Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, PA — June 26, 2020
Only eight drivers (in the modern era 1972-present) have won four NASCAR Cup Series points races in a row, six are Hall of Famers. Harry Gant has yet to gain that honor, Johnson is a certain inductee when he becomes eligible. Those drivers are Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and most recently Jimmie Johnson.
Kyle Larson(5) has the opportunity to join that exclusive group today at Pocono in the Pocono 325, race one of the Saturday/Sunday doubleheader at the “Tricky Trioval” in the Pocono Mountains.
The 325-mile event requires 130 laps around the 2.5-mile speedway. Stages are 25/52/53 laps. Kevin Harvick(4), winless to date in 2021, is the defending champion of today’s race. Interestingly Denny Hamlin(11) won race 2 in last year’s back-to-back races and he has yet to visit victory lane this year. Hamlin is the current all-time wins(6) leader at Pocono.
Larson starts on the pole today with teammate William Byron(24) beside him on the front row. Harvick starts in 3rd after a great run last week at Nashville. There will be a competition caution after Lap 12 of today’s race.
Chase Elliott(9) was disqualified at Nashville last week after finishing the race with 5 loose lugnuts. He will start 29th today after being credited with a last-place finish in the Ally 400.
Other NASCAR News
Jeff Gordon, the four-time NASCAR champion, television broadcaster, and NASCAR Hall of Fame member, has been named vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, which will make him the second-ranking team official to chairman and majority owner Rick Hendrick. As vice-chairman and co-owner, Gordon will maintain a daily presence at Hendrick Motorsports with a focus on the organization’s competition and marketing groups.
The Vallejo, California, native will report to Hendrick and work alongside president Marshall Carlson and general manager Jeff Andrews. In addition, he will join Hendrick on NASCAR’s team owner council and assume Hendrick Motorsports’ seat on the sanctioning body’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. Gordon, 49, will formally assume the strategic executive management role on Jan. 1, 2022.
Larson drove off into Turn 1 with the lead but did not pull away from the field. Byron caught him and made the pass to take over the top spot on Lap 5. Elliott and Ryan Preece(37) made contact in the early laps with damage to the right rear of Elliott’s machine and the right front of Preece’s car.
Debris of one of the damaged cars fell onto the track at Lap 9 and the caution came out to clean up the sheet metal. NASCAR declared that the yellow flag would serve as the competition caution and the race restarted on Lap 13.
A lap later, Cole Custer(41) got turned on the front straightaway off contact from Brad Keselowski(2). Custer hit the outside wall, severely damaging his car and ending his day early. On the resulting caution, Keselowski had to return to pit road for repairs to the front of his car as a result of the collision.
Byron maintained the lead through both caution periods until Kyle Busch(18) took the top spot a lap after the restart from the Custer-Keselowski incident. Busch held on for the Stage win with Byron 2nd and Larson 3rd. Maybe the driver of the #5 car is beatable after all.
Stage 1 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
With teams on a variety of pit stop strategies, several drivers stayed out during the Stage-ending caution. Joey Logano(22) inherited the lead followed by Kurt Busch(1), Tyler Reddick(8), Ross Chastain, and Bubba Wallace(23) rounding out the Top 5. Larson, Kyle Busch, and Byron were back in 13th to 15th positions.
Running out front in clean air, Logano began to stretch the interval. With 20 laps completed in Stage 2 those who did not pit after Stage 1 began to make their stops. Chastain took over the top spot followed by Ryan Blaney(12) and Martin Truex Jr.(19).
On Lap 52 Ryan Newman(6) spun exiting Turn 1 bringing out the caution for the 4th time and further jumbling the pit strategy. Kyle Bush took over out front with Michael McDowell(34), Kurt Busch, Logano, and Reddick bringing the field back to the restart.
With 19 laps to go Corey LaJoie(7) drove Anthony Alfredo(38) into the outside wall as they were three-wide out of Turn 3. Both cars headed to pit road with heavy damage. Most of the field, having pitted just a few laps ago, stayed out during the caution period.
