POCONO 400 RACE RESULTS
This is definitely not your father's Pocono any more.
Trust me, that's a good thing.
The much-maligned speedway entered into a brand new era with Sunday's Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR, which turned out to be one of the most entertaining races of the season.
The track's new asphalt surface as well as a shorter race distance combined to help create a memorable afternoon in the Pocono Mountains.
There was concern that the lightning fast speeds recorded earlier in the week during testing and practice on the fresh pavement wouldn't translate into much of an actual race. But the fears of single file racing while drivers tiptoed around the new Pocono were quickly erased by one display after another of side by side racing.
The track's decision to lop off 100 miles and shorten the race distance from the previous 500-mile Pocono grinds also paid big dividends. The intensity level was tremendously higher all afternoon with drivers not willing to ride around and bide time until the checkered flag was in sight.
The race wasn't without its controversies with Joey Logano's bump and run move around Mark Martin not surprisingly viewed differently by the participants.
“I didn't want to get into the back of Mark there but, I just kind of run into it at speed and he was getting free, and I just kind of stayed right there,” Logano said.
“It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time,” countered Martin, still winless in his Pocono Cup career. “It's not how I would have done it, but certainly if I'd have had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return. But I couldn't quite keep up with him.”
And after NASCAR handed out 22 pit road speeding violations, another war of words broke out between competitors and the sanctioning body.
“I'm not really sure,” said Brad Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe. “There were a lot of cars caught in that last segment. Not sure if the timing lines aren't marked correctly. The drivers weren't exactly sure where they could accelerate from but it's just unfortunate.”
NASCAR reiterated that nothing was done wrong and the confusion was simply a matter of some teams not taking the time to gather the correct information.
"There's nothing wrong with the loops," said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. "There's a time to pass over them, calculates the speed and that's the end of it. Pretty simple."
But as race number fourteen goes into the rear view mirror, for the first time on a very long time there's anticipation for a return trip to Pocono in a mere eight weeks.
Jimmie Johnson – Somehow battled back from a pair of pit road speeding violations to finish fourth on Sunday. Johnson once again demonstrated the strength of the 48 team that certainly would have challenged for a victory had circumstances not thrown the two early curveballs.
Paul Menard – Demonstrated the flat track prowess that earned Menard a Brickyard 400 win last season with a top 10 effort Sunday in Pocono. The Richard Childress Racing driver should be watched for next month's visit to Indianapolis as well as the August return to Pennsylvania.
Jamie McMurray – A much-needed top 10 finish for McMurray thanks in no small part to good pit strategy by crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion. Potentially something to build on for the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team.
A.J. Allmendinger – After a somewhat promising start to the season, things have turned disastrous for Allmendinger in recent weeks. Was caught in the day's early multi-car accident and taken from contention only moments after the green flag flew. It's a good bet some of the same language heard on the No. 22 team's radio a year ago is finding its way on the airwaves again.
Kyle Busch – For the second straight week, an engine issue sidelined the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who has now fallen into a miserable stretch after winning in Richmond to end April. Engine problems were not supposed to be in the JGR equation this year after the change to TRD power plants in the wake of last year's disaster.
Kasey Kahne – His strong of strong performances came to an abrupt end when Kahne cut a tire and slammed the wall late in Sunday's race. Prior to the misfortune, the Hendrick driver looked like he'd be in the mix for another solid finish but ended up 29th.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
“If NASCAR didn't allow all these start-and-parks in the field, they wouldn't have this problem.” – A.J. Allmendinger after early race crash
"That's the most ignorant thing I've heard since Richmond.'' – Carl Edwards when informed of a penalty for not falling to the rear of field before a restart.
“Tell Hoots he's got his line messed up because I didn't speed and half the field didn't speed either.'' – Brad Keselowski
"How we're we speeding when all those other cats weren't that were passing me?'' – Jeff Burton
“We just keep putting ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole. We need a heck of a lot better stuff than this." – Kyle Busch after another engine issue
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I'll give Sunday's Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR a four. In my entire professional career covering NASCAR I've never been more entertained or captivated by a Pocono race than the one I witnessed on Sunday. The shorter distance of 400 miles definitely played a major role in making the race much more intense and the side-by-side racing throughout the afternoon was some of the best of the season. Throw in the controversy of the pit road speeding penalty issues, fuel strategy and gambles plus the late race battle between Joey Logano and Mark Martin for the win and it was nearly a perfect afternoon on the Pocono Mountains.
DOWN THE ROAD
NASCAR goes from one newly repaved track to another as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway next Sunday afternoon. While speeds were up at Pocono because of the new pavement those numbers will look slow in comparison to what will come from the Irish Hills next weekend. A recent Goodyear tire test saw drivers in the 210-212 mph neighborhood, which should make this new era in the venerable two-mile track's history very interesting indeed.