5 Takeaways from the Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway
It was another unpredictable afternoon at Pocono Raceway, where 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch qualified on the pole and won his first race of the year, becoming the seventh different winner in the last seven races at the 2.5-mile triangle.
Here are five key takeaways from today’s race:
At long last, Kyle Busch found Victory Lane again after an immensely frustrating season . Busch ended a 36-race winless streak, the longest of his Cup career, by nerfing Kevin Harvick out of the lead with 16 laps to go to make the race-winning pass. It was Busch’s first career Cup victory at Pocono.
In the process, Busch became the 14th different driver to win a Cup race this year and the 10th different driver to win in the last 10 races. With a win under his belt and the fast Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas he’s had all year, Busch is suddenly a legitimate championship contender again.
Kevin Harvick finished second in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, but it was clear Toyotas were the fastest cars at Pocono, with Kyle Busch winning, Martin Truex Jr. third and Denny Hamlin fourth.
Jimmie Johnson has seven Cup championships to his name, but he also has three DNFs in the last four races. And for the second consecutive race, Johnson crashed after close racing with teammate Kasey Kahne. Before that, Johnson and Ryan Blaney had contact.
“It’s just hard racing,” said Johnson. “We were going into Turn 3 and the guys were lifting and he (Blaney) just missed his marks a little bit and luckily we didn’t crash. And then I was in the outside lane and losing some spots. I think the No. 5 (Kahne) washed-up into me and king of finished me off over there in Turn 3. It’s definitely not the day we wanted to have but I don’t think either one of those situations were intentional by any stretch.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last trip to Pocono as a full-time driver was a decent, but not great, one. He was only mid-pack in practice and qualifying, and he had a pit-road speeding penalty during his first pit stop in the race. That dropped him a lap off the lead and back to 30th..
After Stage 1, Earnhardt got the free pass and on a Lap 71 caution, he gambled on tires to pick up 15 positions, moving him up to third place. That didn’t work and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet quickly dropped through the field. Still, Earnhardt was seventh when Stage 3 started and he wound up a respectable 12th. But he needs to win to make the playoffs.
A cautionary tale
In NASCAR, you can’t win a race on the first lap, but you can lose it. On the opening lap of the Overton’s 400, Matt Kenseth spun in Turn 3, triggering a big crash behind him that snared eight drivers, including Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick and Chris Buescher. It was a horrible way to start the race for these drivers.
“I had passed about seven cars the first two corners,” said Almirola, who finished 38th and last. “I was making a lot of progress and then we got to Turn 3 and everybody just stacked up. I saw some smoke. I saw some cars stopped. I got piled in from behind and just drove into the accident. … Sort of a bummer not to even make a whole lap. Not our day.”