NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: NASCAR Pocono Doubleheader Weekend

What happened?

Alex Bowman won the Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway on Saturday (June 26). Then, Kyle Busch won the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 on Sunday (June 27) in the second race of the Pocono doubleheader.

Kyle Busch, William Byron, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-five finishers on Saturday behind Bowman’s victory. Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Bubba Wallace trailed Busch to the line on Sunday.

How did it happen?

In the first race, Larson pulled ahead for the initial lead before Byron got by him early in the first run. Two cautions midway through stage one  — one for debris and one for a Cole Custer wreck — bunched up the field on a restart with eight to go in the stage.

Kyle Busch passed Byron on the restart and held on to win his third stage of the season.

Pit strategies got jumbled during the stage break, as some stayed out while others pitted for two or four tires. Joey Logano stayed out and led for 18 laps before hitting pit road under green. Just a few laps later, Ryan Newman wrecked exiting turn 1 and backed into the wall.

Kyle Busch retook the lead after most of the leaders pitted under green. Shortly after the restart, Corey LaJoie crashed on the frontstretch after Anthony Alfredo hit the wall. Another caution flew late in stage two for Ross Chastain.

Kurt Busch assumed the lead after Kyle Busch pitted and the No. 1 hung on to win a stage for the second straight race.

Larson took the lead in the final stage before green flag stops began with 40 laps left. A handful of cars were still on the track when a debris caution came out with 23 to go, but it seemed like a battle between Kyle Busch and Larson would decide the race.

On the restart with 19 to go, Busch took the outside line while Larson and Hamlin lined up behind him, with Bowman (who was in fourth) jumping to the front row. Using a push from Blaney, Bowman took the lead and held off Larson until there were four laps left. Larson was setting sail after finally passing his teammate when he cut a tire on the final lap entering the final corner, slamming the outside wall and allowing Bowman to win his third race of the season.

In the second event, Chris Buescher was on the pole following the top-20 inversion. Buescher held the lead for three laps until Alfredo cut a tire and got into the wall, bringing out an early yellow.

Michael McDowell and Martin Truex Jr. exchanged the lead over the next run, with Truex taking command on lap 14. Larson, who started in the rear after going to a backup car, had early damage after contact with Hamlin.

Byron and others pitted just before the stage ended. The No. 24 used an incredible final corner to get around Truex and unlap himself before the caution. The stage win was Truex’s fourth of the season.

Keselowski took the lead as some drivers pitted, while Kyle Busch’s shifter broke and became stuck in fourth gear during the green flag run. Busch took the lead before pitting with 12 to go in the second stage. He stalled on pit road due to the shifter issue before being pushed back to speed.

Byron cycled to the lead with eight to go in the stage and held on for his second stage win this year.

Legitimate chaos ensued throughout most of the final stage, which started with Busch’s car chief jumping in and unsuccessfully attempting to fix the shifter. There was a debris caution with 48 to go where a bunch of cars hit pit road to try and stretch it on fuel.

On the restart, Christopher Bell and Chastain made contact and the No. 42 cut a tire as Bowman stole the lead on the inside. The next lap, Bell and Chase Elliott collided and both pitted with cut tires.

From that point on, it was an old-fashioned fuel mileage race. Bowman and second-place Harvick blinked first, pitting with just over 25 to go. Then, Keselowski pitted from the lead with seven to go, giving Byron the top spot. Byron ran out of gas with two laps to go as Hamlin took the lead just ahead of Kyle Busch.

Coming to the white flag, Hamlin ran out of gas and Busch took over out front, eight seconds ahead of second-place Larson. The No. 18 coasted to victory with the broken shifter for Busch’s second win of the season, fourth at Pocono and 59th of his career.

Who stood out?

Bowman has quietly stolen Harvick’s crown as NASCAR’s closer. In three wins this season, Bowman has led 10 laps (of 400 at Richmond), 98 laps (of 400 at Dover) and 16 laps (of 130 at Pocono). He led the final 10 laps at Richmond, the final 97 laps at Dover and 16 of the final 19 laps at Pocono. There have been a number of races this season where Bowman looks way off compared to his teammates, and then, he just suddenly ends up out front. The skill of being a closer isn’t really quantifiable — luck obviously plays a role —  but Bowman certainly is starting to show that he has it.

