The ARCA Racing Series heads to the Pocono Mountains for the second trip of 2016 for the ModSpace 150 at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway. This will be the 14th race in 2016 for ARCA, kicking off a triple-header weekend in Pocono. 28 drivers are currently scheduled to race in the Friday evening spectacular. John Wes Townley will be returning to competition after missing two weeks due to concussion-like symptoms faced in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Gateway Motorsports Park in late June.
Friday’s late afternoon race will be 50 miles shorter than the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200 held at the beginning of June. The race will be a quick 60 lap shootout, where drivers will try to make it on one pit stop.
This will be the 63rd ARCA race at Pocono. ARCA races at Pocono have a notorious list of winners, including, but not limited to, Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne, Tim Steele, Mike Wallace, and Blaise Alexander.
Pocono Raceway is located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Three distinct turns canvas the speedway. The first turn is banked at 14 degrees, and is designed after the Trenton Speedway. As they exit the turn, drivers will go down the Long Pond Straightaway gaining momentum as they enter what is known as the “Tunnel Turn”, turn two. The second turn is based on Indianapolis Motor Speedway at nine degrees of banking. After the exit of turn two, drivers will go down the shortshoot to set up for turn three. The third turn is only banked at six degrees, and is based off the Milwaukee Mile. Drivers must execute turn three to near perfection in an effort to gain more momentum down the longest straightaway on the circuit.
According to weekly press releases, drivers are excited about returning to Pocono.
Christopher Bell will be making his first start at Pocono for Venturini Motorsports, while performing double duty. “I’m really excited to make my first start at Pocono this weekend,” said Bell. “Pocono’s unique track configuration puts a lot of emphasis on the technical aspect behind the wheel. I’m looking forward to the challenge. Running back-to-back events will be a lot of fun and give me plenty of laps to adapt to a new track. I’ve had this weekend circled on my calendar for a while now.”
Matt Kurzejewski, driver of the no. 52 Ansell-Menards Toyota for Ken Schrader Racing, will be racing in front of a hometown crowd on Friday. "I'm totally looking forward to going back. I love the three completely different turns. Turn one has some banking and you can really hustle it through there. Turn two is more high-speed and technical, similar to a road course...you have to hustle it yourself through there. Turn three is more flat...not a big fan of flat tracks, but it's high-speed and I like it. For me, it can be challenging to hold a rhythm because you have to repeat three complete different movements over each lap, which requires drivers to get on a different tempo. It's different to everywhere else we go, which is a big part of the appeal, at least for me.”
Chase Briscoe, current ARCA points leader, will be trying to make history by being the first driver to win four races in a row since Parker Kligerman in 2009. Briscoe hopes to contend for victory.
Practice for the ModSpace150 will be from 9:30 to 10:55 on Friday morning. Lenard’s Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell will be at 2:00 pm EST. The race will begin at 5:30 pm on Fox Sports 1. On track activity with live timing and scoring can be viewed at arcaracing.com.
While the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was off the track this weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series saddled up for battle at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway for the Axalta We Paint Winners 400 and the Pocono Green 250. Here are five takeaways from the events at Pocono:
- Weather:Weather was a predominant factor throughout the weekend at Pocono. Teams battled limited track time due to fog and heavy rain. Pocono has always had its struggles with weather due to the mountains surrounding the track. Fans saw the inaugural Xfinity series race end just a few laps after halfway because of rain. Sunday’s Sprint Cup race was postponed to Monday due to the rain as well.
- Toyota:Toyota seemed to struggle at Pocono. Chevy seemed to be the dominate manufacturer over the weekend. On Sunday, Matt Kenseth was the highest finishing Toyota, finishing in the seventh position. Has the Toyota come to a halt?
- Fuel Mileage Racing:I absolutely love when a race comes down to fuel mileage. However, I love when it is not every week, but rather a surprise. It is amazing to see what these teams go to in order to save from half a lap to three laps of fuel in the closing stages of the race.
- Brad Keselowski:It is time for his team to make sure they are not touching the body of the car, unless there is damage. The rule is in black and white, there is no grey area on this rule. This is the second time this season the team has been caught. The last time was at Las Vegas
- TV:Television has a job to do. There has never been a time since I have been watching and covering this sport that I have not seen a bias of announcers on TV. We have seen a bias from hall of famers, team owners, and drivers. There are no grey area in commentary versus analysis. Analysis calls for opinions. That is what they are, whether they are right or wrong.
What are your takeaways from this weekend at Pocono?
With Truex being the feel good story of the year, earning five top five and 14 top 10 finishes through 15 races and sitting second in points, the win comes with a bonus that will give him redemption after going through some tough breaks over the last few seasons.
