The first of four NASCAR races this weekend at Pocono Raceway came to a completion on Saturday afternoon with John Hunter Nemechek taking his fifth victory of the 2021 season and third in direct competition against his Kyle Busch Motorsports owner, Kyle Busch.
Before Nemechek took the second stage victory, Busch opted to short pit for track position in the final stage. That handed Busch the lead with about 25 laps to go over Sheldon Creed. Nemechek had a few laps fresher tires, but without a caution, it wouldn’t be enough to catch his boss.
That caution came with 10 laps to go when Stewart Friesen wrecked in Turn 1. After the choose, it was Busch vs Nemechek on the restart. Nemechek took advantage and pulled away, leaving his team owner in the mirror for finish runner up for the third time in 2021.
Busch is limited to five starts in the series, so Pocono was his final race on the year. In those five races, Nemechek won three, Busch won two. The races that Nemechek won, Busch was the runner up all three times.
The race didn’t even get fully green before the caution flag was flown for the first time on the day. A slow start by Jack Wood and possibly a little impatience by Chandler Smith or Carson Hocevar sent Wood’s No. 24 to the right as pole sitter Todd Gilliland was just taking the green flag.
The very early incident also collected Johnny Sauter and put another dagger in his hopes of making the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. Wood was retired on the spot and finished in 39th position.
Sauter, meanwhile, limped it home while fuming in the cockpit all race long.
Sauter falls to 28 points below the cutline after a 35th place finish, five laps off the pace. He’ll need two very decent runs, or for more comfort, a win in the next two races to have any chance of racing for a title in 2021.
BUSCH’S TRUCK RUN ENDS WITH BITTERSWEET RUNNER UP
Being limited to five races per season, many expect Busch to be a lock for the checkers every time he sits in one of his own trucks.
With Nemechek in the same equipment, this season, he may have met his Truck Series match.
Head to head in five races, Busch finished second, first, second, first and second. Every second place finish was to his own driver, but that’s three less wins on his personal racing resumé, even if the wins stayed in house at KBM.
PLAYOFFS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER
With only Knoxville Raceway and Watkins Glen Int’l remaining on the calendar in the regular season, that means there are only two more opportunities to solidify a place in the 2021 playoffs.
Nemechek, Creed, Gilliland and Ben Rhodes have the wins to compete for the title. Austin Hill is basically locked on points if it’s not official already. That leaves about half of the playoff field still left to decide in the next two weeks.
Grant Enfinger, despite having enough points currently to compete, is not eligible for the playoffs because he missed a race earlier in the season and was not granted a waiver.
It will come down to Zane Smith, Matt Crafton, Stewart Friesen, Carson Hocevar, Chandler Smith, Johnny Sauter Autin Wayne Self, Tyler Ankrum and Derek Kraus by points. A win would be a guarantee, but otherwise it’s just down to those drivers for the final five points positions.
The series will return in two weeks for their first trip to Knoxville and the second race of the season on dirt. Catch the dirty action on July 9th at 9:00 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com