Despite looking like the fourth-best Hendrick car in 2021, Bowman now has three of the organization’s nine wins. Despite the worst average finish and fewest top 10s of any HMS driver, he’s won at three totally different tracks and appears to be poised for a deep playoff run. The two-year extension Bowman signed last week is already looking like a steal for Rick Hendrick and sponsor Ally.

See also
Alex Bowman Wins Pocono After Kyle Larson Cuts Tire on Last Lap

Kyle Busch is without a doubt the biggest threat to Hendrick Motorsports right now. Since he won at Kansas, Busch has routinely been the best non-HMS driver in the field. In the nine races from Kansas Speedway through Pocono, Busch has seven top 10s, six top fives and two wins. He’s locked in even though the Joe Gibbs Racing cars are a tick behind HMS. If JGR as an organization can continue to narrow the gap, Busch could emerge as the championship favorite.

Pocono wasn’t his standard win, but Busch did something few drivers could’ve done. Between nursing the throttle to save fuel and working with a broken shifter stuck in fourth gear for most of the day, Sunday’s run had it all. The No. 18 crew chief, pit crew and driver all executed the race perfectly while others ran out of gas. Simply put, that was an extremely impressive win.

Kurt Busch has quickly erased a massive points deficit and suddenly looks like a potential contender. Just four races ago, Busch was 19th in the standings and 83 points out of the final playoff spot. Now, he holds the final playoff position by three points over Buescher. Finishes of sixth, eighth, sixth and 20th, along with two stage wins, have drastically altered the outlook of his season.

Looking ahead, there are three road courses over the final seven races of the regular season. Busch has two top 10s in three road course races this year, so the arrow should continue to point up for the No. 1 team.

Who fell flat?

Larson had two top 10s at Pocono and still probably walks away disappointed. He obviously should’ve won on Saturday and the last-lap crash put him at a huge disadvantage for Sunday. Starting in the back, Larson suffered damage and never was able to show what the car was capable of.

Now, because the No. 5 team is the best in the sport right now, they were able to get to the front and save enough fuel for a second-place finish. Larson is left wondering if he left a handful of playoff points on the table, though. This nitpicking still might not matter in the long term, and this team will probably go dominate next week, but we saw what happened with Harvick in 2020.

Elliott had a weekend to forget at Pocono and can’t get to Road America soon enough. The No. 9 followed up its disqualification last week with two tough runs at Pocono. He started in the back Saturday and suffered early damage, finishing 12th and never competing with his teammates at the front. Sunday looked better until he twice cut his right front tire and finished 27th.

I’m not ready to sound the panic bells for this team just yet, but they have had a tendency to get into summer slumps over the last few years. Elliott had six straight top 10s before Nashville and, as I said earlier, plenty of road courses are coming up. This team needs a good run at Road America to halt this ugly stretch before it drops him further down the standings.

What did this race prove?

The Pocono doubleheader is a perfect schedule quirk. I wouldn’t want more than one doubleheader weekend per season, and I think Pocono is the ideal venue for this schedule quirk. The strategies at Pocono are different from every other non-road course and both races this weekend felt completely different. Before the doubleheader, races at Pocono felt incredibly long and got strung out too often. The shorter races have greatly helped the track, so I hope Pocono keeps this doubleheader format and makes it their tradition.

Great crew chiefs rise to the top at Pocono. It was entertaining as heck to see the calculating and strategizing from these crew chiefs this weekend. Both races had their own unique challenges and it appeared that the best crew chiefs rose to the occasion.

Ben Beshore (Kyle Busch), Greg Ives (Bowman), Cliff Daniels (Larson), Rodney Childers (Harvick), Todd Gordon (Blaney), Paul Wolfe (Logano) and Jeremy Bullins (Keselowski) were the only crew chiefs to earn their drivers two top-10 results at Pocono. Those are probably seven of the 10-12 best crew chiefs in the sport.

Paint scheme of the weekend

It was only a matter of time before a major sports betting company sponsored a car, and that finally happened at Pocono. Wallace’s No. 23 DraftKings Toyota stood out Sunday as the best scheme on the Tricky Triangle. 23XI Racing also earned its first top-five finish ever on Sunday when Wallace finished fifth in the DraftKings car.

Better than last year?

