Race Wrap Up: Rowdy rolls after strategy sinks Harvick
Remember the song "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better"? That seems to be the soundtrack of the 2018 season for the big three, as Kyle Busch wasted no time matching Kevin Harvick with six wins by taking the Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway Sunday.
Busch and Harvick originally qualified on the front row, but after more than a dozen cars failed post-qualifying inspection, he started 30th. No worries for either, though, as they sliced their way through the field and challenged for the lead at times. Two of the big three combined to lead 82 of 164 laps Sunday, and Harvick picked up a stage win, but Busch's five playoff points give him a 35-33 edge over Harvick, plus he's in line for the 15 point bonus for being the points leader at the end of the regular season.
"It's hard to swallow having a car like that and not winning, but that's usually the way it goes when you have a day where your car runs that fast," said Harvick, who won his 10th stage of the year Sunday.
As for Martin Truex Jr., it was a bit of an off day with a 15th-place finish. Truex battled brake problems throughout Sunday's race and never seriously challenged for the win after taking the trophy home in this year's first Pocono race. For those of you scoring at home (and we know you are), that's 16 wins in 21 races for the big three.
How Busch won the race: When you don't have a car as fast as the competition, you've got to try something different. And that's exactly what crew chief Adam Stevens did for Busch Sunday. With three laps to go in Stage 2, Busch came to pit road and sacrificed stage points for track position in the final stage.
Things then fell perfectly into place for Busch, who restarted on the front row alongside William Byron in the final frame. After passing Byron for the lead, Busch simply kept the field at bay until a hard crash by Bubba Wallace late led to a series of restarts and overtime. On the final restart, Busch spun his tires allowing Suarez to get alongside him, but Erik Jones took advantage, too, and went three-wide in Turn 1. Busch cleared his teammates and cruised to an easy win.
"I can't say enough about my teammate. What an awesome race," Busch said. "He was probably the second-best, well third-best car. Harvick was the best car, we were the second-best car I think. He gave us a run for our money on those last couple of restarts. The last one, I spun my tires a little bit too much, and he got a really good run and I think that gave Jones an opportunity to get three-wide down into one and those guys got to racing and kind of let me get away."
Got us a couple new trophies to bring home! #WeekendSweep #18n18 pic.twitter.com/2vbgev4287— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) July 29, 2018
With the win, Busch tied Tony Stewart with 49 wins in NASCAR's top series. He's still 34 behind active wins leader Jimmie Johnson, but it's safe to say Busch is on his way to a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Oh, and he won Saturday's truck race and finished the weekend with 192 career wins across NASCAR's top three series.
Daniel's career day: Normally, a trip to the tricky triangle isn't a good thing for young drivers, but Daniel Suarez shook that trend this weekend. After qualifying third, Suarez was awarded the pole when Harvick and Busch failed inspection.
Suarez led the first 21 laps from the pole before losing the lead to teammate Denny Hamlin during green flag pit stops. Suarez ran in the top five almost all day long and was within a car's length of taking the lead away from Busch in overtime.
"At the beginning of the race, we were OK," Suarez told NBC Sports. "And then we lost the balance a little bit. We made some adjustments, we got the car better and by the end of the race, I thought we were a solid top-three car. I felt like in the short run, we were actually the best car all day. It's a little disappointing, it hurts to be close."
Finally the strong weekend we've been looking for. P2 today. Looking for more next weekend! pic.twitter.com/DHRiEEidBl— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) July 29, 2018
The end result for Suarez was a career-best second-place finish and 29 laps led. Before Sunday, the most laps Suarez led in a single race was 14 last August at Watkins Glen, which is where the circuit heads next week.
Sitting 96 points behind the cut line, it's unlikely that Suarez can get in the playoffs on points, but Sunday offered a much-needed good run for the sophomore driver.
Bowman solidifies playoff spot with podium finish: Speaking of drivers battling for the final playoff spot, Alex Bowman did a lot to help his chances of reaching the postseason with a career-best third-place finish.
