In a peculiar race at Pocono, filled with shifting and unexpected bumps, here is what else was surprising and not surprising in the 34th annual Axalta We Paint Winners 400.
Surprising: Under picture-perfect skies, both blessings and curses abounded at the Tricky Triangle in the track’s first race of the season.
“I just feel super blessed to be with this group of guys,” race winner Martin Truex Jr. said of his No. 78 Furniture Row race team. “They are super impressive and just proud to drive cars for them.”
“We finally got it. That is all I can say we finally got it. Just can’t thank all my guys enough, Barney Visser, everybody at Furniture Row, everybody back in Denver for working so hard. This is a brand new racecar and they have been working really hard lately. Just proud of them and blessed to drive great racecars.”
“It never gets any better than this.”
This was Truex Jr.’s first victory of the season and one that ended a 69-race winless streak as well as qualifying him for the Chase.
As much as Truex felt blessed to win, Jeff Gordon and Alan Gustafson on the flip side exchanged a tirade of uncharacteristic curses after disagreeing on pit strategy. The curse-laden audio can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPeUz35cQRA&app=desktop.
In spite of all that cursing, the Team 24 driver and crew chief duo managed to pull off a top-15 finish for the No. 24 Axalta/Penn State Chevrolet.
Not Surprising: Although many in the garage felt that he was the one to beat, Kevin Harvick finished second yet again, having had to deal with gear issues on the restarts and splitter issues as well.
“Our Budweiser Chevy was really fast, but we were just terrible on the restarts getting going,” Harvick said. “We would lug really bad in third gear and just had to go into defense mode.”
“We struggled in Turn 1 with the splitter on the ground. Things aren’t lining-up to win races right now.”
Surprising: Aric Almirola went from having one of the best finishes of the season in Dover to having one of his worst days at Pocono, finishing 43rd in his No. 43 Nathan’s Famous Ford with something malfunctioning in the motor of his race car.
“It wouldn’t run anymore,” Almirola said. “It’s a shame. It was not a good weekend for us. We struggled all weekend finding speed in our car and right there we came in and made a pretty aggressive adjustment on that pit stop. Trent (Owens, crew chief) changed a lot of stuff and just on that one lap of the restart it drove a lot better and I had my hopes up for a minute and then my hopes got crushed.”
“We had some sort of motor issue. Every once in a while something like that happens.”
This was Almirola’s first DNF of the season as well.
Not Surprising: Tony Stewart shared the best quote of the day. After received a penalty on pit road for an uncontrolled tire, Smoke came on the radio and said “They should start calling penalties on me for being an uncontrolled driver.”
“I put us in a hole to start the weekend,” Stewart said, referring to his crash on Friday in practice that forced him to a backup racecar. “This whole Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops team dug in, worked hard all weekend and never gave up.”
“I’m really proud of everybody and hate the finish doesn’t reflect that effort.”
Stewart finished 21st at Pocono Raceway in his No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.
Surprising: While Carl Edwards looked to be the strongest Toyota, starting on the outside pole, three other Toyotas managed to finish better than he did with his 15th place run. Matt Kenseth was the highest finisher of the manufacturer’s brand in the sixth place, with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin finishing ninth and tenth respectively.
“We had a really fast car – it was the fastest sixth-place car that I’ve ever had,” Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota, said. “We ran much better than we finished.”
“This is a bad track for me and we had a great car today.”
“We didn’t start the race with what we needed with our M&M’s Crispy Camry,” Kyle Busch said. “But Adam (Stevens, crew chief) made some good adjustments to get us better. Track position was big, so Adam also made a good call to take two tires and get us some track position and we were able to hold onto it for a while.”
“Those last two cautions didn’t help us, we just couldn’t get going on those last couple of restarts. We’ll take it and move on to Michigan.”
“I thought we were a decent car – fifth to 10th place most of the day, but with our track position, we always took four tires,” Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota , said. “Some of those guys made it on fuel because of all the cautions so we continued to lose track position throughout the day, but we kind of battled back.”
“We barely got inside the top-10 and at best I thought we could have improved four or five more spots, but overall a solid day. We didn’t tear up anything this week and now we can go and improve our program for next week.”
Not Surprising: While Ford has traditionally struggled at Pocono, Joey Logano still managed to be the best finishing Ford, bringing his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford to the checkered flag in the fourth position. His finish was especially noteworthy as he had to start from the back of the pack due to a rear gear change.
“I’m happy with the way it ended,” Logano said. “We didn’t have a very fast Shell/Pennzoil Ford from the get-go when we unloaded here, but we kept fighting hard.”
“This was one of those blue-collar days, just working hard all day on the car and on pit road the guys did a good job making my car faster and got to where we were a top-five car at the end.”
Surprising: Ryan Newman’s temper got the best of him after contact between himself and AJ Allmendinger on Lap 142. And he even vowed some revenge as a result of that contact.
“It’s pretty obvious what happened,” Newman, driver of the No. 31 Grainger Chevrolet, said after finishing 39th. “The No. 47 (AJ Allmendinger) just ran out of talent.”
“He has got one coming now.”
Not Surprising: While Trevor Bayne got some Pocono practice time in running and winning the ARCA Series race, the driver of the No. 6 AdvoCare Ford acknowledged that he was still in the learning mode for the Tricky Triangle.
“We got through it and that was the main part for our first run here at Pocono,” Bayne said. “Overall, we kept a clean car and for the first time here I learned a ton.”
“From where I started this week and getting to where we finished I think we made big gains. We got back on the lead lap there at the end and we just needed to be a little bit better off turn three and we would have had something for a top-15 run.”
Bayne finished the race in the 24th position.
Surprising: Forget girls just wanting to have fun, sometimes six time champions like Jimmie Johnson just want to do that as well even with a beat up race car, with some missing parts to boot. And while he had fun, Johnson also went on to finish third in his No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet.
“A fun day,” Johnson said. “She is beat up and missing a left-front splitter too from the contact we had with the outside wall off of Turn 3 there.”
“We overcame a lot and still got a third place finish out of it. Wish we had a little bit more, but not a bad finish.”
Not Surprising: Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers managed top-10 finishes at the Tricky Triangle, with Jamie McMurray coming in seventh and Kyle Larson finishing eighth.
“It was a good race and a nice top 10,” Larson, the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, said after the race. “I thought that was probably about the speed we had maybe eighth to 11th or so. So to get an eighth place is alright.”
Surprising: Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 7 Accell Construction Chevrolet, managed a 26th place finish only to go home and have an accident there.
“No joke got home and roscoe ran to the door and head butted me so hard because he couldn’t stop that I now have an actual black eye,” @AlexBRacing tweeted after the race.
Not Surprising: At the end of the day and in spite of the competition, friendships develop in the garage area. And the best example of that was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who could not wait to get into Victory Lane to shake the hand of his friend and race winner Martin Truex Jr.
“I’m just happy for him,” the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet said after finishing 11th. “I know he’s been through a lot of stuff both inside the car and outside the car the last several years. He’s been able to get into a good opportunity with good people.”
“He’s got a team that believes in him. And I was in the stall next to those guys during qualifying and how they are as a team and how they interact with each other really impressed me.”
“So, Martin’s in a good situation. So, it’s real refreshing. I look forward to going over there (Victory Lane) and saying hey to him.”
The Cup Series will race next weekend in the Irish Hills of Michigan for the Quicken Loans 400.