One of the things that drives me batty about sports is the celebrity tour thing. This week, 22 Jump Street is coming out so Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum get to give the start engines command. While the Hollywood types come out in droves to promote their new movie, etc., only in NASCAR do they get to start the event. I suppose it is close to the ceremonial first pitch in baseball. These guys and gals, for the most part, will never watch or attend another NASCAR event but they get to promote themselves in front of the crowd. As if any of us care they are even there. Want to make a real difference? How about a Make A Wish kid or a returning vet giving the starting command? That would mean a whole lot more to the crowd than overpaid Hollywood stars.
OK, on to the race.
Normally Pocono is a bit of a snooze fest and that is one reason the 500 mile race was shortened to 400. Thank you for that. And this race fell into that with little passing and the cars getting strung out pretty quickly after a restart.
Dale, Jr. started in the top 10 and stayed there for most of the day. It looked like he would have a top 5 finish out of the race since Brad Keselowski had the dominant car all day. Once again, it was all about clean air and once the 2 car got to the front, he was usually 3-4 seconds ahead of anyone else.
Fuel strategy was a key factor in the race as well with cars planning on late stops to make it to the end. As it fell, a late caution fell giving everyone the chance to pit and race for the win. Unfortunately, some cars had already pitted and pretty much sealed their fate. Brad Keselowski had the clean air he needed, he just did not have a clean grill. With less than 20 laps remaining, his car started to overheat but he was still a car length or 2 ahead of the 88. When Brad felt he could no longer push the car, he closed in on Danica to get the air off of her car to release the trash on his grill. Danica either got loose, slowed to allow the leaders to pass or Brad just underestimated her speed because he had to slow way down and Jr. blew past him. After that it was no contest as Brad tried to close in on the 88 to get the paper off of his grill but Jr. would never let him draft or get close enough to get that move to work.
After running out of fuel at Las Vegas on the final lap and handing the win to Keselowski, this seemed like a fitting way to win.
The biggest drama to come out of the day was Kyle Busch losing his mind and running himself and Kasey Kahne into the wall late in the race. The wreck also collected Carl Edwards and to a lesser degree, Greg Biffle.
I have seen nothing about the incident from Kyle Busch, but Kahne puts it squarely on Bush. It certainly appeared that Kahne had a run on the outside of Busch when Busch ran not only Kahne, but himself up into the wall. Maybe Busch got really lose, but he did so driving it hard into the corner. Edwards had nowhere to go and smacked Kahne in the rear, thus ending his day. Kahne had no braking power and hit the wall hard a 2nd time before being able to bring the car to a rest against the wall. Biffle wound up with a piece of someone’s car stuck under his car but it did come loose.
Kenseth never got his car tuned to the track and handed the points lead back over to Jeff Gordon. Kenseth and Kyle Larson are the only two winless drivers in the top 10. Logoano, Earnhardt, Johnson and Harvick are the drivers with 2 wins and are a near certain lock in the Chase. Harvick is still outside the top 10 but with his wins, he will make the Chase.
As discussed here last week, with just 12 races remaining in the “regular” season drivers need that win to guarantee a Chase position. If not a win, Kenseth better be points racing for all he is worth to get an automatic Chase bid as the points leader. But if you think about it, you would assume points racing should eventually get him a win by then. With 10 current winners, the chances of reaching 16 winners this year seems slim. And while seeing 12-14 winners would not be unheard of, it will take a major effort for a team to suddenly step up for a win. The wild card tracks for this are Daytona and Talladega as well as Sonoma and Watkins Glen. It would not be surprising to see someone like Casey Mears, Martin Truex, Jr. or Marcos Ambrose win one of those 4. And then you have Stewart, Kenseth, Bowyer, Vickers, Newman and Kahne who are all winless and at least two of those drivers should get a win.
But if you think that Harvick, Johnson and Keselowski are done winning, you have another thing coming. I fully expect to see at least 3 drivers with 3 or more wins before this is all over and we could see 2 more drivers add a 2nd win.
That leaves 7 or fewer races open for another driver to unseat one of the leaders right now. That’s not a lot when the best drivers are running up front every week.
With all that said, here are this weeks WINNERS:
Dale Jr. (1) gets the nod for the top spot this week. He has been decent in recent weeks and now we are heading to Michigan where he has been strong as of late.
Brad Keselowski (2) was the car to beat and was done in by trash on his grill.
Kurt Busch (3) started up front, finished up front and led 5 laps.
Denny Hamlin (4) snared the pole, led 4 laps and was never serious threat racing in dirty air.
Kyle Larson (5) led 7 laps and seems like a bigger threat to win than Kenseth.
Jimmie Johnson (6) raced his way up from 20th and overcame a pit road incident with Ambrose.
Jeff Gordon (8) is back in the points lead, this time with a win.
Ryan Newman (7) got his 10th top 10. He still has no top 5 finishes.
Martin Truex, Jr. (9) got his third top 10.
Jamie (10) McMurray got his 4th top 10. He has shown better speed this year, just been unlucky a lot.
Tony Stewart (13) led 24 laps but speeding on pit road bit him in the rear.
And this week’s LOSERS:
Kasey Kahne (42) gets the nod for his poor finish once again. While the wreck was not his fault, running back in the pack can do that to you.
Kyle Busch (12) was lucky to finish this high, but he gets put here for his poor decision that took out 2 fellow drivers.
Carl Edwards (41) got caught up in the Kahne/Busch kerfuffle.
Joey Logano (40) had his engine let go and cost himself a top 15 run.
Danica Patrick (37) wasted a top 20 starting position.
Matt Kenseth (25) qualified poorly and never really raced well.
Brian Vickers (19) led a lap and had a fast car but got caught up in fuel strategy.
Greg Biffle (16) just missed the 5/18/99 accident and never really contended.
Kevin Harvick (14) had a good run ended by a flat tire again.
Will Jr. get his 3rd win of the year at Michigan or will one of the Roushkateers find Victory Lane this weekend?