This is not the first time that he would make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Truex made the exclusive club in 2013 by finishing position at the Richmond International Raceway. However, after the race had concluded, NASCAR suspected that Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the results of the race and penalized each team under the Michael Waltrip Racing banner. With the points penalty issued, this took Truex out of the Chase.
That’s not all that happened. Truex and Michael Waltrip Racing also lost NAPA as a primary sponsor that left him without a ride. He then made the switch over to the Furniture Row Racing team, which is a single car operation based out of Colorado, as a way to reset his career. He started the year strong by qualifying on the front row for the 2014 Daytona 500.
Truex found some breakthroughs throughout the season with his new team, earning five top 10 finishes in 36 races. However, that performance would not be enough as he would finish the year sitting 24th in points. Truex also had to face another tough break towards the end of the season after his girlfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"At the end of that season I felt really fortunate that there was a great ride open with the 78," said Truex in his Pocono post-race press conference. "They were just coming off their best year ever, and went into last year honestly feeling like, okay, this is going to be good. This might take a little time to get things figured out, but it's going to be good and we're going to pick up kind of where I left off, and it was just the complete opposite. It was just miserable. Nothing went our way, nothing -- we had no speed."
Truex had another fresh start at the beginning of the 2015 season. The Furniture Row Racing team changed some things within the organization by giving Truex a new crew chief. So far, those changes have been paying off very well. The 34-year old has captured one victory, five top five and 14 top 10 finishes through the first 15 races of the year. With the solid performances, Truex finds himself sitting second in points.
Truex left the Kansas Speedway as one of the dominant cars throughout the entire race. Truex led 95 laps of the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. He then backed that up two weeks later at the Charlotte Motor Speedway as he led 131 laps in the Coca-Cola 600.
Truex backed up his performance once again at the Dover International Speedway. The No. 78 ended up being one of the fastest cars all day long despite a runner-up qualifying effort. Even though he had led the most laps, Truex had fallen short of the victory once again.
While being on a hot streak for the entire season, it was destined that Truex would eventually make his way into victory lane. That win finally occurred at the Pocono Raceway – a track that he had not won at before.
Truex qualified in third on Friday and ran within the leaders once the green flag waved. He would eventually work his way towards the front to lead the 160-lap race three different times. Despite a green-white-Checker finish, Truex was able to retain the lead by holding off Kevin Harvick.
The win at Pocono Raceway finally lifted all of the personal struggles, close calls and Richmond incident in 2013. The victory celebration ended up being one of the most emotional ones that any driver has had in a long time.
"Honestly, because this team deserves to win, and I knew that," said Truex. "I've known that all year long, obviously, especially after the last couple of weeks. I felt -- I've kind of throughout my career, I've kind of got used to the disappointment, 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."
Truex has been on one of the most extreme roller coaster rides that any driver has faced in the history of the sport since the Richmond incident. After coming close numerous times, Truex hadn't been able to capitalize the moment.
The races at Kansas, Charlotte and Dover were major heartbreakers for Truex after falling short of the win. He has spent the last three seasons waiting to take a trip into victory lane and have a huge shot at the championship.
Not only does Truex get back into the winning spotlight, it also gives the single car operation of Furniture Row Racing back into championship contention. The last time they have scored a victory was back in 2011 at Darlington with Regan Smith behind the wheel.
"You know, I wanted to win for this team because I knew how good they were, how much they deserved it, the job they've been doing, and I've just honestly been so proud of their outlook on the way this year has gone," Truex said.
2015 seems to be the best year for Truex to make his second Chase appearance. It would also be the second time that Front Row Motorsports got into the Chase as a single car team. Their first appearance came in 2013 with Kurt Busch as the driver, making them the first single car operation to do so.
Though the team is in position to compete in the chase, Truex feels like more work needs to be done.
"There's still mountains to climb and things to conquer," he said. "We haven't won a championship. This is one race. We've got a lot of work to do yet."
Not only does Truex get redemption and a spot in the chase, it's definitely redemption in his part that no one can remove him as long as he stays inside the top 16 of the Chase Grid. This will take weight off of his shoulders as the second half of the regular season gets going next week at Sonoma.
The No. 24 Chevrolet might not have been in Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon, yet Jeff Gordon set two more career milestones.
Just past the halfway mark of the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway, the 42-year-old became the first driver to lead 1,000 or more laps at the ‘Tricky Triangle.’ Moreover, Gordon also set a personal milestone in the midst of Sunday’s race. After his first personal triumph on the day, he passed 24,000 laps led in his entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
“We had the dominant car, but you had to have track position and you know, there at the end we didn’t have it,” Gordon said. “I think if we had started outside lanes there at the end we would have had it. My restarts weren’t terrible today, they weren’t bad when we were on the outside and we could make up some spots.”
“Unfortunately on those last couple ones, we were on the inside. But with Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) getting out in front of us there through that pit sequence, there was nothing we could do. He was really good. Whoever got out front, him or me, was going to win this race. I am still really happy with the way our car performed today. It’s just so awesome and encouraging and has got my confidence sky high and I just can’t wait to get to the next race.”
