NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After The 2018 Gander Outdoors 400

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

After a long night of failed inspections prior to the race, Daniel Suarez found himself the polesitter after both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch ended up having their times disallowed.

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.

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.

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David Edwards

The big takeaway was the inability of Nascar to deter most of the top teams an the field from bringing illegal cars to the track. Then the lack of any kind of deterrent or meaningful penalty. Is it harming the “sport”? Who knows, but it isn’t a reason to follow it.

janice

what was that 13 cars that didn’t pass post-qualifying inspection? how did they get on the track to qualify? i thought they did inspections before cars went onto the track. and they’re typically repeat offenders.

SmarterThanYo

That was due to another of NASCAR’s “brilliant ideas” to squeeze practice and qualifying and the Truck race into one day. They eliminated pre-qualifying inspection this weekend in favor post-qualifying inspection. Most of the 13 cars eventually passed inspection on the second try, including race winner Kyle Busch. That means if the inspection had occurred pre-qualifying, Busch would have easily made it into the qualifying session. However, Harvick’s car took FOUR attempts to pass inspection and likely would have missed qualifying and started in the back anyway. So he really has nothing to complain about with starting 29th and getting a lousy pit selection which ultimately cost him the race.

If FS writers would bother to tell us the whole story, there would be a lot less confusion among their dedicated followers. But it’s easier to try to stir up the masses with half-truths about cheating teams. And since HMS, JGR, Penske, Ganassi, SHR, and RCR all had cars among the 13, of course there were repeat offenders. That list comprises all of the teams with a legitimate reason to be in the race.

SmarterThanYo

Suarez did not go three-wide at the end of the race. He was trying to pass Busch and hoping for a push from Erik Jones. It was Jones who decided to go for the win himself and took the inside line to go three-wide, allowing Kyle to pull away on the outside.

As for the laser inspection mess, NASCAR was made to look foolish again. In their moronic pursuit of parity, they have eliminated engineering from the equation for winning. That now leaves us with 3 cars who can be “legal enough” with what they already have to eventually pass inspection and run away with virtually any race. IROC is dead for a reason. NASCAR needs to throw away the OSS inspection system and let the boys in the shop “have at it” again. Then we will see more winners without this weekly penalty drama.

David Edwards

Could not disagree more. What parity has done is make the smallest bit of chicanery the difference between winning and losing. Add to that the reluctance of sponsors to back the non winners, whether for lack of ability or “creative engineering”.
Nascar needs to enforce the rules equitably and the teams need to follow the rules. Pretty simple really.

SmarterThanYo

I could not disagree with you more, David.

NASCAR started its downhill slide with restrictor plates at Daytona and Dega, continued it with the COT, and now has reached a new low point with the OSS inspection system. All of these efforts at “parity” have given us less legitimate racing and FEWER competitors with a chance at winning. All the cars were apparently “following the rules” by the time the green flag flew, but the cream still rose quickly to the top. No engineering = IROC = boring races.

NASCAR needs to CHANGE the rules which make aero-push and track position the dominant factors in every race. Stupid rules, even if followed, do not make for compelling races that anybody wants to watch. Every time the cars line up for a restart, you know ahead of time who will run away with a multi-second lead within a few laps.

As for sponsors, the facts are at odds with your assertion that they are reluctant to back non-winners. Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex lost major sponsorship this year, while Chase Elliott, Ryan Preece and Erik Jones have picked up more sponsorship. Sponsors may like winners, but they apparently like young studs who get TV time even more.

When the competition sucks because of stupid rules, sex sells. It’s pretty simple really.

David Edwards

We can agree to disagree then. I for one am no fan of “parity”. It would be a step forward if each manufacturer submitted a body and engine for approval that had SOME relevance to the items they sold for daily use.
But those days are gone. They left with the allowance of the 2 door Lumina when only a 4 door was available, Ford took it to a new level with the Taurus, for which a 2 door was never available.
No engine from any of the 3 manufacturers is available in a street car.
My point simply being that “parity” was the only answer when none of the manufacturers had a street car they wanted to use.
As for sponsorships 2 of the 3 you mention drive for multicar teams with a winning tradition, not a mid to back of the pack team. In that sense I think it validates my argument.
Regardless, the sport continues to decline and as it does the value will be concentrated into smaller and smaller groups.

SmarterThanYo

As to your comment that “value will be concentrated into smaller and smaller groups,” that is fine by me. There are too many cars in the races and too many races. The mid to back of the pack teams add nothing to the sport, except for being counted on for late cautions to provide fake drama at the end of races. What does DiBenedetto bring to table when he cries about missing out on a Top 25?

Compare NASCAR to another niche sport – tennis. The last DECADE has seen 3 players dominate the sport. Yet do tennis fans bitch and whine? No, they call this the “Golden Age” of tennis and cheer as those 3 alternate wins in Grand Slam events, each staking a claim to be G.O.A.T.

NASCAR and its whiny fans need to accept that NASCAR is a regional niche sport that needs fewer participants, fewer races, fewer venues, fewer nit-picky rules, fewer gimmicks, and ultimately fewer sponsors.

And how does the loss of sponsorship for Johnson and Truex in any way validate your point? They are both proven winners with championships and Johnson drives for the same team with the winning tradition as Elliott. I guess sponsors prefer the image of Hooters girls draped all over Elliott to gray-beard Johnson with his model wife and children. That’s not due to chicanery; it’s called marketing in a capitalist economy.

Just because you don’t like the results doesn’t mean anybody is getting away with anything. All the cars eventually passed inspection for the race Sunday. Maybe the underdogs didn’t win because they are just not that good.

mike

parity is a joke toyota has purchase nascar . are they still allow to run a trd engine in the truck series spec program they put busch in a spec engine another truck a trd and say see . but why? since they redused hp toyota has a advantage its not the camaro nose or the nose nascar would approve and no chevy complains if the toyotas where this bad kyle busch would be boo hoo ing after each race .report on that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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