Pocono 400 – Pocono Raceway

Pocono Raceway has always presented a challenge to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers. Not only is it one of the trickiest tracks on the circuit (given its 3-turn configuration), it also presents the most unpredictable weather. This weekend wasn’t any different with temperatures on Saturday reaching the mid-80’s accompanied by extreme humidity and temperatures on race day in the low-60’s with considerable wind. Having practiced and qualified in the hot weather, the notably cooler air was a surprise for teams and caused some handling issues. For this season’s most dominant drivers, however, this race was no different than any other.

Polesitter Ryan Blaney in the #12 took off like a bullet and led the first 11 laps of the 160-lap race. But soon, Kevin Harvick caught up and Blaney radioed to his team that handling was falling off and he was far too loose in all four corners. Blaney pitted on Lap 13 but managed to stay on the lead lap.

Within the next 15 laps, all drivers – one by one – made their way down pit road to top off fuel. This made for a very interesting pit cycle as all cars were on different strategies. Joey Logano, who had pitted directly after Blaney, was forced to come back to pit road on the final lap of Stage 1 as he was frustrating out of fuel due to a faulty gas can that did not properly fill the car the first time around. While Logano sputtered down pit road, Martin Truex Jr took the green-white-checkered flag as well as the playoff points to mark the end of Stage 1.

Stage 2 got off to a rough start for Truex when his one of his pit crew accidentally knocked the jack which in turn created issues in removing the left rear tire from the car. Truex restarted 14th but would battle back to finish Stage 2 in the 4th position. The season-dominator Kevin Harvick picked up the lead from Brad Keselowski on the restart and ran away with it. The segment ended with Harvick taking his 5th stage win of the season.

While the first half of the race ran without incident, aggression in Stage 3 intensified with contact between Hendrick teammates Chase Elliott in the #9 and Alex Bowman in the #88 as they battled for position and Bowman lost some speed on the front-stretch. With nowhere to go, Elliott bumped the back of Bowman. The collision caused damage to the #88 and forced Bowman to come down pit road.

With 50 to go in the race, Darrell Wallace Jr began slowing down on track. While trying to make it to pit road, it became apparent that his #43 Chevrolet had lost its engine. Wallace went to the garage and was the first car to finish with a DNF. Shortly afterward, Matt DiBenedetto headed to the garage with fire under his car, also incurring a DNF.

The first caution of the day for an incident on the race track came on Lap 124 when Kyle Larson deliberately dumped Derrike Cope on the exit of Turn 3. Debris in Turn 1 caused another caution on Lap 138. During pit stops, Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, and Kyle Larson gambled and opted to stay out. All other lead cars pitted, including Kyle Busch.

It wasn’t long after when the 5th caution came for Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin when Bowman in the #88 car became aggressive and pushed Hamlin to the bottom of the track. The aerodynamics changed on Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Toyota which caused the backend to step out and the car spun. Hamlin sustained enough damage that it ended his day. Bowman also sustained damage, however, his team was able to make some repairs and the #88 finished the day in P27.

With 10 to go, Joey Logano got into the back of Erik Jones and caused the 6th and final caution of the day. Jones spun into the inside wall and collected Ryan Newman in the #31. Logano faired the best out of these three and didn’t acquire any damage. Logano would finish 9th after struggling with his #22 Ford all day long and, at one point, was a lap down. Newman would finish 25th on the lead lap, while Jones limped to a lap-down, 29th place finish

The Pocono 400 restarted with 7 laps to go and saw Martin Truex Jr jump ahead after a big push from Kevin Harvick. Truex pulled away to a full 2-second lead and drove to his second win of the season. Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski would round out the Top 5.

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