The Pocono 500 in Long Pond, PA got off to a rainy start on Friday, with the cancellation of practice and qualifying. The field was set for Sunday's race by the points standings. Tony Stewart, points leader, took the pole position by virtue of the rain. Jeff Gordon, second in points. was set to roll off on the outside pole for Sunday's race.
After a glorious Saturday, full of sunshine and practice sessions, race day on Sunday dawned bright as well. The pre-race ceremonies were full of honoring the military and those who serve our country.
Teams prepared for the race by getting their cars through NASCAR's technical inspection.
Fans, drivers and media swooned for Ryan Reynolds, star of the upcoming movie "The Proposal" , who served as the Grand Marshall for the Pocono 500. Reynolds had a special one-on-one meeting with Jimmie Johnson in his hauler prior to the race.
The Drivers' Meeting was packed and questions abounded about the double file restarts. Bobby Labonte strolled the "red carpet" to get into the meeting.
After the drivers' meeting, everyone headed to the haulers for pre-race lunch. The best aroma came from Tony Stewart's camp, which featured coolers full of roasted chicken. Maybe that's why Smoke went on to have such a great finish!
Drivers hitched a ride out to the grid for Driver Introductions on their escorted golf carts. Ambassadors from Pocono Raceway wheeled the drivers out past Autograph Alley, to the cheers and jeers of the fans.
Out on the grid as the drivers are introduced, crew chiefs and drivers' wives have a chance to catch up with one another. Jimmie Johnson's wife Chandra and Chad Knaus did just that at the Pocono 500.
Ella Sofia Gordon just couldn't stay away from the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet. Mom Ingrid Vandebosch finally acquiesced and helped Ella aboard.
Matt Kenseth struck a pose as he waited to jump aboard the No. 17, awaiting those most famous words in motorsports.
Bobby Labonte's team stands at attention for the national anthem prior in Long Pond, Pa.
Steve Letarte, crew chief for Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 team, climbed aboard the pit box and pondered his race strategy.
On the first lap, Denny Hamlin in the FedEx car fell prey to mechanical problems and had to make a quick exit, only to return many laps down.
With extended green flag laps and few cautions in the race, pit strategy and pit stops became critical.
Ryan Newman also had problems with the car early in the race, but went on to salvage a good finish.
Pocono Raceway debuted the double file restarts, which were wildly successful and definitely pleased the race fans.
When all was said and done, the race came down to fuel mileage. Crew chiefs crunched the numbers atop the pit boxes and plotted their strategies, while the drivers did all they could on the track to conserve.
Tony Stewart played the fuel strategy game perfectly, conserved whatever he had left, and took the checkered flag. While he did a burnout on the track, his team celebrated on their way to Victory Lane.
Some drivers, like A.J. Allmendinger, did not fare so well, running out of gas on the last lap. The Dinger had a top 10 finish in sight and ended up well back in the pack, losing valuable points.
This fan just couldn't even take it all in. He simply passed out after that dramatic race finish.
After heading out for the hours in traffic after the race, fans will do it all again, returning to Pocono Raceway in August for the Pennsylvania 500. See you then, race fans!