Race Capsule: Kurt Busch triumphs at Pocono's case of the Mondays
When you're knocking on the door every week, it's bound to open sometimes. Kurt Busch has been
Flag to Flag: Brad Keselowski (3rd) started on his first pole of the season, but never led a lap
Keselowski received a penalty for illegal body modification, as NASCAR deemed the team's jackman leaned on the body to dent it and increase side force. The team
Kyle Larson (11th) stayed out and pitted just after the restart to try and get in a window to make the end of the race on one less stop. That wouldn't happen. A litany of yellow flags through the day dampened most strategy plays until the very end and allowed Keselowski, Kevin Harvick (finished 9th after speeding on pit road during
The race cycled around to Matt Kenseth (7th) leading 28 laps before green flag pit stops inserted Harvick in command. But a yellow flag for DiBenedetto's second crash on lap 60 stalled Harvick's plan of trying to pit later than the field and still keep the lead, as most cars had pitted under green and he had to under yellow.
Chase Elliott (4th) started 12th and had slowly climbed through the field on the track and in the pits. He caught Kenseth on the next restart as Kyle Busch (31st) tried to make theirs a three-car battle. Elliott would lead the most laps on the day and continued to break away and lead on successive restarts until a final strategy play set him back.
After Austin Dillon's (37th) wreck on lap 119, the play for the end of the race shuffled the deck. Several cars either stayed out or pitted for two tires or none at all. Martin Truex Jr. (19th) took no tires and would have started ahead of all the cars that pitted, but he cut a tire on debris from Dillon's car and had to pit under yellow. All this jettisoned Elliott from the lead and allowed Ty Dillon (21st) to lead a lap and then previous Pocono winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2nd) on newer tires. Elliott got by his teammate and sometimes-boss for a lap, but Earnhardt Jr. took the lead once again, before Ku. Busch, who had been lurking in the top 5 took it for good.
Then the lead cars, which were out on varying amounts of fuel, had to stretch their tanks to the checkered flag. Busch's crew chief John Klausmeier, filling-in on normal chief Tony Gibson's one-race suspension for a lugnut infraction at Charlotte Motor Speedway, told Busch he was two laps short on fuel. Both Busch and Earnhardt Jr. seemed very questionable to make the race's end on that remaining tank.
Elliott and Keselowski ran 3rd and 4th and also were saving gas, but had a bit more than the leaders. Keselowski eventually passed Elliott but could not catch Busch or Earnhardt Jr. As they slowed down to save more and more fuel, they had built enough of a lead to stay in the top two spots and Busch had enough in the reserve to win for the first time this season and the 28th time in his career, cementing a spot in the 2016 Chase.
The 10 cautions on the day and multiple crashes made the racing seem more exciting than it was. The restarts were tense, but there were few genuine lead passes. Still, there
Top 10: Ku. Busch (has just one finish outside the top 15 this year); Earnhardt Jr. (badly needed a good run); Keselowski (great comeback in a strange race for the No. 2 team); Elliott (would have won his first-career race, had it stayed green); Logano (got damaged in scrum with Ryan Newman and drove back into contention); Kahne (much-needed good finish); Kenseth (faded after getting shuffled from the lead); Carl Edwards (hung in the top 10 all day, but never had the speed or strategy to get up front); Harvick (got burned by a caution); Ryan Blaney (quietly ran in the top 15 all day).
The points: Busch's win means the lowest-ranked winless driver is Elliott, who is safely 7th in the standings. Logano is just three points behind Elliott, but also 69 points ahead of 17th-place A.J. Allmendinger - so in very good shape without a win. Earnhardt Jr. is winless and 11th in the points and is 45 points ahead of Allmendinger. The other winless drivers, from highest to lowest in the standings in reasonable contention are 13. A. Dillon (+14 over 17th), 14. Jamie McMurray (+8), 15. Blaney (+6), 16. Newman (+4), 17. Allmendinger (-4 from 16th place Newman), tied 18. Kahne (-13), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-13, tied with Kahne), 20. Trevor Bayne (-19), 21. Larson (-36). The points aren't as close as they used to be, but still plenty can change as the second half of the race to the Chase is underway.
