After having endured two rain outs and going back to Pocono Raceway for Monday races last year, it was a perfect weather day at the Northeast Pennsylvania track on Sunday. So, yes, it was in one sense a perfect day to be there, but in another sense, maybe not so much considering the lack of racing action.
If you are a Kyle Busch fan then it probably was a perfect day. It was inevitable that he was going to win a race at some point this season. He has been too good way too many times during races to come up with a collar in the victory column so far this season. Even though he has just the one win, make no mistake that Busch is one of the title favorites. That’s because every weekend at the track, most will say Busch is the driver to beat. This time there were no late cautions or accidents or tires falling off his car. There was one loose lug nut at the end of the day, but that’s not nearly enough to have Busch join Joey Logano in the encumbered win club. Just don’t be surprised if Busch finds himself in victory lane t least a couple of more times this season.
This was one of those “thank God for stage racing” days. By that, I mean it was the kind of a race that is a track owner’s worst nightmare. You get a beautiful day and what had to be a big walk-up crowd and maybe even a nice percentage of first-time NASCAR fans and then you get a race where, well, there just wasn’t much passing at all. While Pocono does a great job with its off-track activities to get drivers closer to the fans (and give them credit for that as that is one thing that is in their control), the worst thing is walking away from a race and wondering if it was really worth the money and time spent to be there that day or not. There are a lot of factors that go into that feeling, but looking at it from a pure racing standpoint on Sunday, it’s a question that had to be asked by many while driving home. And it’s a question that Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky must have pondered a bit as Monday he suggested the possibility of having one of Pocono’s two races be on the road course.
There has been plenty of criticism about the 3 p.m. start times on Sundays. It primarily has to do with late arrivals of getting home for some fans, and even drivers and crews, and then having to turn around and go to work the next morning. Besides hoping for better TV ratings, there is one other upside to it too. With family plans up in the air over the weekend, I couldn’t buy tickets in advance to this race. However, when those plans didn’t happen, and being about 2 hours from the track, that left a window of opportunity open to go to the race. So for those who live close to a track that has a 3 p.m. start, there is always that option to make a late decision to go to the race.
It’s not hard to figure out who the least-liked driver is these days. Just listen to driver introductions or look at some informal on-line polls, and Kyle Busch is far and away the top choice in that category. Some will say he has a cocky attitude or that he may have wrecked their favorite driver. But I think the root of it is more than that. The fact that he races and wins so often in the XFINITY Series and the perception that he is taking away those kind of thrilling moments from other younger drivers (see Ryan Preece winnng at Iowa for exhibit A) and regulars in that series . . . that may well be the root of this problem. I call it the “pick on somebody your own size” syndrome. Maybe if he hadn’t spent these last few years racking up so many wins in the Xfinity and trucks series, so many fans wouldn’t be tired of seeing him in victory lane.
Crew chiefs often have a thankless job and often have to make difficult decisions on the fly. That was the case with Clint Bowyer’s crew chief near the end of the second stage on Sunday. Mike Bugarewicz decided to keep Bowyer out while other leaders made pit stops giving Bowyer his first stage win of the season. While Bowyer had a good car, it was clear that he wasn’t as fast as Busch or Martin Truex, Jr. So the crew chief here made the tough, but right call, to get as many points as possible. While Bowyer is still one spot out of the playoff picture, he is just 17 points behind Matt Kenseth for that final spot. There are still five races left, making that gap possible to close. While Bowyer could still get a win, it’s also best to get those points while you can. And as a side note, if you’re at a race, and it’s not too exciting, click over to Bowyer on the radio. It’s good entertainment.
If this was almost any other driver there might be cause for concern when three of your last four finishes have been 27th or worse, including a 40th. But when you are a seven-time champion with two wins this year and all set for the playoffs, there is no panic at all. Sure, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team might be a bit cold right now, but we’ve seen time and time (like seven times) that once the playoffs begin, Johnson and his team will be ready. So, are they a little cold now? Yes for sure. Will they warm up once the playoffs start? That more than likely, will be a yes.
The Cup series heads to its second and final road course race of the season at Watkins Glen on Sunday. This is one of those wild-card races where somebody like AJ Allmendinger, who is well outside of the playoff picture, could put a big wrench in the playoff standings if he wins. But I’m going to go with a slightly more conventional pick here and choose Clint Bowyer as the winner. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick is Michael McDowell . . . just because how can you not like a guy who gives such a great Eminem lip sync performance.