Winners and Losers from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono
The second half of the Sprint Cup Series regular season opened at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, with Jimmie Johnson producing one of the most dominant performances of the season so far.
Starting on the pole after qualifying was rained out, Johnson led all but 31 laps on the way to his third victory of the season. He outdrove the entire field for most of the day and outlasted charges from Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a series of late-race cautions continuously bunched up the field.
Pocono frequently foreshadows how the Cup field looks during the season's summer months. The series visits numerous large speedways, flat tracks and a pair of road courses before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, and Pocono handles somewhat like a combination of the three.
So whose summer looks good based on his or her results on Sunday, and who might be worrying about the coming weeks?
Winner: Jimmie Johnson
In life, there are but three certainties: death, taxes and the fact that Jimmie Johnson wins.
The latest victory of Johnson's lengthy and successful Sprint Cup career came Sunday at Pocono, a race he dominated basically from start to finish. After leading 129 of 160 laps, Johnson praised his team in Victory Lane, saying it was the best race car he had in a "long, long, long time."
Not only did Johnson recover from losing the victory at Dover, he increased his points lead to 51 over Carl Edwards, who finished 18th. Only four drivers are within 100 points of Johnson's massive championship lead.
Loser: Kasey Kahne
That's not the way you want to start a race, is it?
The field hadn't even completed a lap before the No. 5 Chevrolet had to pull into the garage with transmission issues.
Kahne, who had finished second in his last race at the track, saw his hopes for a good finish—and the potential to pass Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the points—evaporate then and there.
Kahne returned to the race shortly before the first set of green-flag pit stops, 21 laps down. He went on to finish a disappointing 36th and fell to eighth in points.
Winner: Stewart-Haas Racing
Are we about to see a major turnaround at Stewart-Haas?
Last week, Tony Stewart scored the team's first win of a difficult season at Dover. This week, both Stewart and Ryan Newman spent a good amount of time in the top tier of the field. Stewart finished fourth, while Newman came home right behind him in fifth.
Stewart typically raises his game in the summer months, so that isn't much of a surprise. But the team hadn't put two cars in the top five in the same race since July of last year, when Stewart won at Daytona and Newman finished fifth.
If they can keep that up, expect both drivers to challenge for Chase berths.
Loser: Michael Waltrip Racing
Last season, Michael Waltrip Racing nearly scored a win at Pocono with Mark Martin, while Clint Bowyer backed up the MWR team's strength with a sixth-place finish.
This year, no MWR driver finished better than 15th. Bowyer was the lucky top-15 driver, if you can call it that. Meanwhile, Martin was a non-factor in 19th place. And Martin Truex Jr. could only muster up a 23rd-place finish of his own.
It's clear that the organizational depth that MWR had last year has fallen off slightly. Bowyer remains a bona fide championship contender at third in points, but Truex's chances at a second consecutive Chase berth are slim, as he's 16th in points with no wins.
Winner: Greg Biffle
Did Biffle score a season-best finish at the right time? You better believe it.
Coming off of six consecutive finishes outside of the top 10, including three runs outside of the top 30 and a 10-position free fall in points, Biffle collected a superb second-place finish, while many of his Ford compatriots failed to finish in the top 10.
With the runner-up result, Biffle climbed back into the top 10 in points, holding a two-point advantage over Jeff Gordon. He has a chance to improve on that gap next week at Michigan, where he has three wins and 12 top-10s in 20 starts, as well as a career average finish of 11.8.
Loser: Denny Hamlin
Ever since Hamlin swept both Pocono races in his rookie season, he's been a favorite pick for the win at the track. With four wins in 15 career Pocono starts, this needed to be a big weekend for Hamlin as he went for victories in a dark-horse run for a Chase berth.
His eighth-place finish would have been an alright run for any other driver, but not for him given his previous successes at the track—and not given his need for wins.
Hamlin failed to lead a lap for only the fourth time at Pocono, and he thus wasted what was a crucial opportunity for him to break into the win column.
Winner: Nationwide Series Purists
Those who feel like the Nationwide Series should purely be utilized as a driver development series scored a victory when rain forced the DuPont Pioneer 250 at Iowa Speedway to be postponed until Sunday. Though only two full-time Cup drivers, Joey Logano and Joe Nemechek, were scheduled to run both races, both had to fly to Pocono in time for the Sprint Cup event.
In lieu of their original drivers, Penske Racing replaced Logano with Ryan Blaney and Nemechek hired Kevin Lepage. For Blaney, it was an opportunity to further develop his skills; for Lepage, it was an opportunity to run a full race after starting and parking for most of the past few years.
Loser: Joe Nemechek
Though Joe Nemechek runs for Nationwide Series points, he chose to attempt the full Sprint Cup race at Pocono on Sunday after the Nationwide race in Iowa was postponed.
Unfortunately, he chose the wrong race to compete in.
While fill-in driver Kevin Lepage finished 19th at Iowa, in what would have been the third-best finish of Nemechek's season, the other No. 87 Toyota fell out of the Sprint Cup race early with an oil pump issue.
Instead of running the full Cup race, he now sits 250 points out of the Nationwide championship lead.
Winner: Race Fans Who Were Busy on Saturday
If you weren't able to watch the Nationwide race on Saturday night because of some other commitment, Sunday was your lucky day.
That race started at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, two hours before Sprint Cup went green in Pocono. Then, a rain delay halted progress, allowing fans to change the channel in time to catch the Sprint Cup race start.
And as soon as it became clear that Pocono was going to be a mostly green-flag affair, some fans were likely able to change the channel in time to see Trevor Bayne take the victory over Austin Dillon before then changing back in time for the end of the Cup race.
Loser: Race Fans Without DVRs
Besides the Sprint Cup race at Pocono and the Nationwide race at Iowa, Formula 1 also competed at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal, starting the race at 2 p.m. ET. That meant that, if only briefly, all three races were going on at the same time.
Hope your remote finger was in shape or you weren't particularly interested in at least one of the races you missed. If not, there's always SPEED Center.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.