The NASCAR Cup Series‘ Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway on Saturday ended with a duel of Hendrick Motorsports team-mates and a dramatic turn of events. For the final 19 laps, Kyle Larson chased down Alex Bowman before making his move with three laps remaining. But when it seemed like Larson was going to score his fourth straight points win, a blown left-front tyre coming to the finish allowed Bowman to slip by to win.
Larson started on the pole alongside Hendrick team-mate William Byron. Cole Custer was sent to the rear after failing pre-race inspection twice.
Ryan Preece and Chase Elliott made contact coming to the green flag, resulting in non-terminal damage to both cars. It was the second incident of the day to occur at the start, joining a wreck in the Truck race earlier in the day. Incidentally, the victim of the Truck crash was Jack Wood, who drives GMS Racing’s #24 that Elliott ran in his Truck one-off at Texas earlier in the month.
The ideal opportunity for those like Elliott to make adjustments came on lap eight when a caution was called for debris, taking the place of the planned lap 12 competition yellow. Elliott’s Hendrick allies led much of the opening stage with Larson leading four laps before Byron did so until Custer’s wreck on lap 13 after being hit by Brad Keselowski.
“(On) these restarts, you are trying to get up in those tight holes to make sure you don’t get freight trained by five cars on the straightaway,” Custer told NBCSN. “I don’t know if it was just too tight or miscommunication or what. I really wanted a good day today. I thought we had a good car those first few laps with our HaasTooling.com Mustang but we will just move on to tomorrow.
“It is frustrating. I can’t tell you how frustrating this year has been. We will just have to keep surging on and go to tomorrow.”
Keselowski apologised to Custer on Twitter after the race, writing it “was a big time bummer. Clearly I misjudged Cole’s intentions and ruined his day and hurt ours. Apologies to his team and mine. Glad he is ok.”
Kyle Busch, who finished runner-up to employee John Hunter Nemechek in the Truck race, took the lead on lap 18. Busch led to the stage conclusion. Byron, Larson, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suárez, Austin Dillon, and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top ten.
Logano stayed out between stages to assume the top spot for the restart. He would lead much of the early half of the segment before the field began green-flag stops. With the field operating on alternate strategies, Ross Chastain inherited the lead and held it until Ryan Newman‘s spin on lap 52 brought out the yellow flag.
Kyle Busch became the leader for the restart and held it until lap 59 when Anthony Alfredo clipped Corey LaJoie on the fronstretch and sent him into the outside wall. Chastain was the next victim when he hit the wall and spun on lap 71.
As Busch pitted, brother Kurt stayed out and would lead the final lap to win the stage. Larson, Logano, Byron, Ryan Blaney, Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Bowman, Kyle Busch, and Keselowski followed.
The final stage commenced with Busch leading Larson. Busch held Larson off for two laps before being passed.
The next pit wave began with approximately 40 laps remaining with Harvick and Truex being the first to make a stop. Larson pitted on lap 91 and surrendered the lead to Busch, who then gave it to Hamlin when he made his stop a lap later. Austin Dillon received a speeding penalty, while Matt DiBenedetto had an equipment removal infraction after the gas can slipped outside his pit box while conducting a fuel-only stop. DiBenedetto was also caught speeding while serving his pass-through penalty.
Kyle Busch had a faster stop than Larson that enabled him to run ahead of Larson as the pit cycle continued until he was caught on lap 103. Hamlin pitted on the following lap which shuffled the lead to Michael McDowell. McDowell, who had two career laps led at Pocono entering the weekend (including one in Race #1 last year under the same circumstances), led four laps until a debris caution came out on lap 107.
McDowell and others pitted under yellow and Busch retook the lead. Busch and Bowman held the front row when the race resumed with 19 laps remaining. A strong run on the inside enabled Bowman to clear Busch for the lead in turn one with Hendrick team-mate Larson in tow.
In his pursuit, Larson had the faster lap times at various points but could not find a way to pass him for much of the stretch. At the five-to-go mark, Larson slimmed the margin on the frontstretch, where the two ran along the pit wall, before completing his move on the next lap.
Although Larson was poised to take a fourth straight points win (fifth including the All-Star), his left-front tyre went down entering the final turn and sent him into the wall. As his team-mate bounced off the wall, Bowman snuck across on the inside to score his third win of the season and first at Pocono.
“I hate to win that way, but hell yeah, I’ll take it,” quipped Bowman in his post-race interview. “[…] We kind of gave the lead away. Were on two tyres, just got super tight. Tried to hold him off as long as I could. Can’t say enough about everybody at Team Hendrick right now: body shop, engine shop, chassis shop, top to bottom, everybody is putting race cars on the race track. Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all the guys did a really good job. We didn’t run that good all day, so I’m kind of in shock.”
Larson had to settle for ninth. Had he won, he likely would have leapfrogged Hamlin for the points lead, but Hamlin will keep the spot for another day afer finishing fourth to maintain an eight-point advantage. Speaking with NBCSN after being released fron the infield care centre, Larson said he was in “disbelief still. A little bit laughable just because I can’t believe it.
“Hate that we didn’t get another win. Would have been cool to win five in a row. Just wasn’t meant to be, I guess, today. I felt something like right in the middle of the tunnel. Wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. It finally kind of shredded halfway through the short chute there. Couldn’t turn. Hate that we didn’t get the win. Cool that Alex still did, a Hendrick car with another win. Cool to keep Mr. H’s streak going (six straight). Hate we didn’t get HendrickCars.com into Victory Lane, but we’ll try to start another streak tomorrow.
“[…] I don’t think there were any tyre issues all day. I must have just ran something over, I guess. I was having to work really hard to get by him. I was honestly happy to see him get to the lead because I had pulled away from him so much, that run up before the caution. But then he was really fast out front. Just fast enough I could never get to his inside. He was running low enough, I was a little bit choked down.”
As the top twenty is inverted for Sunday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 350, twentieth-placed Chris Buescher will start on the pole. Bowman rolls off twentieth.
|1||13||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|2||5||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||130||Running|
|3||2||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|4||10||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||130||Running|
|5||27||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||130||Running|
|6||8||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|7||4||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||130||Running|
|8||3||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||130||Running|
|9||1||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|10||18||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||130||Running|
|11||16||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|12||29||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|13||14||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|14||20||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||130||Running|
|15||7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|16||11||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||130||Running|
|17||9||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||130||Running|
|18||15||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||130||Running|
|19||17||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||130||Running|
|20||25||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||130||Running|
|21||12||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|22||22||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|23||31||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|24||28||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||130||Running|
|25||35||51||Cody Ware*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|26||24||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||130||Running|
|27||34||77||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|28||36||15||James Davison||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|29||30||53||Garrett Smithley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|30||32||78||B.J. McLeod*||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||130||Running|
|31||37||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||130||Running|
|32||21||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||129||Running|
|33||6||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||129||Running|
|34||33||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||128||Running|
|35||38||66||Timmy Hill*||MBM Motorsports||Toyota||126||Running|
|36||23||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||125||Running|
|37||19||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||96||Accident|
|38||26||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||13||Accident|
* – Ineligible for Cup points