Not only was Kyle Busch(18) winless this year. He had never won a Monster Energy NASCAR Series Cup race at Pocono. Both of those goose eggs disappeared with his win Sunday at the Tricky Triangle in the Overton’s 400. After winning Stage One, Busch and a number of top contenders chose to pit just before the end of Stage Two. The strategy worked for Busch as he dominated the final Stage to capture the victory.
Just as they had at Indy, Busch and Martin Truex Jr.(78) had the dominant cars. Truex was leading Stage Two and was sure to take another stage win and the Playoff point that goes with it. But, with three laps to go, Truex pitted. Second place Denny Hamlin(11) followed Truex to pit road. Clint Bowyer(14), running third, inherited the lead. After crashing out of the Brickyard, Bowyer needed the 10 points that went with the Stage win.
Busch and a number of other cars in the lead group pitted behind Truex and Hamlin with three laps left in the Stage. NASCAR closes pit road with two laps remaining and on longer tracks, like Pocono, it is possible to pit and remain on the lead lap. Thus the strategy to gain track position works.
Joey Logano(22) was one of the leaders who chose to come to pit road at the end of Stage Two. Unfortunately, the move proved to be a disaster for the Team Penske driver that needed a good finish to get back into playoff contention. Logano was caught speeding on pit road. The penalty is a return to the pits, which he did. Only his crew choose to top off the fuel tank during the stop and go. Something the rules do not allow. The resulting drive through penalty dropped Logano a lap down and he finished 27th.
Aric Almirola(43), in just his third race back with Richard Petty Motorsports after breaking his back at Kansas, wrecked on lap one. Matt Kenseth(20) spun entering the front straight and the traffic behind him scrambled to avoid him. Almirola got caught in the melee and crushed the front of his Ford Fusion. Fortunately, after a quick trip to the infield care center, he reported no physical issues as a result of the accident. Almirola finished last in 38th place, unable to complete one circuit around the speedway. Kenseth, untouched, when on to finish ninth.
Last weeks winner, Kasey Kahne(5), bumped teammate Jimmie Johnson(48) on lap 57 sending Johnson into the outside wall. Johnson, last year’s Series Champion, took his car to the garage and out of the race.
Three Fords finished in the top 10. Kevin Harvick(4) in second, Brad Keselowski(2) in fifth, and Bowyer in sixth.
While Busch was a first-time winner this year, locking up a playoff spot caused little impact on the standings. As the points leader among the non-winning drivers, Busch was virtually assured a spot unless four more non-winners scored a victory. Now after Pocono, five races remain before the playoffs begin and three spots are still available for driver’s to get in on points. Chase Elliott(24), Jamie McMurray(1), and Kenseth currently hold those positions. Elliott is 39 points above the cut line, McMurray 38 points above, and Kenseth 17 points to the good.
Bowyer is the driver scrambling to get into that club sitting 17 points behind Kenseth, in 17th position. Logano sits 18th, 69 points out and almost certainly needing a win to get in. Byron, Michigan native Erik Jones sits in 19th and trails by 125 points.
Next week it’s on to Watkins Glen for the I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at The Glen. The road course in upstate New York has all the potential to produce another first-time winner for 2017. Now that would likely scramble the playoff standing significantly.