Race Capsule: Kahne's power move at Pocono gives him wild card room
The Scoop: Jimmie Johnson seemed to have the Pocono trophy in hand before the green even dropped. Starting from the pole at a track where he won the last race from the pole seemed the makings for a long, boring GoBowling.com 400. But a cut tire sent Johnson into the wall around midway through the 160-lap race. Johnson and Team 48 fought to stay on the lead lap and then pick up about 10 spots on two late restarts to finish 13th and actually extend their points lead over Clint Bowyer (14th). Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon had the lead in the closing laps. A "necessary" debris caution with 10 laps to go erased Kahne's six-second lead and allowed Gordon to pass to Kahne's inside on the restart to take the lead. But Gordon would not get a 42nd birthday present, as Matt Kenseth spun his No. 20 to re-rack the field for a green-white-checkered finish. Gordon elected to start on the inside (where he made his pass of Kahne) and got a good restart. But fellow birthday boy Kurt Busch (3rd) drafted Kahne down the front straightaway to make up for Kahne spinning his tires on the start. Kahne made a power move to Gordon's outside as Gordon swung low to defend Ryan Newman (4th) on the inside line. Kahne stayed in front to win both his 2nd-career Pocono race and 2nd 2013 win. The win for Kahne is huge, as fellow drivers near the wild card cutoff line (Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, and Greg Biffle) all have one win. Gordon is in the top 10 in points, but is winless in 2013 and really needed a win to keep step in his playoff hopes. Kurt Busch was in the top 5 most of the day and finished there, as did last week's winner Ryan Newman (4th). Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quiet, but strong and placed 5th, with Brad Keselowski (desperately in need of a win) 6th, his teammate Joey Logano 7th, Kyle Busch 8th, Tony Stewart (who recovered from a pit road speeding penalty) 9th, and Greg Biffle 10th. This race saw several cautions for crashes, including a Juan Pablo Montoya (28th)-caused melee on lap 1, that destroyed Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s (34th) car and also damaged Kenseth's (22nd). Johnson, David Gilliland (39th), and David Stremme (30th) all cut down tires and Goodyear is investigating the cause. Four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin placed 43rd, after getting loose and hitting the wall on lap 16. Danica Patrick (35th) got loose and spun both hers and Travis Kvapil's (26th) cars, before Jeff Burton (36th) and his teammate Paul Menard (32nd) plowed into them on lap 111. Overall, the field did get strung out fairly quickly, but there were enough wrecks and passes for the lead to make the day interesting.
140 Characters or less: Kahne overpowers old man Gordon at Pocono. Johnson up to 13th after cutting tire. Chase Wild Card race heating up.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kasey Kahne - He led the most laps, took the trophy, and made the race-winning move after almost having it taken from him. He told SPEED's Victory Lane TV show that he actually practiced his move on that turn during the race. Having a big lead pays off.
North Korean Missile Dud: Denny Hamlin - He is a contender at most Pocono races, but crashed and finished behind the start-and-parkers this week. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kenseth got loose and spun toward the end of the race. Kyle Busch fought handling problems toward the race's end. Something besides the TRD motors is amiss at JGR and now isn't the time that teams want to search for speed, with the Chase looming closer.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Bobby Labonte - JTG-Daugherty Racing is lucky to get top 20s these days, but Labonte survived some carnage and passed some cars to score 19th. The future is cloudy for Labonte, so runs like this show he still knows how to saw a wheel.
You Can Comeback, But You Can's Stay Here: Jimmie Johnson - This has something to do with murdering the right side of the racecar, knocking off a spark plug wire, repairing it all, never losing a lap, and actually passing cars to finish 13th. Or something.
Wheel of Misfortune: Jeff Burton and Paul Menard - Danica Patrick's corner misjudgment led to Burton and Menard's big time misfortune late in the race. Burton also finished 43rd at Indy, leaving him 20th in points and in need of more than just a win and some good luck to sneak into the Chase.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: ANOTHER late debris caution - NASCAR obviously frowned upon Kasey Kahne's more than six second lead over Jeff Gordon after the last green flag pit stops with over 10 laps to go. They checked for debris in Turn 3 and then one of the officials said they saw two pieces of rubber. Race director David Hoots, seeing a window to bunch the field back up, said, "Are you sure it's only rubber?" Seconds later, Hoots' patented, "Put it out!" call for the yellow came across the radio. This made for an exciting ending, but contrived in the eyes of many. I've said it before and will again: these kinds of cautions in obvious circumstances need to stop.
Ghost Driver: Clint Bowyer - Apparently the No. 15 Toyota was enrolled in this Pocono class, but sat in the back row and took minimal notes in between cat naps (they finished 14th). The No. 15 was to Pocono as the author of this column was to class at Georgia State University: I graduated with a 3.3 GPA, which was perfectly acceptable, but not good enough for valedictorian (or a championship in Bowyer's case).
NNS 140 or less: Brad Keselowski with part of his Cup crew takes lead on late pit stops and win Iowa, much to Austin Dillon's chagrin.
NCWTS 140 or less: Ryan Blaney gets 2nd-career win, taking lead on late Pocono restart. Todd Bodine spins from win to 11th.
Georgia On My Mind: David Ragan led a lap during a pit sequence, got a free pass for the final restarts, and passed some cars to finish 21st, which isn't bad for his small No. 34 Front Row Motorsports team. In the NNS race, Kyle Fowler got another start in the No. 79 Sarge's Tailgate Grill Ford for Go Green Racing and placed 28th, several laps down. Reed Sorenson experienced another mechanical problem and finished 22 laps down in 31st. Brett Butler start-and-parked for the cash-strapped SR2 Motorsports team to 33rd. The Truck Series race saw Max Gresham (with crew chief Chris Showalter attending his 450th Truck race - that is every race) finish a solid 13th and John Wes Townley 17th. Ryan Sieg skipped the Eldora race (but ran solid in an RSS Racing entry at Indy in the NNS) and start-and-parked to 30th in Saturday's race.
Next: The Sprint Cup (Sun., 1 p.m., ESPN) and Nationwide Series (Sat., 2:15 p.m., ABC) take to the sinews of Watkins Glen - road racing is exciting and next weekend should make for some good racing. The Trucks take the week off and return in two weeks at Michigan.