Pocono, Iowa races prove racing can
be good without lead changes
Photo by Dante Ricci/TheRacingExperts.com
Jimmie Johnson races teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono Raceway.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
This past weekend provided NASCAR fans with some of the best racing of the year, as both the Sprint Cup Series and the Camping World Truck Series navigated the Tricky Triangle in the Pocono Mountains, while the XFINITY Series had an old fashioned short track brawl at Iowa Speedway.
I understand that some fans may disagree, but this weekend provided an entertainment factor above most other races we’ve had this season. The most bizarre similarity between each race is that there weren’t many green flag passes for the lead, something many drivers, fans, and everyone in between has been clamoring for since the inception of the new Generation 6 body style.
These three races didn’t need it. The action was around the rest of the field.
In the truck race, Kyle Busch flat out dominated, but a late race debris yellow bunched the field back together. Up to that point, Erik Jones was catching his boss at a steady pace. Even without the yellow, the possibilities were great for a late race pass for the lead. Instead, we got four wide into turn 1 on one of the restarts, and a couple of contenders falling out late race. Busch still took home the hardware, but the action still satisfied.
Later in the evening, the XFINITY drivers were paraded around Iowa by Ryan Blaney, who would lead all but 8 laps en route toward a dominating victory, and a great comeback from his late race collapse at Indianapolis last weekend. Boring.
Headlines leaving Iowa barely mentioned Blaney’s performance.
Instead, we saw teammates Chris Buescher and Darrell Wallace Jr. get into it on track, the first time since they infamously rubbed fenders at Dover. Then we had Ryan Reed gets out of his car post-race and shoves Ross Chastain because he wasn’t happy with him. Kenny Wallace, in his last career race, takes two spins and still finished 15th. Don’t forget all those late race yellows, and Brendan Gaughan’s epic restarts THAT ALMOST COST Ryan Blaney another victory after they hit each other on the final restart.
Then there was the main event. 160 laps at Pocono Raceway, and only 3 laps in, we have an accident that brings out the red flag, after Kasey Kahne spins into the pits, hit a pit stall, flings a helmet 20 feet in the air, and breaks the wall. Then Kevin Harvick blows up, Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes for a spin, and Brad Keselowski slides into his pit crew members after missing his pit. 8 cautions in the first 100 laps, but after that, there were none.
Joey Logano took the lead and was heading towards another victory. He dominated like the others, but the difference this race was that everyone was expecting the late race yellows that are normally had. They never came, and because of the way that the crews short pitted their drivers, everyone had to go into fuel conservation mode. Sure, most times, even if it’s a threat, it never happens that someone runs out of gas. These teams have everything calculated perfectly nowadays. But they didn’t.
Only a handful of drivers stretched the second to last run as far as they could, everyone else pitted as early as they thought they could, starting with six time champion Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus. If Jimmie can pit that early, why not everyone else? That’s what they did, as Logano, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Matt Kenseth were in the next lap around for service.
Photo by Dante Ricci/TheRacingExperts.com
Brad Keselowski turns laps at Pocono Raceway. Keselowski led three laps Sunday en route to a second place finish.
In the end, it was Kenseth, who only led two laps all day, who ended up in victory lane. Logano and Treux Jr. ran out of fuel coming to two to go. Busch ran out in turn two on the final lap. Nobody knew who was going to win, nobody knew who finished where. It was absolute perfect chaos, the exact chaos that the race needed to become one of those races that everyone will be talking about for a while.
My point is that each race had a dominant car, but the racing, the strategy, the controversies, and all the drama. All the weekend was missing was the passes for the lead, but it didn’t need it. Fans got what they paid for and then some. NASCAR is working on lead changes, that’s why we’ve had so many different packages this year. To anyone saying the product is stale, re-watch this weekend’s events, and say with a straight face that you were not entertained.
Even without the racing for the lead, what we have now is great. I predict that what we will have down the road will only get better.