TNT took over NASCAR coverage this weekend, and the boys headed to Long Pond, Pa. for the Pocono 500.
Pocono features three very different—and unique—turns, and is a track where if a team gets behind early, it’s hard to catch up.
Problems plagued Chase contenders from the drop of the green flag until the checkered flag fell, but in the end, Tony Stewart came out on top both on the track and in the point standings.
With 14 races behind us, NASCAR’s Sprint to the Chase is in full effect, as those outside the top 12 have got to act now if they want to be in the 2009 Chase.
Here is a look at some things Surprising and Not Surprising from Sunday’s race.
Surprising: Tony Stewart wins first race as an owner
OK, so this isn’t really surprising because we all knew Stewart was going to get a win soon.
The reason this is surprising is because of the way Stewart won—through fuel mileage.
As the laps ticked away Sunday, Stewart was looking to be four to five laps short on fuel, but through fuel conservation, Stewart became the first owner-driver to win a race since Ricky Rudd did so at Martinsville in 1998.
In the waning laps, Stewart told his crew chief that he, “hated racing like this” in regards to the fuel mileage, but the gamble paid off and Stewart visited Victory Lane for the first time in his own car.
But as he crossed the finish line, Stewart said, “You guys made me look like a damn genius.”
After the race, Stewart said, “This has been an awesome weekend.”
When asked what it was like to win as an owner he said, “It’s a little different when it’s your own [team].”
Stewart pulled even further away in the point standings, as he now leads Jeff Gordon by 71 points. Stewart’s win earned him 10 bonus points when the Chase starts in September.
Not Surprising: Dale Earnhart Jr.’s pit problems continue
The No. 88 team may have a different crew chief calling the shots, but it’s the same driver behind the wheel of the AMP Energy Chevy.
And that driver continued to have problems in the pits on Sunday.
On Lap 105, Earnhardt Jr. completely blew through his pit stall and lost valuable track position.
Within a few laps of the green flag waving, Earnhardt Jr.—who restarted 25th—was nearly taken out of the race when contact with David Stremme sent the No. 12 Dodge into the wall.
Earnhardt Jr. struggled the remainder of the race and brought his No. 88 home 27th.
The poor finish was far worse than Earnhardt Jr.’s average of 16.3 at the Tricky Triangle.
Surprising: Denny Hamlin was never a contender
Hamlin swept the Tricky Triangle in Long Pond, Pa. in his rookie season and entered Sunday’s race leading just about every NASCAR Loop Data statistic.
When the green flag fell, Hamlin—who led Happy Hour practice—went from contender to field filler quickly after engine problems ended any chance of a third win at the 2.5-mile track.
Even worse for Hamlin was the drop in the point standings.
The No. 11 FedEx Chevy entered the race in seventh place in the point standings, but left clinging to a top-12 spot, only one point ahead of 13th-place Mark Martin.
Hamlin’s team deserves credit, however, as they managed to fix the problem and send the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota back on the track to make up valuable points.
At one point, Hamlin was outside the top 12, but left Pennsylvania just inside Chase contention.
Not Surprising: Double-file restarts make racing more exciting
Pocono is not known for exciting races, and many fans complain of the two races the 2.5-mile track has during the summer months.
However, with NASCAR implementing the double-file restarts at the Pennsylvania track, it did make things a bit more exciting.
Sure, the double-file restarts aren’t a saving grace, but at least it did what should have been done all along—put the fastest cars at the front of the field.
Throughout the race, the restarts were much more exciting, as all cars on the lead lap were within seconds of each other as they took the green flag instead of being spread out the entire length of the front stretch.
The double-file restarts worked well at the 2.5-mile super speedway, but it’s yet to be seen how the rule change will work on the smaller tracks.
Surprising: David Reutimann jumps two spots in the point standings
Reutimann got his first-career Sprint Cup Series win just a few weeks ago at Lowe’s Motor Speedway when the Coca-Cola 600 was shortened by rain and used fuel mileage to bring home a top-three finish on Sunday.
Reutimann was strong all day and put himself in position to win late in the race.
It appeared the drivers in front of him would all have to pit one more time for fuel, and Reutimann looked to be coasting towards his second career win in the last three races.
Unfortunately for the No. 00 team, two cars—Stewart and Edwards—managed to stretch their fuel to the end of the 500-mile race, and Reutimann came home third.
The top-three finish moved Reutimann up two spots in the point standings to 11th.
With 11 races left before the Chase cutoff, Reutimann appears to be a serious contender for Michael Waltrip Racing’s first appearance in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Reutimann’s cushion is minor, however, as only 23 points separate him and 13th-place.
Not Surprising: Carl Edwards is inching towards first win of ‘09
After leading 103 laps on Sunday and appearing to have his first win of 2009 in the bag, Edwards was declared the bridesmaid of the Pocono 500.
Edwards, by far, has the best car all day, and recovered from a lucky caution after fueling problems forced him to pit several laps early.
When the final caution flag flew on Lap 165, Stewart’s crew managed to get the No. 14 Chevy out in front of the No. 99 Ford.
This would prove to be the move that cost Edwards his first win of the season, as Stewart pulled away to his first points paying win as an owner/driver.
Edwards’ second-place finish may not have been the win he wanted, but it did skyrocket him five places in the point standings to sixth-place.
Entering the race in 11th, Edwards is now a much more comfortable 84 points ahead of 13th-place.
“I was sure (Stewart) would run out of gas just like Jimmie (Johnson, who finished third) did,” Edwards said after the race.
Up Next: LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway
TV: TNT, 12:30 PM
Radio: MRN, 1:15 PM
Shape: D-shaped oval
Banking: 18-degree turns, 12-degree frontstretch, 5-degree backstretch
Frontstretch: 3,600 feet
Backstretch: 2,242 feet
2008 Race Results
3M Performance 400 Presented by Bondo: Carl Edwards (Aug. 17, 2008)
LifeLock 400: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (June 15, 2008)
1. Tony Stewart (2,043 | leader)
2. Jeff Gordon (1,972 | -71)
3. Jimmie Johnson (1,940 | -103)
4. Ryan Newman (1,840 | -203) (+1 in points)
5. Kurt Busch (1,819 | -224) (-1 in points)
6. Carl Edwards (1,762 | -281) (+5 in points)
7. Greg Biffle (1,753 | -290) (+2 in points)
8. Matt Kenseth (1,745 | -298)
9. Kyle Busch (1,731 | -312) (-3 in points)
10. Jeff Burton (1,725 | -318)
11. David Reutimann (1,701 | -342) (+2 in points)
12. Denny Hamlin (1,679 | -364) (-5 in points)
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