Who’s in the headline
Martin Truex Jr. started the Pocono 400 by winning the first stage and ended it with a trip to Victory Lane. After a strong early performance, the jack falling on a pit stop left him 14th and it took most of the race to work back through traffic.
Truex’s misfortune, combined with a fast stop for Kyle Busch seemed to put the race in the hands of the No. 18 team. But Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, made a late-race call to stay out on older tires and track position paid off with a victory.
Ryan Blaney started on the pole and led the first 11 laps of the race. From there, it looked like Kevin Harvick would cruise to victory in stage one. But after green-flag stops, Martin Truex Jr. gradually tracked down his rival and the two dueled toward the end of the stage. The No. 78 snuck in front, led the final seven laps and earned a playoff point for stage one.
But once Truex’s pit crew fell flat, Harvick flat-out dominated after blowing by Brad Keselowski on the restart. He took stage two with ease, part of a race-high 89 laps led on the day. Only Darrell Wallace Jr. (four laps led) took a turn at the front during green-flag stops.
Stage three finally saw cautions come into play after just two yellows (for the stage breaks) through the first 125 laps. The final 35 circuits saw four cautions, beginning when Derrike Cope spun off the nose of Kyle Larson.
Following yellow-flag stops, Harvick’s crew fell short and it was Kyle Busch who assumed the lead of the race. It appeared Busch was sailing off into the sunset but 11 laps later, a piece of metal in Turn 1 brought out a rare debris caution. Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens made the decision to pit for tires and that ultimately cost Busch the win.
Truex, Harvick, Larson and three others stayed out on old tires. Busch restarted eighth and could never manage to get back to the point. He had his chances; the caution flag flew two more times over the final 17 laps. First, it was for Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman getting together in turn 1.
Then, it was for Erik Jones going for a spin off the bumper of Joey Logano and a bounce off the side of Ryan Newman. But through it all, Truex controlled each restart and drove away for the win in clean air.
Why you should care
This race was a bit of a throwback to old-school racing days. The most powerful teams in the sport, or at least the fastest teams this season, were the stars of the show all day long. Harvick and Kyle Busch have been the dominant cars for most of the year. Truex was the king of the sport last year and has been close at times this season.
This trio was the class of the field at Pocono and it was just a matter of who was out front at the end. Unfortunately, the aero advantage of clean air was stronger than fresh tires. Truex had old Goodyears but he was able to hold Kyle Busch at bay. Larson, who came home second, provided a surprise late-race bid to earn Chevrolet’s first win since February’s Daytona 500.
The need to continue down the low downforce road, making these cars harder to drive was never more evident than the last two weekends.
What your friends are talking about
The first chip is being thrown onto the felt this coming Tuesday for sports gambling outside of Las Vegas. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling on May 14 that struck down a ban on sports gambling, all states can now allow sports wagering. Delaware already had a scenario where fans could play parlay bets on the NFL through their lottery. With three casinos already in place, the rollout of legal sports gambling was far from a daunting task. As of Tuesday, Delaware will begin taking sports bets on baseball, basketball, hockey, football, golf, soccer and auto racing. How the ruling will affect NASCAR, just like with other sports remains to be fully seen. But legal sports betting is about to explode.
For those people who fail to remember the season is 36 races long, it just might be a little too early to fill three of the final four slots in Homestead-Miami just yet. Try telling that to the FOX broadcasters, though. At this point, they have all but assigned Championship 4 slots to Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex. The win-and-advance nature of the playoffs could very easily bump one or two of those drivers out of the finals even if they do have a large number of playoff points. Other teams might squeeze out more speed by the end of the regular season, turning into title contenders just in time. People just might want to pump the brakes a little before holding a coronation five months too soon.
Kyle Busch won the XFINITY race at Pocono on Saturday but failed post-race technical inspection because the left front of his car was too high. While the height actually was a hindrance to his car’s performance, the end result is messy. A driver who is not competing for the title in the series had an illegal car that potentially stole points from a series regular. The fact that race wins are still not taken away for technical rules violations needs to change. We no longer have encumbered wins in this sport; now, it’s time to simply not have wins with illegal cars.
NASCAR sounds like it’s seriously considering the All-Star aero/plate package at one to three races this season. Drivers are going to scream because they claim it takes the skill out of racing. In reality, it just brings a different skill set into play. It is going to be interesting to see if a package that brings more luck into the equation may result in a surprise NASCAR playoff driver who makes it due to plate race parity.
Gene Stefanyshyn was promoted this week to Senior Vice President and Chief International Officer of NASCAR. Stefanyshyn will be replaced in his role as NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development by John Probst. Why is that important? Probst was integral in developing the new inspection process and incorporating other technology into the racing operations of the sport. He will now lead the critical process going forward of next-gen car changes that will alter the competition in NASCAR’s top three series.
