Martin Truex Jr. has had the dominant car in each of the last four races. On Sunday at Pocono Raceway the No. 78 team closed the deal and won the Axalta 400.
Coming off of a season where Truex only had five top-ten finishes, he has started off the 2015 season with 13-out-of-14 finishes inside of the top ten. He has also led a total of 454 laps in the last month of competition more than any of his competitors.
“Whenever we got that good lead and it was like focus, hit your marks, don’t overdrive it and it was all about the white flag from there,” Truex said following his win. “
“This team deserves to win,” Truex said on why this win is so special to him. “I’ve known that all year long. Especially after the past couple of weeks. Over my career, I kind of got used to the disappointments, honestly. And I’ve learned to deal with those days where it didn’t go your way even though you didn’t do anything wrong, that can get a lot of people down. I wanted to win for this team because I knew how good they were and they deserved to win. I’ve been so thrilled with the positive outlook that this year has gone.”
Pocono was never one of Truex’s better tracks. However, with his win on Sunday it is now one of his favorite tracks on the NASCAR schedule. He led 97 laps and picked up his first win since Sonoma back in 2013, 69 races ago.
This is Furniture Row Racing’s second career win as an organization. They won back in 2011 when Regan Smith held off Carl Edwards at Darlington.
Kevin Harvick had the fastest car all weekend long as he had the quickest car in all three practice sessions and two of the three rounds in qualifying. The No. 4 Chevrolet led 39 laps on the afternoon and finished in the second position.
“It was really no battle,” Harvick said in regard to finishing second to Truex. “He got out there too far on the restarts. We were really struggling with third gear on the restarts and it kind of put us in defense mode to just kind of protect our track position.”
This mark his 10th top-two finish in the first 14 races and it equals the mark that Bobby Allison did back in 1972.
Jimmie Johnson finished third at Pocono. The six-time Sprint Cup Series champion’s day was far from easy.
Just passed halfway Johnson brought out the races third caution as he radioed to his team that he had a flat tire. He restarted the race just barely inside of the top 30. It didn’t take long for the No. 48 to get back to the top ten and evidently the top five.
“We still need more speed,” Johnson said following his third place run. “Even if we are the fastest car, I still want more. But to have the No. 78 and No. 4 are just so far ahead. The speed that Kevin showed in practice and the speed that’s in our Hendrick equipment we got to keep working to where we want to be.”
Joey Logano finished fourth, but he had an eventful day before the race even started. Logano had to start the race from the rear after the No. 22 team changed rear-gears after qualifying. During his first green-flag pit stop, Logano was caught speeding on pit road and had to start over as he had made up a bunch of track position to begin the race.
Polesitter Kurt Busch rounded out the top five after leading only one lap. Much of the race Busch was trying to pick the right strategy as there multiple different strategies.
When the caution came out with 40 laps to go it put everyone back on the same strategy. Going 40 laps on a tank of fuel at Pocono is impossible but with caution laps it is feasible. And from this point on in the race there were three more cautions for a total of 15 caution laps. All of the teams could make it on fuel with 15 laps of caution. It is about a 2:1 ratio of saving gas under caution.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. swept both races at Pocono last year and he brought his No. 88 Chevrolet home just outside of the top 10 in 11th.
“The car was awesome,” Earnhardt said in debriefing his race. “We passed five to ten cars on the restarts. I thought that I was up on the corner panel of the No. 2 and I knew that the No. 5 was down there and the (No. 2) must have bounced off the wall or something and when I saw that I came down and made contact with Kasey.”
This set Earnhardt back with about 30 laps to go. He passed over 15 cars over the last stint of the race and finished just outside of the top 10.
The talk around the garage all weekend long in the Pocono Mountains was the bumps in the “Tunnel Turn” at Pocono Raceway. For most the bumps played little to no outcome on race.
“I think after the first run everyone was kind of settled,” Harvick said post-race. If we could just keep the track smooth, a lot of them will complain that the track is too smooth and it doesn’t have enough grip and now there’s bumps in the track and it is the end of the world. I probably made 70 percent of my passes today in the tunnel because guys would get there and bounce and move up the race track.”
Johnson agreed with everything Harvick and said that the bumps were a no factor in today’s race.
“I feel like it was a place where teams can work on their cars,” Johnson said. “It’s a hairy corner to start with and the bumps just got everyone’s attention. I don’t mind the bumps or the challenges.”
It will be interesting to see what happens between today and when NASCAR returns to Pocono in a couple of months.