After losing the lead and having a potential victory slip out of his hands to his teammate Kyle Larson in the final laps, Alex Bowman earned redemption and came out on top after a flat tire allowed Bowman to overtake his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate on the final lap and win the Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway, the first of a Pocono weekend doubleheader, on Saturday, June 26. The victory allowed Bowman to claim his third NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2021 season and his first in the Tricky Triangle circuit in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Kyle Larson, winner of last weekend’s Cup event at Nashville Superspeedway, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with teammate William Byron.
Prior to the event, Cole Custer started at the rear of the field due to multiple pre-race inspection failures.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Larson received a push from Joey Logano on the outside lane to clear teammate Byron and take off with the lead entering the first turn. Behind, Logano made his way into the runner-up spot along with Ross Chastain, thus dropping Byron back to fourth.
With the field jostling early for positioning, Larson led the first lap ahead of Logano, Chastain, Byron and Kevin Harvick, with Denny Hamlin in sixth ahead of the Busch brothers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon.
By the fifth lap, Byron, who was running in third place the previous lap, muscled his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE into the lead over teammate Larson and Logano. Behind, Harvick was in fourth while Chastain fell back to fifth ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Meanwhile, Chase Elliott, coming off his disqualification run at Nashville Superspeedway, was mired back in 27th place after sustaining damage at the start of the race. Ahead, Brad Keselowski was in 12th behind Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick was in 13th ahead of Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. was in 16th ahead of Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman was in 18th, Ryan Blaney was in 23rd behind Erik Jones and rookie Chase Briscoe was in 25th behind Chris Buescher.
Four laps later, the first caution of the event flew due to debris reported in Turn 2. By then, NASCAR informed the teams that the caution for debris will serve as the competition caution initially planned on the 12th lap.
Under caution, some like Chastain, Truex, Wallace, Blaney, DiBenedetto, Jones, Briscoe, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece and Elliott pitted while the rest led by Byron remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Corey LaJoie was busted with a pit road speeding penalty.
When the race restarted on Lap 12, Byron received a push from teammate Larson through the first turn to retain the lead as the field behind battled through two lanes for one full lap.
Just as the field returned to the frontstretch and crossed the start/finish line, the second caution of the event flew when Brad Keselowski, who was trying to make a crossover move on Cole Custer, bumped and turned Custer hard into the outside wall, effectively ending Custer’s first of two weekend runs at Pocono early and sending him to a back-up car for Sunday’s event.
Under caution, few like Keselowski, Newman, Preece and Elliott pitted while the rest led by Byron remained on the track.
When the race restarted on Lap 17, Byron retained the lead while Kyle Busch, who restarted on the front row, fended off Larson for the runner-up spot, with Harvick and Logano in the top five. Not long after, Kyle Busch was able to muscle his No. 18 M&M’s Mini’s Toyota Camry into the lead over Byron.
By Lap 20, Kyle Busch was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Byron, with third-place Larson trailing by more than a second. Harvick and Logano were in the top five followed by Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon and Reddick.
A few laps later, Aric Almirola, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman pitted under green as part of a strategic plan.
Back on the track, Kyle Busch extended his advantage to more than a second over Byron. With a clear course in front of him, Busch, who managed to lap teammate Bell, was able to cruise away from the field and win the first stage on Lap 25, thus claiming his third stage victory of the season. Byron settled in second followed by teammate Larson, Logano and Harvick while Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Suarez, Austin Dillon and Reddick were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, some of the leaders led by Kyle Busch pitted while others led by Logano remained on the track.
The second stage started on Lap 29 with Logano and Reddick restarting on the front row. At the start, Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang rocketed to the lead with drafting help from Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE while Chastain, Blaney and Truex all overtook Reddick through the first turn.
By Lap 35, Logano continued to lead by nearly a second over Kurt Busch, with teammate Chastain, Blaney and Truex in the top five. Bubba Wallace was in sixth followed by Reddick, Keselowski, DiBenedetto and Newman. Meanwhile, Larson, Byron and Kyle Busch, all of whom were battling their way back to the front on fresh tires, were in 13th, 14th and 15th. Hamlin was in 16th ahead of Harvick, Suarez, Almirola and Jones.
Through the first 40 laps of the event, Logano remained as the leader followed by Kurt Busch, Chastain, Blaney and Truex while Larson, Byron and Kyle Busch were in 10th, 11th and 12th. By then, Reddick peeled off the race track to pit under green.
By Lap 45, Logano surrendered the lead to pit followed by Kurt Busch as Chastain took over the lead ahead of Blaney and Truex. A few laps later, Newman and Austin Dillon also pitted under green.
Through the first 50 laps of the event, Chastain, racing in his No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, was leading by six-tenths of a second over Blaney, while Truex, Wallace and Keselowski continued to run in the top five. Larson, meanwhile, worked his way back to sixth place ahead of teammates Bowman and Byron while Kyle Busch was in ninth ahead of Hamlin.
Three laps later, the caution flew when Newman, who made a pit stop not long ago, got loose, spun and made contact with the outside wall in Turn 1 as he sustained damage to the left side of his car.
Under caution, nearly the entire field led by Chastain pitted while some like the Busch brothers, Michael McDowell, Logano and Reddick remained on the track.
The race restarted on Lap 57 with the Busch brothers starting on the front row. At the start, Kyle Busch managed to pull ahead of brother Kurt through the first turn while Byron, racing on two fresh tires, battled with Logano for fourth place behind McDowell.
