Home / Cup Series / Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kyle Busch Takes Another Gander at Victory Lane in Pocono
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kyle Busch Takes Another Gander at Victory Lane in Pocono

Who’s in the headline

Kyle Busch ran 25 races at Pocono Raceway and never finished above second before last July. After Sunday he has two wins in the last three races. Busch took advantage of trouble for Kevin Harvick on pit road and then held off teammate Daniel Suarez on late-race restarts to claim his 49th career victory. Busch and Harvick are once again tied for the most wins of the season with six. Chase Elliott was the winner of the first stage while Harvick overcame his disallowed qualifying time and the associated 29th starting position to win the second stage. William Byron took advantage of some strategy and aggressive driving to win his third consecutive Rookie of the Race.

What happened

The weekend started off with controversy after qualifying as 13 teams failed pre-race tech and had their qualifying times disallowed, relegating them to the back of the starting grid. As a result, Suarez scored his first career pole. When the green flag flew, he grabbed the point and led the first 21 laps of the race. Pit strategy then came into play as Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray each led a lap before Kurt Busch grabbed the top spot for 11 laps. Kurt Busch pitted, surrendering the point to Denny Hamlin. Hamlin led five laps before Elliott powered past him to assume the lead and hang onto it for the rest of stage one.

A handful of drivers pitted before the pits closed at the end of the first stage. As a result, Erik Jones assumed the top spot after the caution and held it for 11 laps until Harvick asserted himself into the picture at the lead. Harvick gave up the point for seven laps to Suarez until the No. 19 pitted and relinquished it back to him. Harvick led the rest of the second stage for the win.

Byron stayed out on that caution and made some aggressive moves to hang onto the point when the race went back green. Byron led for 10 laps before Kyle Busch took the top spot from him. Busch led the rest of the race aside from one lap where Suarez stuck a nose in front of him at the line. There were four cautions over the final 40 laps of the race. Keselowski blew a tire and backed into the fence, Landon Cassill blew up, Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse got together and spun. Meanwhile, Darrell Wallace Jr. had an enormous impact in Turn 1 after he lost his brakes. In the end it was Kyle Busch running away from Suarez who had to hold off a surprising Alex Bowman, Harvick and Jones.

Why you should care

As much as we’d like to read subliminal items into the narrative of what happened this weekend, it was really more of the same. Harvick was the best car and his team shot itself in the foot on pit road. As a result, Kyle Busch was slightly contested en route to the win. The Chevys have shown a little more speed but they aren’t contending with the Fords or Toyotas for wins just yet.

What your friends are talking about

Wallace’s accident was quite similar to incidents for Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon over the years at Pocono. All three drivers suffered brake failure followed by a trip through the grass inside Turn 1 and a violent impact into the outside wall. Dale Earnhardt Jr. mentioned during the race that his father had a similar incident in 1982 and suffered a fractured femur. Wrecks like that are a very real and scary reminder that these cars are traveling at very high rates of speed and the drivers put themselves in danger every time they climb behind the wheel.

In typical NASCAR fashion, the sanctioning body has leaked a communication that talks about a potential rule change for 2019, most likely looking to judge fan reaction. In the communique, it hints that the rules at a dozen or so races next season could be a similar package to the All-Star race in 2018. The All-Star race was exciting thanks to the restricted engine package, but that is not necessarily something that people want to see so many weekends. It is an idea worth trying for sure but fixing the aero dependency of this package might be a far better idea.

Wallace, who is one of the most popular young drivers in the sport who maximizes his exposure on social media, inked a contract extension with Richard Petty Motorsports. RPM picked up the option on Wallace’s contract to give him a multi-year deal to keep driving the No. 43 for the organization. The historic team continues to search for the ability to contend for wins but the young driver’s charisma and talent are a good fit for potential sponsors looking for a foothold in the sport.

Something good came out of Gander Mountain declaring bankruptcy and shuttering all of its stores, putting thousands of people out of work. The company that purchased the assets that were left of Gander Mountain is also the owner of Camping World. Marcus Lemonis, who previously announced the Truck Series would be rebranded as the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, was on hand at Pocono to reveal the series’ new logo. We will see what comes of the new sponsorship as the 2019 season develops.

