Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
With a dominating performance at a track he has learned to love, Kyle Busch cruised to his fourth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season in Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Busch led a race-high 79 of 160 laps—including the final 21 after a cycle of green-flag pit stops—in collecting his second straight win at the 2.5-mile triangular track and his third overall, all three of which have come in the last four events after years of frustration at the Tricky Triangle.
With his 55th victory in the series, Busch tied NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace for ninth on the career win list. Next above him is the late Dale Earnhardt, who won 76 races. It was the ninth triumph in 14 races this season for Joe Gibbs Racing, equaling the organization’s total from 2018.
“I just can’t say enough about everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “Everybody that works there works so hard to build these awesome Camrys… We’ve had an amazing roll this year here so far. We’ve been doing well.
“We feel like we’ve kind of given away a couple of wins that we thought we had a shot for, but overall, it’s been awesome to get back to Victory Lane here. Pocono’s been a struggle, but it’s a lot better now.”
Not even a late caution on Lap 147, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pounded the outside wall in the Tunnel Turn, could interrupt the flow of Busch’s race. After the subsequent restart on Lap 152, the No. 18 JGR Toyota gradually pulled away from Brad Keselowski, who shot past Erik Jones into the runner-up position on the restart.
Busch crossed the finish line 2.224 seconds ahead of Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Jones held the third position, followed by Chase Elliott, who recorded his fifth consecutive top-five result. Clint Bowyer completed the top five.
On an earlier restart on Lap 73, Bowyer charged past Busch into the lead, but two laps later, Busch surprised the Stewart-Haas driver with a pass to the outside in Turn 3. That move was emblematic of the superiority of Busch’s car throughout the race.
“I passed one guy on the outside of Turn 3, and that was the only guy I needed to pass, I guess,” Busch said. “It was hard otherwise. We kind of got stuck back in traffic a little bit earlier in the race, like in fifth or sixth, and couldn’t really do anything.”
The stellar work of Busch’s over-the-wall crew, however, gained positions on pit road.
“Overall, my guys on pit road were awesome and picked up some spots there,” Busch said. (“Crew chief) Adam Stevens and some of his race calls got us up closer to the front. Cool to get a win at Pocono again.”
It also helped that Busch’s closest competition, Kevin Harvick, had to serve a pass-through penalty for a tire violation, after the right front that came off the car rolled out of the No. 4 Ford’s pit stall during a two-tire stop on Lap 123. A broken steering box compounded Harvick’s problems and relegated him to a 22nd-place finish.
Keselowski got the best possible finish out of a car that wasn’t the equal of Busch’s.
“We didn’t have speed enough to pass guys, but we could run with them,” Keselowski said. “I think we had a pretty good Wabash Ford. We wanted a little bit more to be able to pass everybody, but you had to be so much faster that you just try to execute the best you can and hope things fall the right way.
“They fell decent, just not good enough to win today.”
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez, pole winner William Byron and Aric Almirola completed the top 10. Kyle Larson won the first two stages but cut across the nose of Bowyer’s Ford and bounced off the wall near the exit from Turn 1 late in the race. Larson finished 26th, one lap down.
Erik Jones matches season-best finish, gains
ground in standings
Erik Jones was realistic.
He was well aware that the chances of overtaking Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch late in Sunday’s Pocono 400 were remote, too say the least.
To compound the challenge, Busch had fresher rubber, having taken four tires during his last pit stop on Lap 94 at Pocono Raceway. Jones, on the other hand, had taken right-side tires only on his pit stop a lap later—a strategic choice to gain track position.
Even though a late caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s contact with the outside wall in the Tunnel Turn stacked up the field for a restart on Lap 152, Jones knew the odds against taking down his teammate were long indeed.
But one can always hope.
“Well, yeah, you always want to think that way, but I think Kyle and I on four tires… if we were both on four tires, it would have been pretty even, but he had an advantage on tires there at the end,” Jones said. “We needed some track position, so we had to take two, and had it stayed green, we were going to run second, and we ended up third. You know, a good day overall.
“It would have really had to be a perfect scenario for us to win today, but we had a good car. The DeWalt Camry was fast, and it was fast all weekend. We’ve been doing it every week. We’ve just got to have things go our way and have a little luck on our side. Had some good luck today and some things play out the way we needed them, so hopefully that trend keeps rolling here the next couple months.”
Jones restarted next to Busch on Lap 152 but surrendered the second position to Brad Keselowski. Nevertheless, his third-place finish matched his best of the season.
More important, Jones moved from 17th to 15th in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings, now inside the Playoff cut line and one point ahead of both Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson.
Strategic ploy nets top-five finish for Chase Elliott
With three laps left in the second stage of Sunday’s Pocono 400, Chase Elliott tossed away 10 stage points and a Playoff point.
