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Melillo’s Mind: Pocono 400 recap, “Big 3” talk, XFINITY, and more

Truex celebrates Pocono win
Martin Truex Jr. celebrates his Pocono 400 victory. (Tyler Head | The Racing Experts)

Martin Truex, Jr. was once again victorious at Pocono Raceway, in the Pocono 400 on Sunday afternoon.

Truex, Jr. came out on top on the final restarts of the race, ahead of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, and solidified his name amongst the list of drivers who are favorites to win the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

“Yes, you’re always concerned on restarts at Pocono,” Truex, Jr. said. “So much can happen on those. We were luckily able to get a good one.”

The battle between the three truly came down to who ever had the clean air at the end of the day. Besides when Harvick was held up by lap traffic at the end of Stage One, the majority of the lead changes occurred on pit road, and that’s where Harvick felt they lost the race.

“We just lost our track position of being in the lead and lost control of the race,” Harvick said. “That is what did us in there. We restarted second and then third and lost a spot on each restart as you start on the inside.

“When you are racing the 18 and 78 you are splitting hairs and they were just better than us on pit road today.”

Busch had similar sentiments, after taking the lead from Harvick on pit road, and losing it by pitting for tires late.

“We came back down for tires and I don’t know what it was,” Busch said. “I don’t know if it was the clouds or different tires, but those tires didn’t mean anything. We couldn’t get back up through there for anything back up to those guys. It didn’t give any advantage.”

 

Truex leads under yellow
Martin Truex Jr. (78) leads the field under caution during the Pocono 400 in 2018. (Tyler Head | The Racing Experts)

NASCAR’S “BIG 3”

I’ve seen some complaints from fans about watching Harvick, Busch, and now Truex, Jr. dominating these races on a weekly basis.

However, I think it has more to do with the drivers on the list rather than the amount of drivers doing the dominating, and to be honest, it’s nothing new in NASCAR Cup Series racing.

Last year, it was the Martin Truex, Jr. show the whole season. Every week, Truex, Jr. was the talk of the town, and he went to Homestead as the clear favorite, and won, as he should have. Yes, Busch and Kyle Larson were in the conversation, but everyone knew that week in and week out, that Truex, Jr. was the one they all had to go through.

This season, we get to talk about three different drivers who could win the championship, not only Martin Truex, Jr.

Harvick, Busch, and Truex, Jr. are, as they all put it, so equal week to week, and depending on who has the best strategy, the best luck, and the best overall race, determines who ends up in victory lane.

Frankly, for me, it’s increased the level of excitement for every race going forward, regardless if we have a blowout or domination from just one of the three.

Sure, it’s unfortunate that the more popular drivers aren’t in the mix, but it’s better than it has been in a while on a competition standpoint.

Pocono was the first true battle between these top three drivers, and at the end of the day, Truex, Jr. was on top. What’s great is that it could have gone any way, and that made Pocono a better race then it should have been.

The fact of the matter is that the competition is so tight between these cars that having three stand-out drivers at this point is a blessing, that unlike last season, we could have actual racing for the lead between these three.

Yes, it would be nice to have all of the top teams in the discussion week in and week out, but that’s not going to happen, and frankly hasn’t happened for a long time, if ever.

As I wrote back in 2014, I don’t think we will ever see one driver get more than 10 wins on a season. I was worried when it was just Harvick and Busch that one or both could achieve that feat, but now bringing Truex, Jr. into the fold just solidifies my point.

 

Kyle Busch wins
Kyle Busch wins at Pocono Raceway. Photo: Justin Melillo / The Racing Experts

XFINITY DISAPPOINTMENT

Kyle Busch stole the show on Saturday afternoon in the Pocono Green 250.

Even after a speeding penalty to begin Stage Two, Busch still fought his way back to the front. When Busch was leading, he made a mockery of the aero package that was brought it with hopes of bringing the field together.

When Busch wasn’t up front, there was a spectacular battle unfolding for the Stage Two victory.

Paul Menard won the stage, but there was an intense battle between him, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, and Austin Cindric.

On the final lap of the stage, they went two-by-two into the tunnel turn, and after still being side-by-side for the lead entering Turn 3, Paul Menard made it stick on corner exit, and held off Custer for the win.

I’m positive that this was the type of racing NASCAR was hoping for for the entire race. Unfortunately, when Busch got to the front, he pulled away and made the race a snooze fest.

On top of that, Busch was penalized in post-race inspection for his car being too high in the front, which he says was a disadvantage. To me, it clearly wasn’t, and may even have been an advantage to the point where it may have had less air on his spoiler and allowed him to pull away easier than the rest could.

Either way, Busch stunk up the Xfinity show, and ruined any chance for this aero package to see the light of day at Pocono Raceway again, at least in the Xfinity series.

Last year, without any gimmicky packages, there was a three-way battle for the win, and the race itself was pretty good.

To have taken a step back with this package, but more so with Busch being the clear dominant vehicle, ultimately hurts this package as a whole moving forward.

Before the race, it was rumored that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series could see it come back in up to three races before the end of the season.

The chances are less likely after the failed attempt at Pocono in the Xfinity series, but that just goes to show that one size does not fit all, and this package just doesn’t work in this scenario as intended.

 

CAUTION OUT FOR THE PACE CAR

I just wanted to mention how big the pace car crash in the Verizon INDYCAR Series race at Belle Isle was, even to us who were in the middle of covering the Pocono race.

While sitting up in the press box, right at the end of Stage Two, someone made mention of the pace car wreck, and it spread like a wildfire. Media members were huddling around mobile phones and computer screens to watch the blue Corvette drift around the corner and nose it into the wall.

It completely derailed most of the NASCAR talk on twitter for a few minutes, and it was just amazing how something that had almost nothing to do with the racing dominated the post race discussions on social media, on the radio, and just about everywhere else.

It happened to be a Chevrolet product, being driven by a Chevrolet executive at a Chevrolet sponsored event, that crashed on a national stage. Chevy definitely could spin it toward safety and innovation, how accidents can happen to anyone, but it just seems like they want to brush it under the rug and move on.

In my opinion, the more they try and hide it, the worse of a spin (pun intended) the internet and Chevrolet haters are going to give to it. Being that nobody was hurt and the safety features worked as intended, it’s really just funny in general to me.

 

UP NEXT

Both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series head to Michigan International Speedway for this weekend, while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway alongside the Verizon INDYCAR series.

In the Truck Series, I’m looking for the seasoned veterans to once again stink up the show and take charge. Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter will probably put a whooping on the field, with Sauter most likely ending up in victory lane

In the Xfinity series, I think that we might see Christopher Bell breakout from his semi-slump, and take the reigns from the Cup Series drivers that participate this weekend. Being that it’s another restrictor plate aero package race, anything can really happen, but I don’t think we have the same result that we did this past weekend at Pocono, and I think we actually have what the package is intended to bring to the table.

In the Cup series, don’t be surprised if Kyle Larson steals one from the “Big 3” at Michigan. Larson, for some reason, has taken very well to Michigan International Speedway, along with Auto Club Speedway, and now that the Chevrolet camp has started to show signs of life, I think Larson will utilize that. I believe Larson will utilize the momentum from his second-place finish at Pocono this past weekend to win his first race of the 2018 season.

SOURCES

NASCAR
Racing-Reference.info
Toyota Racing
Ford Performance

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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