Over the past few years, the four-time champion has experienced back problems on multiple occasions. However, it is not slowing him down. When it has been extremely bad, Gordon has had a driver on stand-by, but he has never had to use one.
“I don’t think my back is ever going to be the same after what happened at Charlotte. I don’t know what exactly transpired there, but it’s not the same. And I have to be much more careful. I’m just having to treat it more with ice and stem and be more careful and do more stretching. Is it going to flare-up again? It could. But I’m just trying to be more cautious with the things that I do that I feel like contribute to that. But, yeah, it’s not great, that’s for sure,” he said in a press conference on Friday.
After winning his 90th career race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, Gordon led 63 of the 160 laps at Pocono Raceway on Sunday afternoon. With the championship lead and a pair of wins – he is on pace to be a serious contender for the 2015 crown.
As he moves forward, the driver of the No. 24 car is going to be very careful with his back. More importantly, however, he is spending time with his family. As he looks to strengthen his relationship with his children and wife, racing will end up taking the back seat sooner or later.
In a wild race at the Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to come out on top once again. After taking the victory in the June race at the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped speedway, Earnhardt Jr. was able to capture his third victory of 2014 in Sunday afternoon’s GoBowling.com 400.
Leading 14 laps on Sunday, he was able to take the lead at just the right time. With less than 15 laps remaining in the 160-lap race, Earnhardt Jr. passed Greg Biffle to take the top position. However, Kurt Busch hit the wall with just eight laps to go – forcing a late-race restart that created an added level of excitement to the race. The victory is his third of the season – marking the most he has recorded since 2004 when he had six triumphs.
"Steve's strategy was perfect at the end and I don't know if anybody knew what was going on, but that was pretty awesome. I can't believe we swept Pocono. I think the 24 had a great car. The 41 was fast all weekend, but we definitely went home from the last race and made our car better. They went back and didn't sit on what we had. They wanted to get better, faster cars so we didn't have to rely on luck to win," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race.
Besides marking his first multi-win year since that 2004 season, this is the first time the 39-year-old has swept the races at a track in one season since Talladega of 2002. This is also the fifth straight victory at Pocono Raceway for Hendrick Motorsports. Heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the No. 88 team will be seeded at the top position if no one else reaches three or more victories leading up to the regular-season finale at Richmond.
“It’s too far from the Chase. This is just a win. It’s a win at Pocono. It’s a great win. It gives you an advantage at Pocono, but if you think it gives you an advantage at Chicago – you are sadly mistaking. You have to go to every race like you are good enough, and if you have that mind set – you need to continue to try to stay ahead. The garage is full of great competitors, and the Chase is going to be something that you have never seen. No one knows how it is going to be. We all have our predictions, so we will so who’s right,” Earnhardt’s crew chief Steve Letarte said.
Kevin Harvick was able to come home in the runner-up position, and gave Earnhardt Jr. a run for his money in the concluding laps of the race. However, he was caught up in a 13-car wreck that took out several contenders. Harvick’s car was damaged in the incident, but it actually helped him move away from a tight condition.
“The left-front splitter was gone,” Harvick said in a post-race press conference. “Both fenders were caved in on the tires. I was loose most of the day and a touch tight in all of the corners. It definitely affected us some, but it definitely made us looser. It wasn’t very much fun before that when it was loose, but it was still really fast.”
Hamlin got loose under Clint Bowyer and saved it, but Brian Vickers got loose as he tried to avoid Hamlin – hitting Kenseth in the process. Tony Stewart went low but got hit from behind and landed on top of Paul Menard’s hood. Brad Keselowski received major right side damage in the accident as his No. 2 team spent multiple minutes trying to fix the damage on pit road. 13 cars were involved in the accident – Aric Almirola, Kenseth, A.J. Allmendinger, Keselowski, Menard, Stewart, Vickers, Justin Allgaier, Hamlin, Michael Annett, Truex Jr., Harvick and Edwards.
“The first one, I got tight off turn one and got in the fence,” Johnson said after the incident. “It pushed the rear quarter panel into the tire and got the first flat, so my bad. There on that one, I am clueless. It didn’t act like a tire went down and I am not exactly sure if it did. Normally when they go down that quick they explode and there was no explosion, the tire did not come apart, it just went straight. We are trying to get in there and look at it, obviously the tire is flat now from the impact.”
“It started far enough ahead of us that we couldn’t see it. We were just coming off of two there and somebody got sideways and started wrecking in front of us and we got caught up in it. I ended up on top of Paul Menard’s hood so it wasn’t where we wanted to end up by any means,” Stewart said.
