Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, PA — June 27, 2020
The 2nd race of the Pocono doubleheader will have to go a long way to match the drama of Saturday afternoon’s 1st event. Alex Bowman’s last-lap pass for the win after Kyle Larson blew a tire entering the final turn, has barely had time to sink in. Regardless of what occurred, today is a new day and every driver is anxious to write their own spectacular finish in the “Explore the Pocono Mountains 350.”
Today’s race is 25 miles longer than the 325 miles drivers put in yesterday. Adding a new wrinkle, the top 20 finishers were inverted. Chris Buescher(17) starts on the pole with Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell(34) beside him. Alex Bowman(48) starts in 20th and the unluckiest guy at the track, Kyle Larson(5), starts from the rear after going to a backup car.
The extra 10 laps were added incrementally to each segment of today’s race with Stages of 30/55/55 laps making up the 140 laps to be run. Denny Hamlin is the defending race champion, he starts in the 17th position after a strong run in Race #1.
Buescher took advantage of his starting spot and drove off into Turn 1 out front. It did not take long for the action to get wild, Anthony Alfredo(38) hit the wall out of Turn 2 when his right front tire went down on the 2nd lap. Two days racing, two wrecked cars, it was an expensive weekend for the driver nicknamed “Fast Pasta” and his Front Row Motorsports team.
On the restart, Buescher got loose and drove high into Turn 1 allowing McDowell to pass for the lead. Martin Truex Jr.(19), Christopher Bell(20), Aric Almirola(10), and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) followed as Buescher quickly dropped back to mid-pack.
Almost halfway through the 1st Stage, Truex took the lead. The biggest mover early was Kyle Busch(18) racing his way into the Top 10 after starting 19th.
Several drivers opted to pit before the pits were closed two laps before the end of the Stage. Track position is so important at Pocono teams are willing to gamble on off-cycle pit stops in an attempt to gain an advantage.
Truex drove to the Stage win, Bowman finished 15th and Larson could only manage a 16th place finish after starting last.
Stage 1 Results
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
|7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||4|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Out front on the restart were those cars that pitted early prior to the end of Stage 1 or stayed out trying to stretch their fuel to the max. Brad Keselowski(2), Ryan Blaney(12), Bell, Kyle Busch, and William Byron(24) made up the Top 5.
Kyle Busch was complaining of his transmission jumping out of gear and having to hold the shifter to prevent it from happening. Teams were forced to start this race with the same drivetrain they completed yesterday’s 325 laps with.
Keselowski and Blaney pitted on Lap 47, giving the lead to Kyle Busch. Just 5 laps later Blaney was back into the pits for a four-tire change as a result of a loose wheel. Blaney went two laps down with the extra stop.
With 25 laps to go in Stage 2, Kyle Busch maintained the lead followed by Byron, Bell, Hamlin, and Chase Elliott(9). Green flag pit stops began with 20 laps to go, Kyle Busch ran eight extra laps and pitted with 12 laps left in the stage.
Busch lost a lot of time because his car is stuck in 4th gear, getting back to speed exiting the pits took way too long. The problem will also appear on restarts. It appears the mechanical problem will cost Kyle Busch a shot at the victory.
When service stops cycled through Byron was out front, followed by Keselowski, Hamlin, Bell, and Elliott. Kyle Busch dropped to 9th in the running order as a result of his shifting problems. Larson had worked his way up to 7th in the closing laps of the Stage.
Byron got the Stage win and the race may come down to a fuel mileage battle as the pit strategy has opened up multiple options for the Final Stage.
Stage 2 Results
|6||19||Martin Truex Jr.||5|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
During the Stage ending pit stops, Kyle Busch’s crew attempted to repair the shifter issues with his car. They were unsuccessful, Busch rejoined the race at the back of the pack and will have to struggle through to the finish.
The Final Stage
On the first lap after the restart, Cole Custer(41) got into Erik Jones(43) on the exit of Turn 1. Severe damage to the Jones’ car forced him to limp back to the pits and NASCAR displayed the caution. Most of the field took the opportunity to pit with 46 laps to go, hoping to stretch fuel economy and avoid a final stop late in the race.
Back to racing and who drives off into the lead? Alex Bowman, just like yesterday, comes to the front late. Ross Chastain(42), Bell, and Elliott get together while scrambling for positions. All three are forced to come to the pits for repairs under green, likely costing them a shot at the race win.
With 35 laps to go the Top 5 are Bowman, Kevin Harvick(4), Keselowski, Blaney, and Tyler Reddick(8). How will the fuel story play out? The drivers with the most fuel based on their last stops are Kurt Busch(1) in 6th, Byron in 7th, and Hamlin in 9th.
Blaney was the first to pit, with 33 laps to go, dropping him out of the lead pack. Harvick came in with 28 to go. Byron passed Busch and is now the leader of those cars expected to try and make it to the finish without another stop.
Bowman gave up the lead with 24 to go to get fuel and two tires on his stop, making Keselowski the new leader. Reddick pitted with 22 to go, Keselowski pitted with 8 laps to go for a splash of fuel. He returned to the track in 7th position.
Byron, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Larson, and remarkably Kyle Busch are the Top 5 with the laps winding down. Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Larson picked up their pace, passed Kurt Busch, and began to track down Byron who held a 1.5-second lead.
Byron ran out of fuel and pitted with 2 laps to go and Hamlin went to the front. Hamlin ran out with 1 lap to go and Kyle Busch inherited the lead. Unbelievably, the guy with the broken transmission shifter squeezed out enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag.
Larson finished 2nd, followed by Keselowski, Harvick, and Bubba Wallace(23).
|1||Kyle Larson||759||In Win(4)|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||606||In Win(3)|
|3||Alex Bowman||543||In Win(3)|
|4||Kyle Busch||650||In Win(2)|
|5||William Byron||690||In Win|
|6||Joey Logano*||651||In Win|
|7||Chase Elliott||633||In Win|
|8||Ryan Blaney*||586||In Win|
|9||Brad Keselowski*||569||In Win|
|10||Christopher Bell||424||In Win|
|11||Michael McDowell*||419||In Win|
|NASCAR Playoffs Cut Line|
|19||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||376||-54|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 from Pocono Raceway
|11||19||Martin Truex Jr.||25.192||140|
|38||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-29||111|