While Kevin Harvick walked away with his first NASCAR Cup Series win at Pocono Raceway following a 19-year dry spell, there were other competitors who left the first Pocono race of the weekend satisfied with their runs involving late-race strategy and finishes inside the top 15.
The first was Clint Bowyer. Starting 18th, Bowyer remained in 18th through the competition caution on Lap 13. Surrendering his track position to pit for early adjustments, Bowyer fell back to 24th. Through two restarts, he settled in 25th when the first stage concluded. He spent the majority of the following stage racing within the 20s, but when some competitors opted to pit under green, Bowyer was back up in 11th. Following a late debris caution, he pitted. Through two restarts, he was able to carve his way to 13th following the second stage. In the final stage, under 40 laps remaining, Bowyer made a green-flag pit stop along with a bevy of lead-lap cars that would get him the fuel he needed to make it to the end. Fifteen laps later, Bowyer was running in 14th and delivering strong lap times. For the remainder of the race, Bowyer and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang was able to work his way into the top 10 as he settled in seventh when the race concluded. Coming off four disappointing races, where he finished no higher than 11th at Homestead, the seventh-place result was Bowyer’s fourth top-10 result of this season and his best finish since finishing second at Bristol on May 31. It was also a result that kept Bowyer inside the top-16 in the Cup regular-season standings.
“We were really loose and in traffic, we were terrible,” Bowyer said. “But, I think we found our direction in the last part of the race. We had a vibration late or I think we could have gotten more spots. What a swing! [Crew chief] Johnny Klausmeier and my guys did a good job calling the race.”
Next was Michael McDowell. Starting 26th McDowell was able to work his way up to 19th following the first stage and in 16th following the second stage. Restarting 14th under 50 laps remaining for the final stage, McDowell shined as he worked his way into the top 10. As the green-flag run stretch, a multitude of competitors, even for those running towards the front, pitted while McDowell was among a handful who remained on track. Once most of the pit stops cycled through, McDowell and his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang team was running inside the top five and was one of seven cars yet to pit. With 20 laps remaining, McDowell passed Ryan Newman to lead a lap before he surrendered his track position to pit under green. Once he exited pit road, McDowell was still in contention for a top-10 result, which he was able to move into eighth in the final laps. When the checkered flag flew, McDowell crossed the line in eighth for his first top-10 result of this season, the ninth of his career and his first since finishing fifth last October at Talladega Superspeedway. The result was also McDowell’s best in a non-superspeedway event in the Cup Series. With teammate John Hunter Nemechek finishing eighth the previous race at Talladega and McDowell earning his eighth-place result in the first Pocono race, this marked the first time where Front Row Motorsports’ entries earned top-10 results in consecutive weeks.
“Well, that was an exciting run,” McDowell said. “[Crew chief] Drew [Blickensderfer] made a great call. Strategy was the big part of it today. Our car was really fast on the long run, which let us stay out long and make good lap times, and end up taking only two tires at the end to get some track position. Luckily, it stayed green and everything went our way. Really proud of everybody at Front Row [Motorsports]. Fast race car all day long and I’m just glad we got a top 10 here, kept the momentum rolling. We get to do all again tomorrow. We’ll reload and get to do it again.”
Another competitor who gambled late on fuel to post a decent result was Chris Buescher. Starting 24th, Buescher was able to carve his way to 17th through the competition caution on Lap 13. He went on to finish 19th in the first stage and 20th in the second stage, though his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang was fifth at one moment in the second stage. Restarting 18th for the final stage, Buescher was one of seven competitors who decided to stretch his fuel cell as far as possible while the green-flag run progressed and as most of the lead-lap cars pitted. With teammate Ryan Newman leading in the late stages, Buescher was running in third. Under 20 laps remaining, Buescher inherited the lead and led three laps before making a green-flag pit stop. Once Buescher returned on track, he spent the next 17 laps working his way back to the front. On the final lap, Buescher was able to pass Matt Kenseth to finish 10th and secure his fourth top-10 result of this season in his 14th Cup race with Roush Fenway Racing.
“Well, another top 10 for our Fastenal Mustang,” Buescher said. “First Pocono is in the books, a little bit delayed, but we had a really good run. Had some good strategy, we had good speed. [I] Was happy with our racecar. We get to work on it a little bit for tomorrow, kind of fine tuned and be able to hit the ground running. We’re excited to get going and try to build off of this, and try to do a little better yet.”
Finishing right behind Buescher was Matt Kenseth. Starting 22nd, Kenseth was scored in 23rd and he went on to finish 23rd and 14th in the following two stages. With 37 laps remaining, Kenseth was among many competitors who made a green-flag pit stop with enough fuel to complete the remainder of the race. From there, Kenseth awaited as a handful of competitors peeled off the track to pit road. Under 15 laps remaining, the 2003 Cup champion was scored in 10th and was appeared to finish in the top 10 despite enduring late handling issues. On the final lap, he was overtaken for position and settled in 11th, seven spots ahead of teammate Kurt Busch. While he came one spot short of earning his second top-10 result of this season, the 11th-place result marked Kenseth’s third top-15 result of the 2020 season in his 10th race driving the No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE and his best result since finishing 15th at Atlanta on June 7. In the previous three Cup races prior to Saturday’s race at Pocono, Kenseth had finished no higher than 23rd and was coming off a 40th-place finish, last, at Talladega due to mechanical issues. By finishing 11th, Kenseth was also the highest-finishing Chevrolet competitor of the Cup race.
After running inside the top five midway in the race, Matt DiBenedetto settled for a top-15 result following a late cycle of green-flag pit stops. Starting 21st, DiBenedetto had a strong No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang to start the race as he gained 10 spots and was scored in 11th through the first 13 laps. Through the remainder of the first stage, DiBenedetto was able to work his way into the top 10 and finish seventh while earning crucial stage points for the Playoffs. Continuing to battle his way towards the front with a strong car, DiBenedetto was able to finish fifth in the second stage and earn more valuable stage points. Following a final green-flag pit stop under 40 laps remaining in the final stage, DiBenedetto crossed the line in 13th for his ninth top-15 finish in his 14th race with the Wood Brothers.
Finally, Ryan Newman concluded his day with a top-15 run after leading in the late laps on a dry tank of fuel. Starting 13th, Newman had fallen back to 20th through the competition caution, but he progressively worked his way back to finish 14th and 12th in the first two stages. The final stage was where Newman rose to the occasion as he inherited the lead with 33 laps remaining. With Newman in the lead, this marked the third race where he led a lap since returning from his injuries in the season-opening Daytona 500. On this occasion, Newman led 13 laps. A lap after losing the lead to Michael McDowell, Newman made a green-flag pit stop. Once he returned on the track, he was still in the top 15, running near his teammate Chris Buescher. While Buescher marched on into the top 10, Newman settled in 15th for his sixth top-15 result since returning at Darlington Raceway in May.
The NASCAR Cup Series will return for a second race at Pocono as part of the doubleheader feature on June 28 at 4 p.m. ET on FS1.