With just six regular season races left, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits Pocono Raceway, and we’ve got all the highlights.
Pocono Raceway, home of exiting racing? Maybe that’s not the Pennsylvania track’s reputation, but it could change just a bit since the stakes for the late summer race commonly known as the Pennsylvania 400 and now called the Overton’s 400 are higher than ever.
Last time the Cup Series was at Pocono, Ryan Blaney captured his first win in NASCAR’s top series, one that ensures he’ll be in the playoffs. Kasey Kahne scored a similarly important triumph just last week at the Brickyard 400. Now quite a few drivers are hoping to do the same.
With its three distinct turns, Pocono is hard on engines (drivers have to shift more here than anywhere else), brakes and other components. Cars have a tendency to get spread out, but with desperation starting to set in, the restarts could be exciting.
Be sure to bookmark this page as we’ll update it throughout the Overton’s 400 with the latest highlights.
The field didn’t even make it through one full lap before we had our first incident. Matt Kenseth went around, cars stacked up behind him and a few drivers went through the grass. Aric Almirola ended up with extensive damage, with teammates Austin Dillon and Paul Menard also getting together.
Danica Patrick, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell were also involved in the incident.
The remainder of Stage 1 was uneventful save for a Dale Earnhardt Jr. pit road speeding penalty and the various pit strategies being tried by different teams. In the end, though, Kyle Busch took the green and white checkered flag to end Stage 1 as he’s done so often in 2017, racking up yet another stage win.
Sometimes even the best go into the wall at Pocono, and it could even be due to your teammate helping you get there. In the case of Jimmie Johnson, it looked like contact with fellow Hendrick driver Kahne was to blame for his meeting with the outside wall.
Johnson told the NBC Sports crew after being released from the infield care center that he had also gotten together with the 21 on an earlier restart, but the seven-time champion didn’t feel either mishap was intentional.
Clint Bowyer, one of the drivers who definitely needs a win but could also make the playoffs on points, had an interesting decision to make toward the end of Stage 2. Once race leader Martin Truex Jr. and a few other cars pitted with four laps to go, Bowyer inherited the lead. He and his crew chief chose to stay out, earning him a stage win and 10 points that could prove crucial.
Speaking of pit strategies, the final stage was full of them. As Truex paced the field, a number of drivers made green flag stops just hoping to stay on the lead lap. Truex finally came in with 34 to go, making perhaps the most important stop of the day with several substitute crew members.
But it wasn’t all good in the pits. Joey Logano, one driver who can’t afford any slip in points, had not one but two gaffes in quick succession.
Logano is essentially in “win or go home” territory with regards to making the playoffs thanks to his encumbered win from earlier in the season.
His teammate Busch, though, played the strategy game exactly right. He came out with the freshest tires at just the right time, and while Denny Hamlin and then Kevin Harvick were in front of him, that didn’t last long.
Busch ended up pulling away a bit, so unless disaster was looming, he looked a good bet to finally get a 2017 victory.
And no one could run him down.
The victory was the 100th Cup Series win for Toyota, ending a rare 36-race winless streak for Busch. He dedicated it to his late grandmother as it was his first win since she passed.