Talladega Superspeedway announced a $50 million upgrade to the infield of the race track for 2019. New garages, an open-air bar with giant TV screen, social engagement areas, Wi-Fi, new restrooms and concessions will all be included in the project. Short track fans are up in arms about the fact that $50 million would have gone a long way to getting North Wilkesboro on the schedule or acquiring four or five tracks like Hickory and South Boston and getting them up to snuff to host national touring races.

Who is mad

Harvick was pissed before the race started after his qualifying time was disallowed. He had the fastest car all weekend and looked to dominate the race and win his seventh of the season. Unfortunately for Harvick, after storming through the field to second place in stage one and winning stage two, he made contact with his teammate Almirola on pit road. The end result was unscheduled pit stops that relegated him to a back of the field spot on the restart after Cassill’s engine failure. While he rebounded for a strong finish it was another Pocono race without a win for Harvick.

Who is happy

The Hendrick Motorsports camp, outside of Johnson, is feeling pretty good after Sunday. Byron came home in sixth, Elliott crossed the line in seventh and Bowman grabbed a career-best third. The Chevrolet camp has been chasing speed all year and, outside of Kyle Larson, not finding any all season. Sunday saw the three HMS drivers, along with Ryan Newman, in the top 10. It could be that the bowtie brigade is finally finding its speed.

Speaking of Newman, he continues to run solidly, albeit under the radar. Newman scored his sixth top ten of 2018. This was also his best run at Pocono since 2014. There are rumors that Kurt Busch could be headed to RCR in 2019, even though Stewart-Haas Racing continues to reaffirm that everyone is coming back for next season. Newman’s current contract runs through at least 2018. Continually having the occasional strong run will help keep Newman in the seat going forward.

When the checkered flag flew

Kyle Busch finished first for the 49th time in his career in his 483rd start.

Busch’s victory ties him with Tony Stewart for 13th on the all-time win list.

The triumph is Busch’s second career win at Pocono.

Along with Kevin Harvick, Busch has six victories to lead the series in 2018.

Busch is the hottest driver in the series over the last 12 months. Since breaking through at Pocono last July, Busch has 11 wins and has led over 2,000 laps.

Daniel Suarez came home second for his best finish of his career.

The runner-up is Suarez best finish of the season and his best ever at Pocono.

His first second-place finish of his career ties Suarez with 87 other drivers for 154th on the All-Time second place list.

Rounding out the podium was Alex Bowman scoring his best career finish in 102 starts.

Bowman’s third-place run is his best finish ever at Pocono and his best of 2018.

His top three ranks Bowman 244th on the All-Time list, tied with 93 other drivers who have notched one career top three.

William Byron came home in sixth for his best finish of his career in his 21st race, claiming another Rookie of the Race.

For the year, Byron’s 13 awards are five more than Darrell Wallace Jr’s eight.

Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Erik Jones are the seven race winners in 21 races of 2018. All of these drivers are locked into the playoffs, assuming they attempt the remaining races in the regular season. The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):

1) Kyle Busch35

2) Kevin Harvick33

3) Martin Truex Jr.26

4) Joey Logano – 7

5) Clint Bowyer10

6) Kurt Busch – 2

7) Brad Keselowski – 4

8) Kyle Larson – 0

9) Denny Hamlin – 2

10) Ryan Blaney – 4

11) Aric Almirola – 1

12) Chase Elliott – 2

13) Jimmie Johnson – 0

14) Erik Jones – 5

15) Alex Bowman – 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 offers exciting racing on most every restart and also tends to incorporate strategy calls in almost every race. This event was no different with six-wide racing happened on multiple occasions along with strategies that included drivers forfeiting points in stages in order to have track position for the win. Multiple on-track passes for the lead also added to the intensity of the race. As a result, we will give four ice-cold Garage Dayz Pale Ales from Jam Room Brewing Company to this race.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

The second road course race of the season is on the horizon at Watkins Glen International. Coverage begins Sunday, Aug. 5 at 2:30 p.m. ET. Action can be seen on NBC and streamed on the NBC Sports Live app. If you would like to listen to the action it is available on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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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12 comments

  1. Those track upgrades are thanks to accelerated tax benefits allowed by the Congress. WE are the ones who pick up the tab. A good reporter should ask the sports owners would they improve their facilities without someone else chipping in.