"I felt like our car was really solid on restarts all day," Bowman said. "That last restart wasn't the best, I think we had some gear ratio differences and I couldn't get to Kyle's rear bumper."
Bowman was the highest-finishing Hendrick Motorsports driver, but Sunday's trip to Pocono was possibly the best race of the year for HMS. William Byron and Chase Elliott both led laps, with Elliott winning his second stage of the year, while seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson finished 17th after running in the top 10 late.
Can't say we were super fast all weekend but Gregory kept making the right adjustments all race to get us to P3. It was great to have Mr. H here for it and I'm so pumped for my team guys who have been working really hard to find more speed. Awesome weekend! pic.twitter.com/2p4XcKsEoR— Alex Bowman (@AlexBowman88) July 30, 2018
Entering Watkins Glen, Bowman holds a 56-point advantage over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the final playoff spot. Assuming we don't have any surprising winners (hint hint, A.J. Allmendinger at the Glen), as long as Bowman doesn't have any disastrous days, he should make the playoffs with relative ease.
Penske problems: If there's one major organization that would like to forget Sunday's race, it's Team Penske. Despite all three of their drivers boasting wins at the tricky triangle, it was seemingly trouble from the start for Penske.
Joey Logano picked up some nose damage early in the race and ran around 15th most of the day before cutting a tire and hitting the wall in Turn 2 and finishing 26th. Brad Keselowski was the best of the bunch, but he also cut a tire in Turn 2 and pounded the wall on Lap 122 while battling with Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski ended the day 38th and is still looking for his first win.
Ryan Blaney probably had the most uneventful day of the trio, but that's just it; it was uneventful and he brought the No. 12 home in 12th. With the playoffs fast approaching and all three drivers in good shape, Penske will need to get back on track or they'll be going to Homestead with no shot at the title.
Long weekend for us. Will just have to keep working. Boy am I happy Bubba is okay. Saw a replay after the red flag and that was scary. Called him right after. He's tough.— Ryan Blaney (@Blaney) July 29, 2018
Bubba's big wreck made us hold our breath: Easily the most terrifying moment of the weekend came with five laps to go when Bubba Wallace lost his brakes entering turn one and slammed the outside wall at nearly full speed.
Wallace told NBC Sports the lap before that his pedal went to the floor and he tried pumping them, but something broke and he had no brakes approaching 200 mph. The rest, we'll just leave in a video below:
.@BubbaWallace climbed from the 43 car under his own power after this hard crash at @poconoraceway. pic.twitter.com/HgqEcYMb3T— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 29, 2018
We couldn't be happier to report that Bubba is OK and even made a joke after the crash, saying an ultrasound he was given in the infield care center showed he isn't pregnant with twins.
This @bubbawallace guy. Survives potentially deadly wreck, then 15 minutes later is outside the medical center and says this in an interview: "They gave me an ultrasound. No twins or anything, so I'm good."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) July 29, 2018
"The hardest one (hit) of my career. I was just telling them here, there's no feeling like being helpless in that situation going off into turn one and it scared the hell out of me. I didn't know if I was going to remember if I hit or not," Wallace said. "We're good, I bit my cheek, banged my foot off the pedal, but I'm OK, though."
Bloomin' Monday: An up and down day at Pocono resulted in a fourth-place finish for Kevin Harvick. So that means it's another Bloomin' Monday at Outback Steakhouse. Kevin and his crew are probably going to stew over letting this race slip away, but it's nothing a trip to Outback can't remedy right away.
Next week: NASCAR makes its second of three (yes, that's right, three) road course starts at Watkins Glen International for the Go Bowling At The Glen and Xfinity Series Zippo 200. Martin Truex Jr. got the win last year, will he match his big three counterparts by earning his second road course win of the year? Or will we see a new face in victory lane? Catch all of the action from the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York on the Motor Racing Network and NBC Sports Network.