Kurt Busch Stretches the Fuel Mileage to Claim Pocono
On Wednesday, it was announced that long-time crew crew chief Tony Gibson would be suspended one race due to a lug nut violation during the Coca-Cola 600. Team engineer Johnny Klausmeier stepped in and had the right pit strategy to go to the end on gas, while others ran out.
"It's an amazing feeling when you drive into Victory Lane on any weekend at any track," Busch said post-race. "It makes you think of all the hard work that everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing does on this car. To be in position is what it's all about. Johnny Klausmeier gave me the ball and said 'hey you're two laps short, go get it for us.' Each week we've been in a position so far and we hadn't quite sealed the deal and we're going to enjoy this win."
At the beginning of the last stint of the race, Busch was told that he was two laps short on gas, which is five miles around the "Tricky Triangle." Working with an intern crew chief, it's a pass-fail estimation because the team is working with a calculator.
Next week would have marked exactly one year since Busch's last win at Michigan. Coming into Pocono he sat second in the point standings with a series-high 11 top-10 finishes.
After leading four laps earlier in the event, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was passed on the last restart and could never regain the track position that he had lost. Crew chief Greg Ives ensured him that the No. 88 car would make it to the end on fuel and the No. 41 car could not.
"I didn't do what I needed to do on that last restart," Earnhardt said post-race. "The No. 41 car got a run on us and he shouldn't have. I think if I could have got in front of him, I would have been able to hold on to that position. The No. 41 car got a great run on us and we couldn't get him back. I knew even though we were matching him on some laps that I wasn't going to get any closer than I was."
This marks the fourth time that Earnhardt has finished second in 2016, which leads the series. It's the first time that he has had a top-10 finish since Bristol in mid-April.
Starting from pole, Brad Keselowski led just one lap and had to overcome two pit road penalties on Lap 21 and Lap 22 for an unimproved body modification. In the closing laps he was able to go from sixth-place up to third, to record his fifth top-five finish of the season.
"The last four or five weeks we've had really strong runs," Keselowski said. "It seems like a bunch of seconds and thirds. Not quite the finish we want, but it was a good effort from our team."
Leading a career-high and race-high 51 laps, Chase Elliott came home fourth on Monday. The middle stage of the race is where the No. 24 car shined, at one point having five former Sprint Cup champions behind him in the running order. Though he was disappointed with a fourth-place finish he was able to record his fifth top-five finish of the season.
Joey Logano led the opening 17 laps of the event, but the team had to overcome an incident with Ryan Newman and patch the left rear corner of the racecar. Like his Team Penske teammate, Keselowski, he was able to rebound through adversity to pick up his fourth top-five finish of 2016.
Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 10.
Defending race winner, Martin Truex, Jr. finished 19th, while overcoming adversity throughout the weekend. He was scheduled to be the leader after a Lap 122 caution, getting off the pit road first, but cut a tire.
Kyle Busch came up short of his first first career win at Pocono, finishing in 31st. Ryan Newman got into the rear of his car, sending him into the outside wall on Lap 109. The No. 18 car was 10 laps off the pace.
Just passed halfway Tony Stewart got loose and crashed into his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Danica Patrick. The duo of teammates finished 32nd and 34th after Stewart ran in the top 10 the first half of the race.
Busch Brothers Fastest in Final Practice at Pocono
After getting just 20 minutes of practice on Friday, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was able to go the full distance in final practice on Saturday at Pocono Raceway.
The session was led by Kyle Busch at 176.901 mph. Completing 21 laps, the No. 18 team focused strictly on race runs. The No. 18 will begin the 400-mile event from the outside of the sixth row, a place that he is searching for his first career victory at the "Tricky Triangle."
"With the way our cars at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) have been overall, I’m very optimistic that we could score a victory there this weekend or, if not, when we come back later in the summer," Busch said.
Kurt Busch was second on the leader board in the practice session. He laid down a lap of 176.800 mph, which was less than a half-tenth off his brother's time. The former Pocono winner will start from ninth on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson was third on the board with a lap at 176.710 mph, Martin Truex, Jr. was fourth at 176.291 and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five at 176.125 mph.
Pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski was sixth on the board. The No. 2 car ran 27 laps on the racetrack and the team was happy with the car they have on track.
"I think were decent, it's hard to say," Keselowski said. "We need to look at some data, but I don't think were far off. Starting up front gives you a lot of confidence for sure."
Keselowski's Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was seventh, with Matt Kenseth eighth, rookie Ryan Blaney was ninth and AJ Allmendinger fulfilled the top 10.
The younger Busch brother had the best 10 consecutive laps, while Harvick ran 34 laps, the most of all drivers.
Team Penske Sweeps the Front Row in Pocono
After Joey Logano was quickest in the first two rounds of qualifying, his teammate Brad Keselowski took the final round en route to his first pole of 2016 and first pole at Pocono Raceway. His previous best qualifying results at the "Tricky Triangle" were a pair of third-place efforts in 2014.
