Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch both lucked into victory lane last weekend at Pocono Raceway. For Bowman, the monumental task of holding off Kyle Larson proved first impossible, then unnecessary. As a flat tire finally ended the reign of the only driver to win in the previous 32 days, Bowman snuck by for his third win of 2021.
For Busch, the main obstacle wasn’t anyone else’s car but rather his own. Victimized by a transmission that featured fourth gear as the only one usable, Busch and his team employed the unique strategy of falling behind just before a restart to get some momentum built up in a relatively successful attempt to minimize the disadvantage. Then when it appeared he was destined to run second, it turned out that Denny Hamlin didn’t have enough fuel to make the final trip around the Long Pond, Pa., course.
With both the Tricky Triangle and the Larson stranglehold in the rearview mirror, here are a few more notable numbers from the Pocono double.
Busch and Larson have been first and second six times in the NASCAR Cup Series, most recently in the race held Sunday (June 27). Interestingly enough, Busch has been the winner of all nine events. The Kyle and Kyle show has been a bit one sided, but don’t feel too bad for Larson. He and Busch have finished 1-2 in the Xfinity Series four times and he’s won … none of those either. Oh well. As Larson found out this weekend, all streaks end eventually.
For some time, Pocono seemed to have a reputation of not being an incredibly exciting venue. The field tends to get spread out on the wide, sweeping 2.5-mile track. However, this marked the first time since 2000 that both races in one year saw a lead change in the final two laps. That season gave us the now infamous punt of Dale Earnhardt by Jeremy Mayfield in the final corner, followed six weeks later by Mayfield experiencing a flat tire while leading on the last lap, handing the win to his Team Penske teammate, Rusty Wallace.
Speaking of Penske teammates, both Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski earned a top-five finish in a race this weekend. Similarly, it marks the first top-five finish for either since their most recent wins. Keselowski hadn’t seen a result that high since his Talladega Superspeedway win in April, and Blaney had been shut out of the top five since taking the checkered flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.
Bowman’s triumph in the first Cup event of the weekend was the sixth consecutive win for Hendrick Motorsports, its longest such run since 2007 and just the second time it had ever won that many in a row. However, that streak, too, came to an end the next day. Bowman now has three wins this year and has solidified himself as a championship contender. Imagine the looks you would have gotten if you said that out loud five years ago.
Chase Elliott did not lead a single lap in either race at Pocono, meaning he has led in just nine of the 19 races this year. The defending series champion is one of a handful of drivers who just don’t seem to be operating at the same level this year as they were in 2020. Elliott led at least one lap in 25 of the 36 races last year.
Bubba Wallace has no shortage of “firsts” on his racing resume, and added another one in part two of the Pocono double on Sunday. He gave 23XI Racing not just its first top-10 finish but the first top five for the No. 23 Toyota with his fifth-place result. Wallace, who led three laps, is still searching for his first Cup win, but it appears that his career is continuing an upward trajectory as the team continues to run better as the year goes on.
Justin Allgaier made just his second Cup start in the past five years on Sunday, filling in for the Spire Motorsports entry that was initially supposed to be driven by Justin Haley. Haley took a big hit during the Xfinity race and sat out due to nothing more than an abundance of caution, while Allgaier steered the car to a 25th-place finish. Interestingly enough, Allgaier’s only other start since 2016 was also in a relief role. He filled in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 when Jimmie Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 just prior to last year’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing 37th.
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