OBSERVATIONS: Gander Outdoors 400
While Pocono Raceway has grown a reputation for being a race for fans to take naps, both events at the tricky triangle delivered in 2018.
From the green flag to the checkered, the speedway was filled with passing throughout the field as drivers battled for position, sometimes going three-wide down the Long Pond straightaway. Combined with pit strategy, and the Gander Outdoors 400 had a bit of everything for fans on Sunday.
For the record, neither event was won by the driver whom dominated it, either. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were the ones to beat in June, but yet Martin Truex Jr. beat them both then. On Sunday, Harvick dominated – but Busch won.
While the storylines have been filled with “The Big 3” and you’d expect their names to be mentioned, things weren’t easy for them as they both started from the rear due to failing post-qualifying inspection. These two-day shows for the summer will be interesting in how teams fare as if you fail before qualifying, you just get to go through again and lose practice time. However, in the schedule where there is no pre-tech, a failure means you lose your lap time and start from the tail. Just ask those who started from the back on Sunday. It certainly also fuels the debate how disqualifications should be handled post-race if the winner is found illegal.
Although starting from the back made it entertaining for the fans in watching both competitors moving up to the front, it didn’t take them long to get there with Harvick ready to set sail. However, contact on pit road with his teammate Aric Almirola on the final round of stops damaged the No. 4 Ford, requiring a second stop for repairs, and restarting 30th for the final run. Give Harvick credit where it’s due, though, as he worked his way back to the front for a fourth-place finish.
The events handed the advantage over to Busch, and he didn’t let go as he led the rest of the way – despite being heavily challenged by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez.
On that note, did anybody notice how all four JGR cars and all four Hendrick Motorsports cars were in the top-10 at one point? As we get closer to the playoffs, the cream is rising to the top and we see powerhouse teams making a push to get their drivers into the post-season. Things could get interesting for HMS as three of their drivers sit right on the doorstep together, while Gibbs has locked in all four except Suarez.
Speaking for HMS, for the first time since October 2017, they had all four cars finish in the top-10. We’ve seen the slow progress of their hardwork to gain back ground courtesy of strong runs from Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman and wondered if they were actually getting back on-track. Welp, the results today certainly give that theory a whole new meaning.
Finally, shout-out to Darrell Wallace Jr. on getting another season at Richard Petty Motorsports as they’ve had some strong runs together. More importantly, thank you for safer barriers as it was extremely satisfying to see him climb out of the No. 43 Chevrolet after slamming the turn one wall due to no brakes. Everybody’s hard work on safety innovations is showing, and that’s a great feeling for all involved.
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