But it wasn’t a mistake. Though Elliott held the lead at Pocono Raceway at the time, pitting was a big-picture decision, because it produced a significant gain in track position when most of the lead-lap cars came to pit road after the stage ended.
Elliott restarted fifth on Lap 106 and improved one spot by the time the race ended 55 laps later. Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, had the luxury to make that call, given that Elliott already had a race win at Talladega and a guaranteed spot in the postseason Playoffs.
“Playing the strategy game was really important,” Elliott said. “Pitting before the stages (ended) was giving up stage points doing that, but ultimately having track position in the back half (of the race) was where it was worth it. Luckily, Alan and our group saw that earlier in the race, and we kind of jumped on board with that strategy.
“It worked out for a top five. I’m proud of the effort. We’ve had some good NAPA Chevrolets the last couple of weeks. We’ve been good, just not great, and you have to be great to win these things. I’ll go to work and try to do a better job, and we’ll see what we can do next week.”
Clint Bowyer puts his No. 14 Stewart-Haaas Ford in Top Five
Clint Bowyer capped a solid day at Pocono Raceway with a fifth-place finish in Sunday’s Pocono 400, but he was chagrined by a Lap 152 restart where he dropped two spots.
“I’m a little bit frustrated,” Bowyer acknowledged. “Wherever you came off Turn 1 is where you ran.”
The race left the Stewart-Haas cars still searching for the speed necessary to compete with the Joe Gibbs Racing contingent, and it left Bowyer wondering how to accumulate some stage points in the process. The No. 14 team was blanked in both the first and second stages of the race.
“We had a pretty good car,” said Bowyer, who scored 32 points for the event, compared with 45 for pole winner William Byron, who finished ninth but ran second in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2. “We had a third-to-fifth place car.
“That’s about what we had, and we did a good job finishing with what we had. We’re just giving up way too many stage points. We have to figure out how to get some stage points. That’s all we had today.”
Last-lap pass gives Cole Custer dramatic NASCAR Xfinity win at Pocono
Cole Custer led 59 laps from the pole and, at one point in Saturday’s Pocono Green 250, held a lead of more than 13 seconds, but it took a pass through the final corner in overtime for the driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to win his third NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the season.
Series leader Tyler Reddick had grabbed the lead from Custer moments after the overtime restart on Lap 102. Custer gave chase and, one lap later, took full advantage in Turn 3 at Pocono Raceway when Reddick failed to hold the bottom of the track entering the corner.
Winning for the first time at the 2.5-mile triangular track and for the fifth time in his career, Custer crossed the finish line .226 seconds ahead of Reddick’s No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Reddick had started the race from the rear of the field because of a transmission change and later rallied from a pass-through penalty for an outside tire violation on his next-to-last pit stop to claim the runner-up spot and extend his series lead to 76 points over fifth-place finisher Christopher Bell.
On the final restart lap, Reddick pushed Custer clear of third-place finisher Chase Briscoe in the top lane, then shot to the bottom of the track and cleared Custer’s Mustang through Turn 1. The move took Custer by surprise.
“Tyler gave me a real run for my money there,” Custer said. “I have no idea how he made it stick on that restart on the bottom, passing me. But he did. He was unbelievable on the brakes at the end.”
But Custer, who hadn’t won from the pole in eight previous tries, had the winning gambit planned as the cars approached Turn 3 for the final time.
“I was just able to kind of force a mistake a little bit trying to pack air on him,” Custer said. “It was a fun end of the race. I had my downshift planned right there. I wish I didn’t have to do it like that, but it probably made it exciting.”
Ultimately, a tight handling condition contributed to Reddick’s undoing and prevented him from holding the inside line in the final corner.
“I tried to really get it stopped and make sure I covered the bottom,” Reddick said. “We just fought tight over the last half of the race. Thought we had a really good restart, got by Cole, but I was too tight out front in clean air. I just got loose in Turn 3 and gave it back.”
Custer won Stage 1 wire-to-wire but lost track position in Stage 2, thanks to a variance in strategic calls by other teams. Justin Allgaier took the Stage 2 victory, but his race fell apart when he spun in Turn 1 seconds after a Lap 98 restart to force the overtime.
By then, Custer had reclaimed the lead on Lap 85 during an exchange of green-flag pit stops and had pulled away to a lead of 13.620 seconds before Austin Cindric’s Ford slipped in the Tunnel Turn and sent Jeffrey Earnhardt’s Toyota spinning.
That caution bunched the field and gave Reddick, Briscoe, Bell and fourth-place finisher Ryan Preece a chance to fight for the win.
In the end, however, it was Custer who prevailed in the fastest car—despite Reddick’s gutsy ploy in Turn 1.