It was a speed of 181.726 mph that claimed the top spot. Logano ran a speed of 181.400 mph, nearly a tenth of a second off the pole-winning time.
"It was a really solid effort for Team Penske," Keselowski said. "To get 1-2 is hard to do, but we had great speed today. I wasn't really sure what to expect with the rain and all of the other variables that were thrown at us with no practice."
The last seven times that Keselowski has started on pole, he has finished in the top 10 each time with two victories.
After Logano, it was August winner Matt Kenseth who placed third at 181.316 mph. Kevin Harvick had the fourth best time at 181.192 mph and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five at 180.759 mph.
"I didn't do a very good job today," Harvick said of his fourth-place effort. "The car was a lot faster than the driver today. The guys did a job preparing a good job, but I wasn't in a good rhythm and didn't do a good job in any of the rounds to get everything out of the car that I needed to."
Tony Stewart will start sixth in his best qualifying effort since Michigan last August when he began that 400-mile race fifth.
Jimmie Johnson will start seventh, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. eighth, Kurt Busch ninth and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10.
Chase Elliott is the highest starting rookie in 13th with Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney alongside in 14th.
The defending race winner, Martin Truex, Jr. posted the 17th quickest time in qualifying. The No. 78 team feels that they missed the setup completely and thought the track was going to be something different. It took them two tries to get through the first round, which put more laps on their tires, hurting the speed in Round Two.
"We just totally missed it off the trailer, which is unusual for our team," Truex said. "We were way off our first run in practice and had so many different ideas about what it might have been. It felt so bad that it felt like the tires were wrong or we had a bad set."
Final practice is set to begin at 11:30 on Saturday weather depending. It will be the only time that the teams will be able to practice on race trim because no driver completed more than seven laps in the opening practice on Friday.
Fog remained a factor for what turned into be just a 20 minute practice when rain came and halted cars from working on qualifying setup. 28 cars participated in practice, so if qualifying is rained out in the afternoon the starting lineup will be set by owner standings.
Carl Edwards posted the fastest single lap speed at 179.802 mph, which was over one mph faster than Kevin Harvick, who recorded the second fastest lap. If rain cancels qualifying, the No. 4 Chevrolet would start from the pole on Sunday.
Last year's pole-sitter for this event, Kurt Busch was third on the leader board at 178.649 mph. Paul Menard was fourth at 178.250 mph and defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, Joey Logano, Greg Bffle and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10.
Three drivers were tied for most laps ran in the practice session at seven. Cup Series rookie Chris Buescher led the way in that category at 23rd. Michael Annett and Brian Scott also completed seven laps and were the two slowest cars on one lap speed.
Notable drivers who didn't complete a lap were August winner, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon.
Qualifying is set to role at 4:15 p.m. ET if rain moves out of the Pocono Mountains.
Joe Gibbs Racing Tops Practice Sessions in Dover
Much like all season long, Joe Gibbs Racing was quick on track in preparation for the main event. In the first session it was Kyle Busch who was quickest.
Busch was the fast car out on track in the opening practice Saturday morning. The No. 18 laid down an early lap of 157.839 mph, which is just less than eight mph slower than the quick time on Friday.
Two of his JGR teammates were right behind him on speed. Denny Hamlin posted an early lap of 157.356 mph. Carl Edwards was third at 157.006 mph, just over a tenth of a second off the fast lap.
Ryan Newman was fourth in the session at 156.770 mph and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five 156.590 mph.
Pole-sitter, Kevin Harvick was 10th fastest in the session at 156.413 mph. The No. 4 team dominated the race in the fall leading 355 of the 400 laps.
10-time Dover winner, Jimmie Johnson was 12th on the board, while his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott was eighth, quickest of all the rookie drivers.
The fourth JGR driver, Matt Kenseth recorded the 19th best time. He was just over three-tenths of a second off the top time. After being involved in a big practice crash on Friday, Danica Patrick led the way of drivers in backup cars with the 25th quickest time. Jamie McMurray was just behind in 26th and Tony Stewart was mired down in 34th.
Hamlin led the way at a lap of 157.329 mph. In the past Dover has been the Achilles heel for the No. 11 team, but he has been fast all weekend long.
Harvick rebounded from the first practice to lay down the second quickest lap in the second session. He ran a speed of 156.447 mph which was over a tenth of a second behind the hot lap that Hamlin put down.
The younger Busch brother was third fast at 156.365 mph, with his older brother in fourth at 155.777 mph. Elliott rounded out the top five on the board at 155.696 mph.
Kenseth improved on the morning session and went to eighth in race conditions.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was down to 25th on the leader board. The No. 88 car will start on the outside of the front row when the green flag waves, but struggled Saturday in race conditions.
McMurray ran 62 laps in the session, most out of the 39 drivers that completed a lap. The No. 1 machine struggled in his backup car prior to this practice that he ended in 17th.
The last time NASCAR was at the Monster Mile, McMurray finished fourth at Dover and finished one position shy of making it into the next round of the Chase.
The green flag will wave shortly after 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Johnson is the defending winner of the event.