Just 6 laps from the end of Stage 2 Chastain hit the wall out of Turn 2 and then spun trying to get onto pit road. The 6th caution of the day will give those wanting to get fresh tires and fuel before the end of the Stage an opportunity to pit. Drivers wanting the Stage points will stay on the track. Kurt Busch, Logano, Byron, Larson, and Blaney will take the pack to the green flag on the restart with just 2 laps to go in Stage 2.
Passing for positions occurred through the entire field. Kurt Busch got the Stage win, Larson moved up to 2nd with Logano 3rd under the green and white checkered flag.
Stage 2 Results
|7||19||Martin Truex Jr.||4|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Everyone will have to make a stop for fuel during the Final Stage but when that stop occurs is subject to the pit sequence their team is on. An ill-timed caution could make the whole plan go up in smoke.
Larson quickly drove to the lead and remained out front as pit stops began with 41 laps to go. Harvick was one of the first to enter the pits and took fuel only gaining a lot of track position. A fast stop by Larson could keep him in the lead when everyone else cycles through the process. After taking 4 Goodyear tires and 2 cans of Sunoco racing fuel he sat 14th with 34 laps to go.
Kyle Busch made his stop and exited in front of Larson, they were running 10th and 11th respectively with 30 to go. However, Larson is running some of the fastest laps on the track. The pair got side-by-side with 27 laps to go but Busch was able to fight off the challenge. they were up to 5th and 6th.
With 23 laps to go the yellow flag waved for debris on the track that was sitting at the entrance to the tunnel turn(#2). The remainder of the field pitted leaving Kyle Busch and Larson out front. Hamlin, Alex Bowman(48), and Byron pulled up behind the leaders.
The green flag was displayed with 19 laps to go, Bowman started inside Kyle Busch courtesy of the choose rule. He outran Busch into Turn 1 and captured the lead. Larson passed Busch to take 2nd. The teammates quickly pulled away to a one-second advantage over Kyle Busch as they ran nose to tail at the front.
With 4 laps to go Larson closed to the bumper of Bowman, exiting Turn 1 Larson got beside him and was able to complete the pass. As soon as Larson had the lead he opened the interval to a second. Entering Turn 3 on the final lap, poised to make history, Larson had a tire go flat. He hit the wall entering the front stretch with the checkered flag in sight and watched Bowman make the pass for the win.
In shock, during the post-race interview at the start-finish line, Bowman said, “I hate to win one that way, but I’ll take it.” Larson finished 9th, but will start from the rear of the field tomorrow as he will have to go to a backup car due to the damage the crash inflicted.
Larson had to go to the infield care center as a result of the accident. After being released, clearly disappointed, he expressed disbelief that his race ended the way it did. The good thing about a weekend doubleheader, he won’t have to wait a week for his shot at redemption. Everyone is back on the track tomorrow afternoon.
Kurt Busch, with strong runs the past two weeks, has booted Chris Buescher out of a playoff spot. The margin is slim, only 4 points. Even more concerning is that a win by anyone other than a driver in the top 16 will remove that qualifying spot based on points.
|1||Kyle Larson||721||In Win(4)|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||565||In Win(3)|
|3||Alex Bowman||513||In Win(3)|
|4||William Byron||655||In Win|
|5||Joey Logano*||623||In Win|
|6||Chase Elliott||617||In Win|
|7||Kyle Busch||606||In Win|
|8||Ryan Blaney*||548||In Win|
|9||Brad Keselowski*||519||In Win|
|10||Christopher Bell||412||In Win|
|11||Michael McDowell*||394||In Win|
|NASCAR Playoffs Cut Line|
|18||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||371||-42|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Pocono 325 from Pocono Raceway
|15||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||14.933||130|
|18||19||Martin Truex Jr.||16.402||130|