Last year, Pocono ran a doubleheader as well. The first race was largely uneventful, dominated by Aric Almirola until Harvick cycled to the front thanks to a quick green flag stop. He held off Hamlin to lead the final 17 laps in his third win of 2020. The second race was more action-packed, with five accidents and three drivers leading at least 20 laps. Hamlin ultimately prevailed over Harvick on the final run in a reverse scenario of the day prior.

The first race this year was easily the best of the four collective events in 2020 and 2021. The second race this year was arguably the second-best of the four events. The absolute unknown made this season a huge improvement, as passes for the win came on the final lap and second-to-last lap this weekend. Pocono delivered for the first time in a long time with this doubleheader.

Playoff picture

Bowman (three wins) and Kyle Busch (two wins) slightly narrowed the playoff point gap Larson has built. There are still five playoff spots open for non-winners, with three of those spots still very secure: Hamlin (who leads Larson in the overall standings by two points, +334 playoff cushion), Harvick (+158) and Austin Dillon (+91).

The bubble is starting to tighten for the final two playoff spots. Tyler Reddick (+48) lost just two points on his cushion this weekend, but one bad race will make things uncomfortable. Kurt Busch (+3) now holds the final playoff spot after erasing a 26-point deficit entering the weekend. Buscher (-3, was +50 entering Nashville), Daniel Suarez (-48), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-54) and Wallace (-54) are the closest drivers outside the bubble.

Here’s a look at the full standings following the Pocono doubleheader:

What’s next?

The Cup Series will race at another new track next weekend, visiting Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. The 14-turn, 4.048-mile road course has hosted the NASCAR Xfinity Series every year since 2010. One Cup race was held at the track, way back in 1956 when Hall of Famer Tim Flock emerged victorious.

The 62-lap Jockey Made in America 250 will go green Sunday (July 4) at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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29 Comments
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Carl D.

While most of the media focuses attention on Larson and Elliot at HMS, both Bowman and Byron are having strong seasons. Bowman has long impressed me, but the success of Byron has been a bit of a surprise to me. One thing is for sure… HMS has a great line-up of young, talented drivers.

Echo

I’ve been waiting on Byron to come into his own. I expected it. But Bowman has been the surprise to me. Your right, a talented young group. I’m waiting for Reddick to start picking up the pace. He’s another talented young racer.

janice

will seem very odd for race not to be at daytona over the july 4th holdiay.

Echo

Yes it will for sure.

Bill B

Surprisingly decent races at Pocono this weekend thanks to strange circumstances. I am sure no one expected that to be the case.
I don’t mind a fuel mileage race a couple of times a season, as long as a few front runners do actually run out of fuel.
BTW, I thought Suarez’s #99 car had the best paint scheme.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bill B
DoninAjax

NBC is going to love the caution laps at Road America. Each lap at 45 mph will be 5 MINUTES AND 24 SECONDS long. The way NA$CAR throws caution flags and gets restarted on road courses there will be a lot of commercials and not a lot of green flag laps out of the 62.

Kevin in SoCal

Road course races need to be longer. 75 laps and ~300 miles would be much better.

DoninAjax

The event at Watkins Glen is 90 laps/220.5 miles distance on the 2.45 mile short course. Imagine the caution laps, and commercials, on the long course at 3.4 miles.

Rg72

They would need a TV window comparable to the Coke 600 or the Southern 500. 75 laps uninterrupted would approach 3 hours. At least 8-9 yellow laps are a given just with competition and stage cautions. Add in a couple unnecessary full course cautions because NASCAR refuses to call local cautions and the race would run at a minimum 3:30 under normal race conditions.

JER

I believe HMS has changed its thinking from years past. Previously, the #48 and the #24 where the flag ships for the organization while the #5 and particularly the #25 where R&D entries. Today the emphasis seems more balanced for all four cars. I didn’t care much for Mr. H but I must give him kudos for quickly hiring and sponsoring Kyle Larson for his talent rather than his vocal skills. HMS’s lineup is strong and Alex, William, Chase, and Kyle are all humble. No attitude or arrogance what more could we ask for?

jobe

We could ask for more honest competition from the HMS drivers, rather than all following team orders to benefit the flavor of the month.

Echo

dead horse, move on

jobe

When you move on from your “dead horse” of bitching about Bubba.

LMAO!

Tom B

Bubba was the real hero this weekend with his top 15 and top 5 finish. Next week it will be a podium. This should shut up the haters.

