Gander Outdoors 400 – Pocono Raceway

Over thirteen cars were sent to the rear of the field for the start of the Gander Outdoors 400 due to failing post-qualifying inspection, meaning all qualifying times for those 13 drivers had been disallowed, including that of pole-sitter Kevin Harvick and second-place starter Kyle Busch. This made way for Daniel Suarez in the #19 to lead the field to green for the first time in his career.

Daniel Suarez (right) leads the field to green beside Denny Hamlin

By the end of the first lap, Harvick, who had started 29th, had already made up 11 positions and was running in 18th position and Busch was right behind him.

With clean air, Suarez held the lead for 30 laps before green-flag pitstops pushed him farther back in the field. The caution-free first stage made for lots of shuffling for positions as drivers who started at the rear made their way to the front.  But one of the drivers that started and remained up front was Chase Elliott, who started P6 and with 11 laps to go, passed Denny Hamlin for the lead. Elliott scored his second stage win of the season and some much-needed points.

The running order continued to shuffle throughout Stage 2 as there was only one caution on Lap 83 for Corey Lajoie who scraped the wall in Turn 3. Harvick proved to be unstoppable once he made it to the front and took the Stage Win. In order, the following drivers rounded out the Top 10 of Stage 2: Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Jaime McMurray, Ryan Blaney, and William Byron.

What was seemingly overlooked with these results was just how many Chevrolet drivers were in the Top 10 – it was 6 to be exact (Elliott, Bowman, Larson, Johnson, McMurray, and Byron). After struggling for more than half the season with the new Camero, it would seem the manufacturer and teams are making a lot of gains and taking a big step in the right direction, just in time for the playoffs. Despite the broadcasting focus on the ‘Big Three” drivers (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr.) there was only one in the Top 10 at the end of the second stage. Say what you want, but we want to make a bold prediction: There will be at least one Chevrolet in the final four at Homestead.  

The final stage saw Kyle Busch enter the Top 10, then the Top 5, and finally the lead as he began to pull away. However, the last 40 laps were where things got really crazy and a tame race became caution after caution. With 39 to go, Brad Keselowski in the #2 Miller Lite Ford blew a right-rear tire while battling Jimmie Johnson for position. The #2 spun around and backed into the wall causing significant damage to the entire backend of the car. Keselowski brought his car down pit road for his team to repair as much as they could, however a few laps later, Keselowski went to the garage as the damage was too severe to carry on.

Drivers no sooner passed the start-finish line on the restart when the caution came out for the #00 of Landon Cassill. The #00, unfortunately, had engine issues and leaked oil all over Turn 2 as well as put on a smoke show in Turn 3. Cassill was out for the day and track maintenance crews had to cover a large part of the track with Speedy Dry, which proved problematic for some drivers on the restart.

On Lap 154, the caution flew again for a horrific wreck when Darrell Wallace Jr. lost brake power on the front straightaway and deliberately headed for the infield grass in an effort to slow down. The car careened through the grass and was sent flying into the SAFER barrier. The sheer impact caused Wallace’s #43 to spin and hit the wall a second time. After a nail-biting 43-seconds, Wallace popped his window net down (traditionally an indication that a driver is okay) and climbed out of the car under his own power. The red flag was displayed as track crews once again had to clean up large amounts of debris. Wallace Jr was cleared from the infield care center and the race went back to green….but not for long. The caution came out yet again, and for the final time on Lap 159, forcing the race into overtime. This yellow was for Aric Almirola who had been having a decent day but spun in Turn 2 after trying to avoid Ricky Stenhouse Jr who had turned sideways. Almirola didn’t pick up any damage as he managed to keep the car out of the wall.

Through restarts, a red flag, and overtime, Kyle Busch was able to hang on to the lead despite teammate Daniel Suarez giving him a good run. Busch won for the 6th time this season and tied Tony Stewart for most career wins in the NASCAR Cup Series (49 wins). Busch is now tied with Harvick when it comes to the most wins this season.

Catch the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Watkins Glen next weekend. Get your tickets HERE!

 

 

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