With only four caution periods, each for debris on the track, the five hundred mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono on Sunday lasted just short of three and a half hours, less, unusually, than the concurrent Formula One Canadian Grand Prix.
The first half of the race was dominated by Denny Hamlin who led 76 of the first one hundred laps, quite comfortably outrunning the field led mostly by Juan Pablo Montoya. Then, during a green flag pit stop Hamlin’s crew took four seconds longer than Montoya’s and that was enough to give the Colombian the lead. Hamlin was able to close the gap but not get ahead but it seemed only a matter of time until Hamlin would be able to reassert himself.
Unfortunately for him immediately after the next green flag stop Hamlin was forced to return to the pits with a tyre valve ripped from his rear wheel. For a few laps after the wheel was replaced there was smoke issuing from the rear of the car but the crew chief encouraged Hamlin to keep racing. One quality Hamlin possesses which stands him in good stead on days like these is he doesn’t let his head drop – he keeps racing hard to the end whenever possible.
After the race his crew found the source of the smoke – a tyre tread had wrapped itself around the rear axle of the no. 11 FedEx Toyota. That would have also explained the strange vibration and handling. Hamlin’s perseverance saw him finish in nineteenth place, a worthy piece of damage limitation.
Another driver to have an unfortunate race was championship leader Carl Edwards. He pulled his car into the garage after just a quarter distance of the race with a misfiring engine. A broken valve was diagnosed and all the available crew immediately set to work trying to extricate the pieces and get the car running before the end of the race to pick up any points it could.
It says a lot for Edwards’ composure that he used the time whilst his car was being repaired to go to TNT television’s commentary booth and add some colour to the description of the race with great insight and wit in equal measure.
Eventually the no 99 Ford was fired up in time for just a handful of laps at the very end of the race and Edwards’ championship lead was slashed from forty points to six after his lowest finish of the season in 37th place.
In the early part of the race it seemed that Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch might just have forgotten that they are still both on probation as the two cars were running together and seemed to be spoiling each others’ races. Harvick in particular was seen to run Busch right across to near the pit lane during one side-by-side run on what is a very wide track and later tucked in behind the no 18 Toyota after it had passed him and clearly gave Busch a nudge from behind.
NASCAR warned both drivers to start racing cleanly and it would seem they decided to heed the warning. It is doubtful that will be the last time there are signs of the animosity between the pair of them – that is a show that is going to run for some time yet.
Harvick eventually finished in fifth place behind Jimmie Johnson whilst Busch was third behind his runner-up brother Kurt. After the race NASCAR announced that Kyle Busch’s car failed the technical inspection with the height of the left front being too low and the car was being taken back to the technical centre for inspection.
On Monday they announced that the car failed the inspection and as a result crew chief Dave Rogers has been fined $25,000 and Joe Gibbs and Kyle Busch have each had six points deducted from the owners and drivers points tables respectively. In reality in both tables the car and driver were in fifth place ten points ahead of Kurt Busch and his car’s owner so there will be no change of position, just a reduction in the points difference.
That brings us to the man so many people thought was past it now. His heyday had gone and he was no longer able to close out a race and take the checkered flag. Jeff Gordon. Four times champion. A man facing his fortieth birthday.
Sitting comfortably in the top five for three quarters of the race Gordon gradually eased his way into the top three and then at lap 160 took the lead and, apart from when cycling through a pit stop sequence, held the lead through to the end. And held it quite comfortably.
That was the 84th win of Gordon’s career and ties him in third place in the all-time winners list with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison. Only Dave Pearson with 105 wins and Richard Petty with 200 have more wins than the man who some say is past it.
This win brings Gordon into the vital top twelve positions in the table, in fact in eleventh place, and his two wins so far this season virtually assure him of a place in The Chase.