driver who will start weighing the risk vs rewards especially since he has young children?

    Jr needs to see his docs. He also needs o think hard about the “voices” in his he’s during the race. If he can’t focus on shifting that he’s done fir years, that makes he think he’s foggy brained.

    Didn’t now bubba passed out. I thought he did good for first time in cup car. Brought it him I one piece.

    Hopefully spoiled brat Kyle Busch didn’t have and nose mining to do. I’m sure he was on the verge of tantrum.

  9. Avatar

    It is a disgrace to professional auto racing that na$car does not have a traveling safety crew. They have official sponsors for restarts, official sponsors for the white flag, and official sponsors for official sponsors, but somehow cannot afford something similar to the Holmatro Safety Team, please. If they truly cared about driver safety this should have happened 20 years ago, but actions speak volumes about where na$cars priorities lie.

  10. Avatar

    Regarding Pocono’s starting time at 3 PM; I think it is insane to start a east coast race at that time. I live fairly Pocono and decided not to go as I wouldn’t get home until 9 or 10 PM and then be so sun baked which would force me to take a day off of work. TV now controls NASCAR’s start times which is sad. I “USED” to know that at 1:05 Eastern Standard Time the cars rolled off the grid; however these days I generally have no clue and just set the DVR and when I get to it I get to it. My Sunday’s used to revolve around NASCAR but that stopped a good 5 or 6 years ago due to the chase, poor on track product they call race cars; TV times, and 20 other good reasons.

    Congratulations to Blaney! I really like this kid and I think it is awesome that he beat Elliott on who would win first. I know the Woods are “Penske light”, but Hendrick is the all mighty super team…

    • Avatar

      Frequently more total commercials than total laps in races (last 5 Cup events [Dega, KS, Allstar, Char, Dover]: 1328 total laps & 1502 total commercials). They have long since forgotten who their true customers are &, as Father Brian says, they prioritize their “corporate partners” & “key stake holders”. Otherwise he would never have birthed the mockery “chase” & stage” abominations.
      Totally agree with 3 PM being bogus. In the event of rain delay, like last season (Chris Buescher), they are right up against dusk. Makes NO sense from a race stand point &, for the exact reason you stated, I’m sure there aren’t many ticket buyers that asking for it or want it.

  11. Avatar

    Great finish for Blaney. I was so glad to see him win.

    I thought Kyle Busch went way past the line of fair blocking when he tried to run Blaney into the infield (what a prick). Did he really think he was going to hold off the entire field with fresh tires for 12 laps at Pocono?

    This may have been the first race of the year where I was glad there were stage cautions. They kept the race from turning into the usual and dreaded Pocono parade.

    Danica got off easy confronting the crowd the way she did. Interactions like that usually don’t end well.

    I can’t help but feel that Jr is done and that he should have never came back this year. It just seems like he’s going through the motions some weeks or maybe he’s just lost his edge.

    While I don’t want to see him (or anyone else) seriously injured, nothing improves the overall rating of a race like seeing the 48 heading to the garage early.

    • Avatar

      Right Bill. Blocking is one thing but running a guy almost off the track is another thing. If it would have been the other way around Busch would have been screaming bloody murder. Blaney is establishing himself as a hard charger and now that he has a win under his belt he can say he can run with the best and do well. This win didn’t fall into his lap. He earned it. Maybe down the road he’ll get the opportunity to give Busch some of his own medicine and then Busch will scream bloody murder. The old saying is “no one screams louder than a bully with a bloody nose.”

    • Avatar

      Nascar on JGR 101 – It’s ALL GOOD for them (or Tony) to block & it’s ALL-GOOD to throw a hissy-fit shin-kicking hair-pulling temper-tantrum if someone blocks THEM!
      Did you not get the JGR memo? I’ll fed-ex you a copy of Hambones un-written un-spoken invisible-ink JGR driver’s code book, asap!

    • Avatar

      When I saw Kyle being Kyle I thought of Cale and Donnie without the wreck.

  12. Avatar

    Congrats to the Wood Brothers! And Danica saying her job is to work with the crew chief and make the car better…welll then..she should have been fired years ago for dereliction of duty! Go away and shut the fluck up Sparkle Pony! You suck! Sick of “It” posing as a Cup level driver….

    • Avatar

      Hey little snowflake…run along back to your safe space and hide until Kyle and Danica have retired. They are obviously taking up permanent residence in your head (and the heads of others who post here). What sad lives you all must lead, controlled by such hatred for people who have pimples on their butts that are more significant than you will ever be. The language you use also reveals the ugliness in your own hearts.

      • Avatar

        Oh Marky Mark, grow the fluck up and run to YOUR SAFE SPACE. Hope you are not a shrink, you would starve to death..your dime store analysis could not be more wrong. Clearly I riled you up and you need a nap, so go lay down and look up at Danica’s poster above your bed in your mothers basement, have fun!!!!!!

      • Avatar

        Hey Einstein, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Not everyone likes every driver. That’s life. What you call hatred I call calling it like it is. Unfortunately fans don’t compare their abilities to drive (or pimples on their butts) to the drivers, they compare them to other drivers in the field. If Kyle acts like a dick (compared to most) someone will say, “Kyle acted like a dick”. If Danica sucks (compared to most) someone will say, “Danica sucked”. Of course both are open to debate but comparing pimples on butts isn’t really a valid point. Sorry if they offend your delicate sensibilities but here in this country we are allowed to have our own opinions and call them like we see them. If you want to debate explain to us why Kyle isn’t a dick and why Danica doesn’t suck when compared to their peers.

        • Avatar

          hmm…that’s an explanation i’d like to hear.
          I still can’t believe Kyle ran him down there like that – would have almost been better if he doored him and cut KB’s tire and he finished last.

          As for DP – i think she’s done, there are so many other drivers who could use a shot in good equipment. And, the thing that was crazy was – instead of her reacting the way she did (which who cares, she cursed out a fan, all athletes have at one point or another…they’re still human), she could have at least doubled down and signed some autographs at the same time – that would have been awesome.

          Was awesome to see Blaney win – of all the first time winners, i think his was the one i have been most excited to see. I think he’ll be a force over the next few years. As for Bubba…lets see where he goes, i’m hoping he gets a ride if he can stop speeding on pit road. All in all – not a bad start for him.