Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
There have been plenty of fluke pole winners in NASCAR history who have begun the race in the lead but then proceeded to be passed and never heard from again. But to Suarez’s credit, he ended up having a great day. He led 29 laps, ran in the top five for the bulk of the day, then challenged Busch for the win in the late going by going three wide on the final restart before having to follow along to a second-place finish.
It was the best finish in Suarez’s Cup career, and by far the closest he has been to winning a race. Although this year has been a bit of a step back for the second year driver, this result should give him plenty of momentum and a lot of confidence as the playoff cutoff gets closer and closer.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
Maybe it’s time to cut another 100 miles off from this race because a whole lot of nothing happened in a second stage that was sandwiched between two fantastic stages. The first stage was fun to watch; thanks to all of the drivers who had to start at the rear of the field, it was great fun to watch Harvick and Busch slice and dice their way through the rest of the field.
Harvick’s drive, in particular, was outstanding, as the 2014 champion drove his way to the top 10 after just 10 laps and worked all the way up to second by the time the stage ended. Stage three was jammed with action, from Brad Keselowski almost wrecking just a few laps into the stage, then doing so a few laps later, to the final restart with a three wide fight for the lead. Pretty great for a track that has way too many problems with clean air, to the point where clean air meant so much more today than fresh tires.
Where… did the Hendrick Chevrolets find all of this speed?
After a great race at New Hampshire last week followed up with another great result this week, it’s fair to say that Hendrick Motorsports is coming back.
Alex Bowman improved on his 11th last week with an impressive third this week. William Byron led the opening 10 laps of the third stage after staying out under caution and parlayed that to a career-best finish of sixth after getting lucky with another caution that put him back on cycle with the rest of the field. Chase Elliott won the first stage after passing Denny Hamlin in the closing laps, contended for the lead the balance of the day and finished seventh.
Jimmie Johnson competed for a top-10 spot late in the going, but was shuffled out on the final few restarts and had to settle for a disappointing 17th. Still, in spite of Johnson’s result, it was another strong day for Hendrick. The organization isn’t exactly back to 2007 levels, but it’s finally showing signs of life after being largely catatonic the past year and a half.
When… will the playoff race heat up?
At this point, the race to be in the playoffs seems to be cooling down as the races go by instead of it heating up.
Suarez tried as he might, but he couldn’t get by the No. 18 today. That and a third-place finish today was music to Bowman’s ears; if Suarez had won, he’d be 51 points away from Johnson for the final spot in the playoffs. Instead, Bowman now has a comfortable 56 point lead over both Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Menard doesn’t seem to have a lot of momentum heading into these last five races before the playoffs, while Stenhouse had to rally to finish 22nd today after being involved in the final accident of the day with Aric Almirola.
Outside of a rainout win, fuel mileage win or something completely unpredictable happening, there are only really two tangible opportunities now for non-playoff drivers to score wins to get in. One will be next week with AJ Allmendinger looking for the second win of his career at Watkins Glen, while the other will be Stenhouse at Bristol, easily his best non-restrictor plate track. If either or both of those situations happen, we may even see a name as big as Johnson start losing sleep over making these playoffs.
Why… didn’t Kevin Harvick get that first Pocono win?
There wasn’t much of a doubt that Harvick had the best car on Sunday. Kyle Busch even admitted as much in his frontstretch interview following the race. But, despite Harvick’s speed, he couldn’t close the deal.
The day began with a rally. Harvick lost the pole, lost his car chief, and lost 10 points due to repeated inspection failures the night before. He rallied all the way to finish second in the first stage, then led 30 laps en route to winning the second stage in commanding fashion.
The third stage was a bit of a mess. Harvick was shuffled out from the lead after numerous drivers decided to either stay out or take only two tires at the start. Then, later on, Harvick and teammate Aric Almirola made contact on pit road that forced both to make unscheduled second pit stops under caution.
Harvick rallied once again, driving through the field to finish fourth. Had there been another restart, there’s a chance he very well could have challenged Busch and Suarez for the win. But alas, Harvick ended the day 0-36 at Pocono and still searching for that first win at the tricky triangle.
How… did Darrell Wallace Jr. walk away from that wreck?
One of the most frightening wrecks I’ve ever seen happened with just six laps to go in the race when Darrell Wallace Jr. lost his brakes entering Turn 1.
Losing brakes when you’re a driver is a frightening experience, no matter where it is on the Cup Series calendar. But it’s hard to think of a situation worse than losing them entering Turn 1 at Pocono where cars enter at 205-210 mph after the longest straightaway in NASCAR.
Wallace tried to slow the car down by making a hard left and going through the grass on the apron. But, while the car did slow down, it wasn’t by much and he suffered a violent hit with the car going near full speed.
The worst-possible place to have something go wrong. @BubbaWallace had one of the worst crashes of the year, and we're glad he was able to climb out of his car.#NASCAR #GanderOutdoors400 pic.twitter.com/Nx3wwaWwws
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) July 29, 2018
Looking at the wreck in slower motion, two things come to mind. The first is that if it was not for the SAFER barrier, there may have been a tragedy today. The second is that it was a miracle that the car took the initial impact of the wall with the rear slightly sliding up into it.
Wallace was later released from the infield care center, where he was diagnosed with no significant injuries. His wreck was the second brake related issue on Sunday after Corey LaJoie lost his earlier on in the day. Unlike Wallace, however, LaJoie’s was at the much slower Turn 3, and he also chose to stay up against the wall and “wall-ride” instead of making a hard left to the infield.