The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series traveled to Pennsylvania for the second event at Pocono Raceway: the Overton’s 400. Kyle Busch, whose winless spell had been extended to equal the length of a full Cup season at 36, finally broke through to visit Victory Lane for the first time in 2017.
Busch started on the pole alongside Martin Truex Jr.; the pairing had been mired in a media storm after they wrecked together at last week’s Brickyard 400. Following the crash, Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens confronted two members of Truex’s pit crew, both of whom were later suspended by employer Joe Gibbs Racing.
It did not take long for the first caution of the day to come out, with a multi-car wreck taking place on the first lap; while racing Jimmie Johnson into turn three, Matt Kenseth’s side force was disrupted, causing him to spin. Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Danica Patrick were also involved in the carnage. The restart took place on lap eight, though Truex began experiencing signs of alternator problems five laps later. Green flag stops commenced on lap 18, with Busch and his JGR teammates pitting on lap 22; this allowed Truex’s teammate Erik Jones to lead laps until he pitted on lap 26; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. inherited the lead. During their stops, Jones and Chase Elliott stalled while exiting their pit boxes, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. was caught speeding on pit road.
Stenhouse pitted on lap 37, which allowed Kenseth (who sustained little damage in the accident on lap one and pitted on lap six) to take the lead. On lap 42, Busch passed Kenseth in turn one for the position. Truex also got around Kenseth to take 2nd, with the Wisconsinite pitting with four laps to go in the stage. Busch and Truex led the field to the green-checkered flag, with Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Elliott earning playoff points.
Kenseth stayed out for the start of Stage #2 on lap 56, with Busch joining him on the front row. While Kenseth led much of the lap, Busch passed him on the outside line as they exited turn three. On lap 58, Jimmie Johnson’s woes at Pocono (dating back to his crash at the track in the June race) continued when he made contact with teammate Kasey Kahne in turn three, causing him to spin and hit the wall. Blaney suffered right-front damage while racing Johnson, which would force him to pit on lap 64.
The green flag waved on lap 62, lasting eight laps. On lap 70, Larson’s drive shaft came off, leading to a debris caution and his retirement from the race. Keselowski and Earnhardt elected to take two tires, leading to the pair exiting pit road 1st and 3rd, respectively (with Busch sandwiched in between). Dillon and Hamlin stayed out and comprised the front row for the restart on lap 75 – although Hamlin was initially the leader, he did not maintain speed during the caution and Dillon was named the control car. Hamlin had a strong restart compared to Dillon, enabling him to hold on to 1st. Busch passed Keselowski for 2nd, but lost the position a lap later, when he was sideways in turn one and dropped to 7th.
On lap 90, with the inside line, Truex passed Hamlin for the lead on the straightaway leading to turn two. The two drivers pitted from the top-2 positions with three laps remaining in the stage; Busch and the other leaders followed suit, which allowed Bowyer to inherit the lead. Ultimately, Bowyer would win Stage #2, his first segment victory of 2017, with Keselowski, Patrick, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kahne, Stenhouse, Trevor Bayne, McDowell and A.J. Allmendinger finishing behind him. Despite their playoff points, McDowell, Bayne, Kahne and Stenhouse all sped on pit road during the caution between stages, causing them to fall to the rear of the field for the start of Stage #3.
The front row consisted of Truex and Hamlin as they led the field to green on lap 106. As Truex continued to lead, green flag pit stops began on lap 124. Truex pitted three laps later, which enabled Busch to lead a lap. Keselowski took 1st and stayed in the position for six laps until he pitted, while Jones did the same for one lap. During his stop, Joey Logano was penalized for speeding on pit road and was required to serve a pass-through penalty; while doing so, he locked up his tires and had to make a stop, where his car was refueled. However, drivers were not allowed to add fuel during pass-through penalties, which led to Logano being punished once again.
After Jones pitted, Hamlin took the lead. Harvick and Busch quickly passed him with 17 laps to go, with the latter performing a bump-and-run on the former as they entered turn three. Busch went on to lead the rest of the way to win his 39th career Cup race, snapping a 36-race losing streak and redeeming himself after a frustrating start to the 2017 season. Harvick finished 2nd, followed by Truex, Hamlin, Keselowski, Bowyer, Daniel Suárez, Jones, Kenseth and Elliott. With his eighth top-5 of the year and Larson finishing 33rd, points leader Truex increased his margin over 2nd-placed Larson from 48 points to 85.
The victory came at a crucial time for Busch, who was 13th in the playoff standings and had many chances at victory slip away during the year. In addition to being Toyota’s 100th Cup win and 400th in NASCAR (including 135 in Xfinity and 165 in the Camping World Truck Series; Busch is responsible for 155 of the 400 wins, which consists of 35 in Cup, 78 in Xfinity and 42 in Trucks), it was Busch’s first at Pocono, leaving Charlotte as the lone track at which he has yet to win a Cup points race.
“It’s been a frustrating year, but this certainly releases a little bit of that,” Busch stated. “I wouldn’t say all of it, but Adam (Stevens) and these guys did an awesome job today.”
Next week, the Cup Series continues upward into New York for the second road course race of the season: the I Love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International. Hamlin is the defending winner.
Race results (courtesy of Racing-Reference)
Featured image courtesy of @RichmondRaceway