By: Ashley McCubbin
The NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 350 at Pocono Raceway may have been hindered by rain and the current aero package, but it wasn’t a bad event to watch overall – that’s when FOX had their cameras on the action.
As we’ve seen all year, restarts are a thing of beauty to watch in drivers trying to do whatever they can to make something happen. With the long straightaways at Pocono, the runs they would get via pushing each other almost felt like we were back at Talladega Superspeedway. Combined with everybody fanning out sometimes four-wide, it made your blood pressure go up.
However, once you got five, 10 laps in a run, the field spread out, single-file, with nobody able to get a good run on each other unless the car ahead of you really had a handling issue. It’s the same problem experienced at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway, and will continue until the sanctioning body does something with the package.
While there was no ultimate saving those events – other than a couple crazy headlines if you think back, the sheer length of Pocono Raceway and the ability to pit without going a lap down gave the event a different opportunity to shine. Crew chiefs tried to out-smart each other on strategy, with four different ideologies playing out, hoping their driver would be at the front at the end and a caution did not catch them in a bad way. In return, the fans were caught on with intrigue in waiting to see how everything came together.
Kevin Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers tried to play the same game as yesterday, and it almost worked out perfectly. Except, Denny Hamlin and Chris Gabehart were able to get the upperhand. By electing to stay out longer, utilizing the long run speed they had in the No. 11 FedEx Camry and clean air to stretch their lead out to 33 seconds before pitting, it allowed them to get two tires and still come out in front by three seconds to win. The fact that Harvick ran in traffic after pitting probably didn’t help either, for the record, but same story.
Kyle Busch has been one of those against the lack of practice with the pandemic, saying having at least a half-hour session would be beneficial to his team in getting their travels right. With having Saturday’s race under his belt, his argument played true on Sunday as he was one of those up inside the top-five with a legitimate shot to win = until an incident with Ryan Blaney and Garrett Smithley.
One of the pivotal turning points for one of the sport’s most popular drivers, and NASCAR on FOX dropped the ball big time. As Jeff Gordon said on the broadcast, “We have no idea how these two got into this position,” since they did not have a single replay of what happened. Instead, they utilized the same computer graphic program that NASCAR uses for RaceView on their website and GPS positioning of the cars to show the three-wide close racing before contact.
The first excuse that will probably be used is that, “sorry, we have a lack of cameras due to #covid19,” which is something that we’re all dealing with right now and making the most of. However, it’s common in racing to know you should have a camera on the entry and off of each corner, knowing that’s the most likely spot for something to happen. Furthermore, the lack of that angle cost them twice since we will never know what happened to end Christopher Bell’s day earlier, either.
Thankfully, the NASCAR Production staff who were shooting other things for their own record with a smaller staff caught the contact, sharing it via the series’ twitter account.
Busch stated in his post-race interview that he did not want to comment on the cause as he knew it’d generate backlash, and many thought it equaled tough words against Blaney for the contact. However, he has never been shy to speak about his competitors when they wreck him – just ask the likes of Joey Logano and Harvick about that.
Instead, the only reason Blaney was able to catch back up to Busch so quickly was due to the catching the slower car of Smithley running right in the lane that he wanted to be in. The driver of the No. 18 has spoken about the issue previously, receiving a ton of backlash when he said “pathetic lap traffic doesn’t know where to go.” For the record, the incident last year at Las Vegas also involved the same driver.
While some may say it is unfair to critique Smithley, understanding he will be slower due to being underfunded and less experience, Busch certainly has a point. One of the quite essential things taught about respect in the short track ranks is for lap traffic to hold their line, whether top or bottom, and let the leaders battle it out. By running the middle, Smithley broke that clearly – again. Most people will overlook that right now, but imagine a lap car costing your driver the win because they decide to get in the way in the midst of a battle for the lead. Think about how you’d feel.
Jimmie Johnson was headed for a strong run on Sunday, until an uncontrolled tire violation on pit road cost him his top-10 finish. While Hendrick Motorsports has shown speed and won races with both Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott, it seems if it’s not one thing it’s another that has costed the seven-time champion this year. Only six top-10’s in 15 races ranked 12th in points is probably not how he envisioned his #OneFinalTime campaign going.