Kurt Busch was told he’d be short on fuel, but he saved enough to score the victory at the Tricky Triangle on a Monday afternoon.
The driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet took the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a drag race to the line with 32 laps to go and led all of the remaining laps in the final quarter of the race on his way to scoring his 28th career victory and third at Pocono Raceway in the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400. He did so in spite of being told that he would be two laps short on fuel.
“It’s tough to balance everything and when you have a fast car and an interim crew chief and the way that the fuel mileage played out, I didn’t know if we were going to have enough fuel,” Busch said of saving fuel while trying to maintain the lead. “But, thanks to everybody at Haas Automation, Monster Energy and Stewart-Haas. This is a wonderful win for us. We have been so close all year. It’s a matter of just putting it all together, pit crew, engine, thanks to Hendrick engines, and Chevrolet and everybody that works on these bodies, the chassis’ you name it. It’s just so much fun to drive and to be competitive and to be up front. Thanks a lot.”
The win moves him into a tie with NASCAR Hall of Fame member Rex White for 25th on NASCAR’s all-time wins list.
Earnhardt was told he had enough fuel to make it to the finish, but had nothing for Busch in the closing stages and settled for a runner-up finish in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“Yeah, it was a good run for us,” Earnhardt said. “I should have been able to hold that No. 41 off on that final restart. Me and the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) was racing pretty hard and it gave the No. 41 the opportunity to get a run on us. I should have been able to defend that a little bit better. If I could have got in front of him I don’t think he would have got by us. The car wasn’t all we hoped it would be, but it was good. They worked on it and improved it. We were real tight starting the day and we just kept freeing it up. We got it pretty decent at the end, but still not where we want to be. We will work on it and come back and try to do a little better job the next race here.”
Brad Keselowski was called to pit road early in the race for an unapproved body adjustment after NASCAR found that one of the crew members caved in part of the right-side of his car near the right rear wheelhouse. However, he overcame that penalty and drove by Elliott in the closing laps to round out the podium in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford.
“We were awful strong we just needed some more laps and a little more time,” Keselowski said of the closing laps. “I think we might have had a shot at it. It was a pretty strong weekend. The last four or five weeks have been strong runs. We have a bunch of seconds and thirds. Not quite the win we wanted but a lot to be proud of.”
Elliott led 51 laps and clinched the bonus point for leading the most laps for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career, but was caught behind a gaggle of cars who took just two tires or fuel only when he pitted under the ninth caution of the race on his way to a fourth-place finish in his No. 24 HMS Chevrolet.
Joey Logano led 17 laps at the start of the race but wasn’t a factor for much of the rest of the event on his way to rounding out the top-five in his No. 22 Ford.
“We battled hard today,” Logano said. “I got us behind by getting that damage. I rallied back a little bit with some good pit strategy by Todd Gordon and the guys on the box. We were able to rally through on the restarts. The restarts are fun. You will half of them and lose half of them. I had a couple winners and a few losers. Once you get through the restarts it kind of is what it is. It was a fuel mileage game at the end to try to save enough to stay where we were but not give up any spots. Nobody ran out, though.”
Kasey Kahne had an up and down day which included being busted for speeding while pitting during the competition caution but drove his way back up through the field to a sixth-place finish in his No. 5 HMS Chevrolet. Matt Kenseth was the highest finisher of the Toyota contingent and led 31 laps on his way to a seventh-place finish in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“We had a great race car,” Kenseth said. “Just had really, really poor restarts and if I did have a good restart, then there was like somebody getting checked up in front of me and I’d lose more spots. I just gave them all up on restarts. Honestly, I think we had a car that could challenge for the win. I just couldn’t figure out how to get to turn one.”
Teammate Carl Edwards came in right behind him in eighth in his No. 19 JGR Toyota.
“It was a long, tough day,” Edwards said. “We worked hard on the ARRIS SURFboard Camry. We had the fastest modems on the car, but not maybe the fastest car. It was a struggle. They guys worked hard, though. We did well on pit road. Every restart something would happen. I was just struggling with the restarts, but just tough day. That’s a tough race track right there. It’s really hard to get an advantage on someone.”
Kevin Harvick led nine laps and was also busted for speeding during the competition caution early in the race and drove his way up to a ninth-place finish in his No. 4 SHR Chevrolet. Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-10 in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.
Kyle Larson led eight laps on his way to an 11th-place finish. AJ Allmendinger led two laps on his way to a 16th-place finish. Kyle Busch led three laps and was up front most of the race before collecting the wall with 51 laps to go and finishing 31st 10 laps down.
Cole Whitt exited the race with five laps to go for a rear gear failure. Jimmie Johnson was involved in an accident with 38 laps to go and was classified as “did not finish.” Austin Dillon, Michael Annett and Matt DiBenedetto all suffered failures that led to each of them slamming the wall in turn 1 and were all classified as “did not finish.” DiBenedetto earned his third last place finish of the season and swept the last-place finishes in both the XFINITY and Cup Series for the second time this season.
The race lasted three hours, 11 minutes and 15 seconds at an average speed of 125.490 mph. There were 14 lead changes among 10 different drivers and 10 cautions for 40 laps. Thirty-five cars finished the race and 24 finished on the lead lap.
Harvick leaves Pocono with a 25-point lead over Kurt Busch in the points standings.