By: Ashley McCubbin
Through the years, I admittedly have slept through Pocono Raceway’s events out of pure boredom. A field strung out all the way around the 2.5-mile oval with a lack of passing made for a good nap time.
A combination of the package used, desperation to make up ground as we get later in the season and strategy ensured that did not happen one bit this past weekend. Two NASCAR Cup Series races this weekend provided a pair of different events, but both exciting in their own unique way.
A lack of practice and for sure stability in the cars, combined with a line-up set by their performance a week ago resulted in passing through the field on Saturday. It seemed drivers were able to set each other up, and make moves if they had the speed. Combined with an element of strategy as drivers tried different ways to make it to the end with fuel and tires, there was something to keep your eye on all the way through.
As everyone has grown used to, Hendrick Motorsports found themselves at the front late with Alex Bowman’s timing of his stop and a caution, plus a decision to start on the bottom lane for a restart in second versus high-lane in fifth paid off put the No. 48 in the lead. However, he did not have the strongest car with Kyle Larson once again having the most speed.
Larson was able to catch Bowman within a couple laps, but it took 13 grueling laps to set-up the pass and get on his way. However, he did not capture the flag, instead blowing a right front tire going into the final corner. While you may say the No. 48 got lucky, possibly causing his teammate to run hard and use up his rubber may have led to what happened.
Returning back on Sunday with more rubber on the track, it was a different race. Perhaps due to teams having time to work on set-ups and stability, you could not pass as much as you did on Saturday. It meant fuel strategy became even more apparent, and boy it made for a show.
Will they make it? Did that driver go early? If he’s running out, will that happen for the rest? What if I should have pitted? Fans on edge, not knowing what will happen to the checkered – now that’s what you want for excitement.
Eight drivers felt they could make it to the end on fuel if they worked at saving along the way. Ultimately, most of them found themselves needing a splash on pit road.
Kyle Busch had spent extra time there the previous caution, as a result of the team addressing a shifter that did not want to go out of fourth gear. The splash put in during that time made the difference, as he made it to the checkered while teammate Denny Hamlin pitted with three laps to go.
The aforementioned HMS group was part of the conversation, as Larson finished second. It wasn’t an easy day, as he had to rebound following front end damage on a restart. William Byron was also part of the equation, and led at the beginning of the fuel save party, but was one of the first to pit. Perhaps if Rudy Fugle had told him sooner about needing to save instead of 15 laps into the run, they would have made it.
Now heading into Road America, the questions continue to mount. Will Kurt Busch hang onto the bubble? Will Hendrick Motorsports win some more, or hit their usual summer struggles? Is Kyle Busch set to go on a fire storm with Joe Gibbs Racing gaining ground each week?