Who is mad
Hamlin won both races at Pocono in his rookie season. His race on Sunday started strong but he ended up down in the middle of the pack as the race unfolded. After a heated battle with Bowman for position, Hamlin lost control in turn 1 and hit his Chevy rival. While the No. 88 bounced off of the wall, it was Hamlin who nosed into the inside wall and ended his day. Hamlin has been a touch off compared to Kyle Busch, his teammate, for most of the year along with the other Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. Finishes like this one make it tougher for the winless veteran to secure his playoff spot.
Speaking of Bowman, he was on his way to a quality finish, potentially a top-10 run, when he bounced off the wall after the contact with Hamlin. After the struggles of Chevy teams this season, the potential strong run wasn’t meant to be after the damage and he ended up 27th. But all hope is not lost here despite him briefly dropping outside NASCAR playoff position. Bowman is also one of those drivers who could potentially catch lightning in a bottle on a given weekend, grabbing a win and setting himself up for a run in the playoffs.
Who is happy
Aric Almirola has had quite a few good starts to races this season but getting the finishes has been a challenge. Too often, the team has slipped on keeping up with the track after a strong start in the first two stages. For once, Sunday produced the opposite result. Almirola was outside the top 10 at the end of the first two stages, also the product of starting 34th. But when the checkered flag flew, the No. 10 Ford was sitting a solid seventh. He’s another driver that just might grab a win on any given weekend.
Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and, while there has been some experimentation going on since then, his results since have been pedestrian at best. But Dillon crossed the finish line in 12th place on Sunday, his best run since Fontana back in March. While it is far from where the No. 3 team would like to be, they’re finally taking steps in the right direction.
When the checkered flag flew
- Martin Truex Jr. won his 17th career Cup race in his 455th career start. Sunday (June 3) also marked the second race victory in his career that Truex has claimed at Pocono Raceway.
- Sunday marked Truex’s second win of the 2018 season. Only he, Harvick and Kyle Busch have multiple wins on the year.
- On NASCAR’s All-Time MENCS win list, Truex’s 17 victories tie him for 51st with Marvin Panch and Curtis Turner.
- The second-place finisher was Kyle Larson. It’s Larson’s best career finish at Pocono Raceway.
- In 2018, Larson has come home in the top two three times.
- With 17 career second-place runs, Larson is tied for 49th on NASCAR’s All-Time MENCS list with Geoffrey Bodine, Sterling Marlin and Ryan Newman.
- Capping off the podium was Kyle Busch, earning his ninth top-three run in 14 races of 2018. At Pocono Raceway, Busch has ended up on the podium five times in his career.
- Over his 16-year career, Busch has wound up on the podium 118 times. That ranks him 17th on NASCAR’s All-Time list.
- William Byron finished 18th and won MENCS Rookie of the Race. For the year, Byron has claimed Rookie of the Race seven times. Darrell Wallace Jr. has won Rookie of the Race six times as the duo trade punches in a close-fought freshman battle.
Dillon, Harvick, Truex, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the six race winners in 14 races this season. Assuming there are 16 or fewer unique winners in the regular season, they will be locked into the playoffs based on winning a race. Harvick, Busch and Truex are locked into the playoffs thanks to two wins, assuming they attempt the remaining 12 regular season events.
The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs are below with their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):
1) Kyle Busch – 25
2) Kevin Harvick – 25
3) Joey Logano – 7
4) Martin Truex Jr. – 13
5) Brad Keselowski – 4
6) Clint Bowyer – 5
7) Kurt Busch – 2
8) Denny Hamlin – 1
9) Kyle Larson – 1
10) Ryan Blaney – 3
11) Aric Almirola – 0
12) Jimmie Johnson – 0
13) Chase Elliott – 0
14) Erik Jones – 0
15) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 0
19) Austin Dillon – 5
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
Pocono Raceway routinely gives us races that are more cerebral than pure horsepower. Sunday was a little bit of both. Pure horsepower put Harvick out front for much of the race but the thinking of crew chief Cole Pearn put the No. 78 out in front at the right time.
There were drivers coming and going throughout the event and also, depending on strategy, different drivers took turns at the front. That made it entertaining although the aero advantage of the leaders drags the rating down a little. We’ll give this one three cold Pocono Pines Pilsner from the Pocono Brewery Company.[poll id=”26″]
Where do you point your DVR for next week
The MENCS heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan next weekend for their first of two visits to Michigan International Speedway. Racing coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 10. The action can be seen on FOX and is also streamed on the FOX Sports Go app. To listen to the action you can tune to your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
THE FRONTSTRETCH CREW TALKS POCONO
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) June 3, 2018