Echo

67 was our high today

jobe

Well, that certainly gets the “non sequitur of the day” award. Look it up.

DoninAjax

Don’t forget that Ty (Gibbs) is coming too in all his humbleness and the other Ty (Dillon) is already here.

jobe

So many drivers for you to hate. And I get sh*t for hating one!

Carl D.

No, you don’t get $#!+ for hating Larson. You get $#!+ because you treat others on Frontstretch with utter disrespect. We don’t always agree with each other’s comments on here, but we’re all NASCAR fans on here because we enjoy reading about auto racing and sharing our thoughts. We’re a civil bunch for the most part. Most of us have been here since the beginning of this website and enjoy sharing our feelings about the articles with others who come here. You seem fairly knowledgeable about NASCAR, so why not share your comments in a way that’s not so caustic. Who knows?… You may find some kindred spirits here.

One more thing… I’ve been here since the beginning and I can tell you that Bill B. is one of the most well-informed and respected commenters on this website. He’s never been a blowhard. Be like Bill B.

Last edited 3 months ago by Carl D.
janice

Carl D- Agree 100%. Most of us were here when it was speedfx.

I’ve always enjoyed here for the articles and comments.

Bullying is getting tiresome.

jobe

Then stop making racist comments.

jobe

Billy Bob is full of himself and not as knowledgeable as he pretends to be. He’s one of those old guys Springsteen was referring to in “Glory Days.” His past in the real world is way behind him, so he comes to this old-folks page to prove he still is worth sh*t.

Guess what? He isn’t.

Bill B

That reminds me, in addition to being prejudice against Asians, you also seem to have a problem with older people. You have made many comments where you have derided someone based on their age. What’s your deal? Don’t you realize that the hate you spread makes you as bad as a racist or are you too stupid to realize when you are being hypocritical?
What a dunce!

jobe

I don’t dislike old people in general, just people who think old, who haven’t changed their way of thinking or re-thought their point of view for the last 30 or 40 years. I see a lot of that on this site.

BTW, have you contacted NBC to object to their racist use of Kyle Larson’s nickname? Or are you just being a hypocrite, calling me out on it while giving others in more powerful positions a pass?

Maybe you could flag it on Twitter as a racist hashtag as well.

Bill B

First off you won’t ever see me on Twatter, it’s for twats. Social media is basically for the self centered “look at me” crowd. That’s never been me.
Secondly, the nickname Young Money is not offensive until you spell it YUNG.
Thirdly I couldn’t care less who is using it. As I said before, just because someone else is using it isn’t the litmus test for whether or not it should be used. But when a buttinski like you is using it and calling out everyone else for being racist then I care. Especially when it’s someone as special as you.
And lastly I think it’s another example of your hypocrisy that if you don’t like the way an old person thinks that it entitles you to be prejudice against them and call them out as a group. BTW, you seem to be pretty set in your views and I haven’t heard much change in attitude coming from you.
Don’t forget to take your meds.

jobe

If you had bothered to follow the link I provided for you, you would have seen that the nickname is “Yung Money,” not “Young Money,” as well as that the quote from NBC Sports is “Yung Money.” And if it’s offensive for me to use it, it is much MORE offensive for NBC and nascar.com to use it. So you are, as usual, incorrect. Details matter. That’s why you can’t win an argument with me. I will always get the edge in accuracy, whereas you are too lazy to bother, just spouting off whatever pops into your head.

I have changed my attitude about many issues over time, both regarding NASCAR and issues that are actually important. For example, I used to cringe at mentions of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but I have come to respect him for being a better man than his dad, even though he could never be as good a driver.

I have a 90-year-old relative who has changed her political POV over the last 5 years. I admire her far more than I could ever admire somebody on a NASCAR site who thinks the championship system is worth the bandwidth you and your pals give it.

And get your grammar right. You keep saying I am “prejudice” against someone. The correct usage is “prejudiced.” I let it go the first 3 times, assuming it was a mistake you made in your hurry to get back at me, but now I realize you actually don’t know the correct usage. I believe you are “prejudiced against” educated people.

Also be sure to take your Thorazine. I wouldn’t want a neighbor to get hurt if you go off.

jobe

Why are you allowed to post?

DoninAjax

For the same reason you are. Why don’t you take your Chinese Shih tzu Kybu for a long walk?

jobe

Bais toi, Canuck.

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