When the checkered flag waved on Sunday afternoon cars were running out of gas left and right. In the end it was Matt Kenseth who wound up in Victory Lane to capture his first win at Pocono Raceway and his second victory of 2015 after winning at Bristol in April.
Kenseth has been accustomed to finishing poorly at Pocono. Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing at the beginning of the 2013 season Kenseth’s best finish at Pocono was sixth back in June. The other four races at Pocono the No. 20 team’s best finish was 22nd.
Kenseth led just two laps on the afternoon and was able to capitalize on the opportunity in front of him. This marks Joe Gibbs Racing fourth series win in a row and has made them serious contenders for the championship going forward.
“There’s no better feeling coming off of the last corner of a Sprint Cup race and you know that you’re going to win,” said Kenseth. “I thought as a group we showed a lot of speed. Today we had a really good car I just did s bad job on the restarts and it got us behind. Once we got single-file it was just really tough to pass. Once I could pass some cars and clear them we were able to run some competitive laps times that were close to the leader. We had a top-three to to-five car so that was encouraging. Jason (Ratcliff) told me that I had to really start saving. Once I got in front of Jimmie (Johnson) I kept begging Jason when we could go and he told me never. I wanted to get as close to the leaders in case we ran out. That’s hard to not run as fast as you can in the last five or six laps of a race.”
Joey Logano and Kyle Busch had the field covered on Sunday. Logano led 97 laps on the afternoon, but coming to the white flag the No. 22 ran out of gas handing the lead over to Busch. However, the lead for Busch was short-lived because on the backstretch of the final lap the No. 18 ran out of gas. Logano finished a disappointing 20th while Busch finished 21st and sits just outside the top 30 in Cup Series points.
Other cars that ran out of gas in the last three laps include June winner Martin Truex, Jr. Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. Many cars pitted with just a couple of laps left in the race in order to make it to the checkered flag.
The final 64 laps were run under the green flag, which threw every team for a loop after having eight cautions in the first 93 laps.
Brad Keselowski had an eventful race but rebounded to bring his Ford home in the second position.
During one of Keselowski’s green flag pit stops he slid through his pit stall collecting the front-tire changer and the jackman. The tire got away from the front-tire changer which resulted in a pit road penalty for the No. 2 team. Keselowski came from one lap down to have a top 10 car, but with all of the commotion in the last handful of laps he found himself finishing in the runner-up position.
“Fast cars are really a joy to drive,” said Keselowski. “That was so much fun to have a car that fast. It’s just another race where things didn’t exactly go our way. This one is on me for hitting my guys.”
Jeff Gordon finished in the third position in his last race at Pocono Raceway. Gordon will finish his career at the famed track with six total wins, but he also had to overcome adversity in order to gain crucial points on the cutoff to the Chase.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenges of this race track,” Gordon said post-race. “The shifting, the three unique turns and you have to set-up the person that you’re racing each and every corner and try to get momentum off of the corner.
Gordon didn’t have a third-place car all afternoon. The No. 24 team struggled to run in the top-15, but it’s the end result that counts and Gordon had a good points day.
“You know when the red flag comes out on Lap 4 that you’re going to have a wild day,” he said. “We got behind because we played that strategy and got behind. It wasn’t looking very good, but in the end when we crossed the line it looks genius.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth on Sunday. Much like Keselowski and Gordon, Earnhardt also had to overcome an early race incident to score a top five finish.
Just prior to halfway Earnhardt was spun out by Cole Whitt. Earnhardt was running at the tail-end of the lead lap because he received a speeding penalty on pit road. While keeping the car out of the wall saved the No. 88 team, they had to go a different route in strategy and barely made it to the checkered flag.
“It’s just hard to get track position back,” Earnhardt said. “There are so many cars on the lead lap, it was tough for us. We get stuck in traffic and it’s really hard to pass here once guys get sorted out, so even if we can run guys down and are a half-second faster than the guys in front of us when you’re five car lengths back you can’t pass them and you can’t go any further. You get in dirty air and there’s nothing you can do.”
Other drivers who had solid finished were Greg Biffle who picked up just his second top-five finish of 2015 both coming on fuel-mileage. AJ Allmendinger finished in the seventh position which builds momentum heading back to Watkins Glen, the track that the No. 47 team won at in 2014.
There were a bunch of incidents that changed the complexion in the first half of the race.
The biggest hit of the day came on Lap 4 when Kasey Kahne spun out of Turn 3 and collided with the pit wall. Kahne’s No. 5 was the third different car this weekend that hit the pit wall. In final practice on Saturday it was Jeb Burton who got loose and spun. In a preliminary race on Saturday another car spun into the pits. This has been an ongoing issue at the track and Pocono Raceway is looking into it.
“I just got loose really late,” Kahne said after being released from the infield care center. “I’m not sure why or what happened, it just jumped out. You’re so far off of the corner that it’s a slow slide so far down pit road. I couldn’t believe it when the No. 26 did it in practice and then I did it probably further down than he did.”
Kahne finished last on Sunday.
On Lap 20, Kevin Harvick blew an engine just as he passed teammate Kurt Busch for the lead. Harvick was one of the pre-race favorites to take home the checkered flag.
Busch finished in the 37th position after he made contact with Paul Menard on Lap 66. Busch had a huge slide through the middle of the pack and had it corrected until Sam Hornish, Jr. hit the No. 41 in the rear.
Pocono was one of the more unusual races in recent memory. The Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen next weekend to tackle the left and rights of the Finger Lakes region with just five races remain before the Chase.