RaceTweet: Rain ran off Sunday's Pocono race and wrecks ruled Monday's as Kurt Busch stretched his fuel and punched his ticket to the Chase. Little bro had a bad day.
Since this is a Monday night column after a day-delayed race, let's just skip ahead.
Head-scratcher Crown of Thorns: Brad Keselowski's No. 2 team got penalized early in the race for illegally modifying the body on a pit stop. NASCAR has levied this penalty before and some suspected (it seemed obvious in the footage) that the team did that during his Las Vegas win in March. Keselowski told reporters after the race that Jeff Gordon's biased presence in the booth is wrong and insinuated that it somehow influenced the penalty or the opinion of it.
"It's not that I don't like Jeff Gordon in the booth, it's just that you need to have people in the booth that don't own teams or have commercial interests to the sport, because they say things that are very biased," Keselowski said of Gordon, who incorrectly indicated that Keselowski got penalized for the modification in the Vegas race. He actually got a speeding penalty, but
Keselowski shares an opinion that many have about those with interests in the sport commentating on it. Michael Waltrip has owned teams and been on FOX's coverage with his brother Darrell rooting him on. Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham used to be with ESPN's race coverage. Larry McReynolds' son Brandon just raced the Xfinity Series Talladega race a month ago. Phil Parsons, a booth commentator on FS1's Camping World Truck Series events, owned a race team up until last year. But so does Keselowski, in the form of the multi-team Brad Keselowski Racing powerhouse in the Truck Series.
Keselowski took to Twitter defending that notion, saying that he only is in the booth for Xfinity races and has no interest in those races, except when he is actually behind the wheel of the No. 22 car. That really is not true. Keselowski is a big time team player and can't help but have an interest in that car finishing well with Joey Logano or Ryan Blaney behind the wheel, even if he does not own it.
And to extrapolate what he is saying even further, every broadcast has a controlling interest in the sport, because the TV networks spend billions to broadcast the races. That means covering the races in a favorable manner is in their best interest, not just covering the unbiased truth.
Keselowski is known for brash statements and sometimes hits truth bombs to the very core. But his under-cutting of Gordon, who happens to be his co-worker on FOX and who also happens to be a bitter rival from their fight almost two years ago, just doesn't jive. It's at least slightly hypocritical and in error. Gordon's point on FOX didn't influence NASCAR's decision to penalize Keselowski. It was an undue criticism that
NXS RaceTweet: Mother Nature really wanted Kyle Larson to win Pocono, so she cut the race in half. And Ryan punched Ryan in the delay and no one on TV saw it.
Georgia On My Mind: Chase Elliott had another strong day, leading the most laps in the race (51) and darn near winning the thing. He's well inside the Chase bubble and close to winning.
David Ragan survived the carnage to finish the Pocono race on the lead lap and in 23rd. Reed Sorenson started
Saturday's race saw some good for the Georgia gang, with Brandon Jones placing 8th. He's 6th in the points. Garrett Smithley struggled to a 27th-place finish.
Ryan Sieg got in an on-track scrum with Ryan Reed and finished 29th, then confronted him about it in the garage during the rain delay. Only an in-car cam saw part of the fight, but apparently Sieg objected to Reed's response and tried to punch him. The crews broke it up. Sieg is still 12th in points, three ahead of Jeb Burton in 13th, who is now without a ride.
Next: It's time for Michigan and the new rules package with even less downforce for the Sprint Cup cars. The NSCS runs Sunday at 1 p.m. on FOX, MRN, and Sirius/XM 90. The NXS is back in action Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on FS1, MRN, and Sirius/XM 90. The Camping World Truck Series returns at 9 p.m. Friday on FS1, MRN, and Sirius/XM 90.