    • Thats what its been about for a long time. Sport is hardly whats driving this train now.

  2. Just a matter of time until all the races are on some sort of pay-for-view network. That’s how they will make the most money.

  3. Millions for more expensive seating, but not a penny to reduce the banking and allow the cars to run unrestricted. Talladega is a joke and the suckers who will now pay even more to see it deserve to be relieved of their money.

  4. I think the stages and knowing when the associated cautions are coming out is ruining the ability of teams to be able to capitalize on the randomness of cautions in the overall race. It seems like things are scripted now before the race even starts. Maybe that is why the same drivers are winning each week. I am not dismissing the fact that there are 3 teams this year that are performing above the others, but knowing when cautions are going to come out really allows them to control how races unfold more so than when the cautions are random.

    • I agree totally, Bill. The drivers with wins don’t have to obsess over points, so they can afford to ignore the stage points in favor of going for more wins. The strategy of pitting before the end of Stage 2 put Kyle Busch in the lead and with track position being the most important factor in winning, the race was essentially over at the midway point. Only Harvick and his rocket could have interfered, but even having the fastest car could not put Harvick in position to win. Interestingly, authentic random cautions were the only thing that kept this from being a runaway. Scripted cautions and the strategy moves they encourage allow the rich to get richer.

    • Absolutely. There’s no need for a caution at the end of the stage. Display the green/white, like they do with the halfway flags, and keep going.

      At the very least, if they must have a caution (for commercials) don’t let the teams pit.

  5. The issue with these track “upgrades” like the one in Richmond is that in order to enjoy them it cost. Like the one in Richmond was $150 per person. For regular folks like me, going to a race is already expensive. The extra $300 in my case is way too much. So these upgrades just makes it feel left out because I can’t justify the expense. Sounds good in a press release but does nothing to attract more fans, maybe even hurts. IMHO.

    • This is merely NASCAR following the lead of the other major sports leagues. The NFL has ripped out seats in stadiums for Party Decks.
      MLB Stadiums are more about activities, Party Decks and empty LAZY-BOY’s behind home plate and less about the average fan.
      NBA Arenas have more suites and court side waitstaff and less seating for the average fan.
      Even concerts and theaters are coupling $15 Beers with VIP Packages that include Dinner and Receptions.

      There’s a theory in business that it’s easier to get a customer who’s already buying your product to say yes to another product vs. going out an finding a new customer.

      In the days of HD TV and virtual reality, Pro Sports is recognizing that growing revenue is easier with existing fan bases.

      NASCAR once did a better job with the average fan (driver availability, sponsor promos, coolers in tracks, infield camping and on-site camping, etc. However, Brian France became convinced that he had the next NFL and it is what it is.

  6. four ice-cold Garage Dayz Pale Ales from Jam Room Brewing Company? Gee, now I’m sorry that I missed it for more important things. NOT.

  7. You need to add Eric Jones to your race winners summary and change it from 13 to 21 races run this year.

    Also, as much as many of us would like to see the $50M put into short tracks, it’s not like this was an either or decision. This is merely a track investing in an asset. I’d love to see the Gander Truck Series run Wilkesboro, Hickory, Concord, South Boston, IRP and Myrtle Beach—but that’s not happening.

    • Mike Neff

      Thank you Bud, I apologize for that. I obviously deleted the wrong line out of my template. I appreciate you keeping me honest.

      I disagree on two fronts with this comment Bud. The $50 million is coming from a subsidiary of NASCAR that easily could pour it into local short tracks that could potentially change the schedule landscape for the Truck series (the one with the new title sponsor that could easily make over the series). Secondly, the only reason the Trucks aren’t going to those tracks is because the sanctioning body is not taking them there. If NASCAR wanted to get the Trucks back to where they started, and where they belong, they could do it with the stroke of a pen and an investment like they are making at Talladega.