After the incident, Allmendinger and Almirola attempted to go back on trap although their cars were severely beat up. Allmendinger smashed the wall in Turn 1 to bring out the caution with 21 laps remaining in the race. Greg Biffle took the lead on the restart, but Earnhardt was able to pass him with just 14 to go.
With just 31 laps left in the race, Jamie McMurray started the final green-flag pit sequence after a hectic day for teams in terms of strategy. Multiple drivers came in for two tires, but the majority of the cars on the lead lap took four tires. In order to save fuel in case of the possibility of a green-white-checkered finish, drivers stopped shifting.
On the second lap of the race, Brad Keselowski made an incredible save after nearly getting into the wall coming out of the tunnel turn. As Lap 10 came by, Jimmie Johnson experienced a flat right-rear tire coming off of Turn 1. Johnson came into pit road – forcing his No. 48 team to change up their strategy as they went one lap down. During the caution, multiple teams came down pit road – moving away from their original strategy.
Danica Patrick had problems with her No. 10 Chevrolet early in the race. On Lap 17, she slammed the wall just seconds after she radioed in that she had a tire going down. Patrick went a lap down, and never fully recovered as she finished 30th – four laps down.
Kyle Busch was running inside of the top-10 when the engine on the No. 18 Toyota expired. When that happened, multiple Toyota teams expressed concern for the reliability of their engines. Busch finished in the 42nd position during the Gobowling.com 400 at Pocono.
“Something in between the frame rails just doesn’t want to operate correctly right now and it’s so unfortunate because I thought we had a good car this weekend,” Busch said. “The car in practice was strong and it feel good and we were biding our time here early. We pitted early to get off sequence a little bit to see if we couldn’t do something different than the leaders and it obviously bit us here.”
As McMurray and Kasey Kahne were making green-flag pit stops, Landon Cassill’s No. 40 car collided with the wall. Cassill’s car was done for the day as he came home in the 41st position. The accident spiced up pit strategy even more as some teams came down pit road, while others stayed out.
Jeff Gordon led 63 laps on Sunday afternoon. Just after the halfway mark, Gordon became the first driver in the history of Pocono Raceway to lead 1,000 or more laps. Later in the race, he also led the 24,000th lap of his career.
Gordon continues to hold the championship lead over Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points. Keselowski, Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Johnson, Logano, Edwards, Bowyer and Ky. Busch round out the top-10 in points.
Here are some notables from the GoBowling.com 400:
-Clint Bowyer his third top-five finish of 2014. He made the jump from 10th to ninth in points.
-Joey Logano finished third in Sunday’s event. The top-five marks his eighth of the year, and marks his best finish in a race that he did not win this year.
-Jamie McMurray earned his sixth top-10 finish this year. McMurray raced inside of the top-five throughout the race, but fell to seventh after the final caution flag. He sits 20th in points and is still lacking a win.
-Pole sitter Kyle Larson came home in the 11th position. He was unable to lead a lap, and stayed inside of the top-five for a brief period of time before dropping back on the long runs. Although he was outside of the top-15 at certain points, his crew chief Chris Heroy and he were able to bounce back to earn a solid finish – remaining 12th in points.
-Casey Mears finished in the 12th position during the 400-mile event. Mears was on a strategy similar to McMurray’s as he was racing inside of the top-five in his No. 13 Chevrolet during multiple stages of the race. This is his best finish at a non-restrictor plate track since finishing seventh at Charlotte in 2009.
-The Front Row Motorsports cars of David Gilliland and David Ragan finished 17th and 19th, respectively. This is the first time both cars have finished inside of the top-20 since the pair earned sixth and seventh-place finishes at Talladega in October.
-Ryan Truex finished earned a 20th-place finish. His previous best career finish was 30th at Martinsville Speedway earlier this season. Truex spoke to Speedway Digest after the race: “It’s a big deal. Our car wasn’t very good all day, we just got lucky and Joe (Williams – crew chief) made the right call there. For once nothing broke and everything went our way. That big wreck happened far enough ahead of us, so luckily we were able to stop and after that – we had to save fuel. We had to run around some laps and just save fuel. We just have to get our cars driving better – get them turning and get them to carry more speed in the corners. I think we’re gaining on it. This is our best finish and we have been getting better and better throughout the year.”
-Travis Kvapil finished in the 25th position. His previous best finish of the season was 29th in the June race at Pocono.
-Dave Blaney came home in 26th-place. Blaney was reunited with Tommy Baldwin Racing after starting 2014 in the No. 77 car for Randy Humphrey Racing. The finish marked Blaney’s best result since finishing 25th at Talladega in October.
-Alex Kennedy finished a career-best 28th at Pocono on Sunday while running for Circle Sport Racing.
-There were 15 lead changes with 10 different drivers taking the top spot throughout the 160 laps. Eight caution flags were thrown on Sunday with an average speed of 127.411 mph.