With the field battling intensely for positioning around the Tricky Triangle, the caution returned two laps later when contact from rookie Anthony Alfredo and Corey LaJoie sent LaJoie making contact with the outside wall and spinning across the frontstretch.
When the race restarted on Lap 63, Kyle Busch retained the lead followed by brother Kurt and Logano while McDowell slipped back to fourth ahead of Byron. As the field fanned out to multiple lanes behind, Byron was able to move into fourth place followed by Blaney and Larson, all of whom overtook McDowell for positioning.
At the halfway mark on Lap 65, Kyle Busch was leading by nearly half a second over Kurt Busch while Logano, Byron and Blaney were in the top five. Larson was in sixth followed by McDowell, Reddick, Hamlin and Truex. Elliott, meanwhile, was in 13th behind Wallace and Keselowski, Chastain was in 15th behind Bowman and Harvick was in 16th ahead of Suarez, Briscoe, Almirola and Jones.
By Lap 70, Kyle Busch extended his advantage to more than two seconds over brother Kurt, while Logano, Byron and Larson were in the top five.
Just then, the caution returned when Chastain, who made right-side contact with the wall in Turn 2, spun in Turn 3 while trying to peel off the track to pit road, though he was able to make it back to his pit stall. At the time of caution, McDowell pitted for service.
Under caution, some like Kurt Busch pitted while the rest led by Kyle Busch pitted.
With two laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted. At the start and with the field fanning out to multiple lanes approaching the first turn, Kurt Buch retained the lead ahead of Logano, Larson, Byron and Blaney.
Capitalizing in a two-lap shootout, Kurt Busch managed to fend off the field to claim the second stage on Lap 77 and win his second stage of this season. Larson crossed the start/finish line in second followed by Logano, Byron, Blaney, Hamlin, Truex, Bowman, Kyle Busch and Keselowski.
Under the stage break, some like Elliott, Alfredo, Justin Haley, Chastain, LaJoie and others pitted while the rest led by Kurt Busch remained on the track.
With 49 laps remaining, the final stage started. At the start, Kurt Busch received a huge push from Larson on the outside lane to clear Byron prior to reaching the first turn. With Kurt Busch and Larson out in front, Logano overtook Byron for third while Blaney settled in fifth ahead of Hamlin, Truex, Kyle Busch and the field.
A lap later, the battle for the lead intensified as Larson took over the top spot through Turn 2. Through the following turn, Kurt returned the favor before Larson utilized the outside lane to his advantage to clear Kurt Busch and assume the top spot through the frontstretch.
With 40 laps remaining, Larson was leading by over Kurt Busch, with Logano, Blaney and Byron running in the top five. Bowman was in sixth followed by Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Wallace and Suarez. By then, names like Truex, Harvick and Bell pitted.
During the next three laps, names like Logano, Almirola, Byron, Blaney, DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Keselowski pitted under green. The leader Larson also pitted along with Wallace, Suarez, Kurt Busch, Bowman. Following the pit stops, Austin Dillon was busted for speeding on pit road while DiBenedetto was penalized for removing the gas can out of his pit stall. While serving his first penalty, the race went from bad to worse for DiBenedetto, who was busted for speeding on pit road.
Back on the track, Hamlin, who has yet to pit, was leading followed by teammate Kyle Busch, McDowell, Reddick and Elliott.
With 33 laps remaining, Kyle Busch peeled off the track for fuel under green and managed to exit pit road and pull ahead of Larson.
Three laps later, Hamlin was leading by nearly 15 seconds over McDowell, with Reddick, Elliott and Chris Buescher running in the top five. Rookie Anthony Alfredo was in sixth followed by Cody Ware, Ryan Preece, James Davison and Kyle Busch, who was still ahead of Larson.
Another few laps later, Hamlin surrendered the lead to pit for two fresh tires and fuel. By the time he returned to the track, he was overtaken by Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, both of whom had enough fuel for the finish and were battling intensely to be ahead of one another with the rest of the leaders needing to pit.
Back at the front, McDowell was leading followed by Reddick, Buescher and Elliott while the two Kyles battled for fifth with 25 laps remaining.
A lap later, Reddick pitted, moving Buescher and Elliott to second and third while Kyle Busch continued to remain ahead of Larson in fourth.
Shortly after, the caution flew due to debris spotted in Turn 2. Under caution, a number of competitors led by McDowell pitted while the rest led by Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson remained on the track.
With 19 laps remaining, the race restarted with Kyle Busch and Bowman starting on the front row ahead of Larson and Blaney. At the start, the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Alex Bowman powered his way into the lead on the inside lane entering the first turn while Kyle Busch fended off Larson for the runner-up spot. A lap later and with the field jostling for late positioning, Larson took over the runner-up spot and pursued teammate Bowman for the lead while Busch was pressured by Byron for more.
Four laps later, Bowman continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over teammate Larson while third-place Kyle Busch trailed by nearly a second. Byron was in fourth followed by Blaney, Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Reddick, Logano, Harvick, Suarez and Wallace.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Bowman maintained a three-tenths-of-a-second advantage over teammate Larson, with both pulling away from third-place Kyle Busch by more than a second. Despite repeated challenges from Larson, Bowman retained the top spot through every corner and straightaway, including blocking his teammate and thwarting his teammate’s momentum to assume the top spot.
With five laps remaining, Larson gained a run through the frontstretch and attempted to extend his momentum through the inside lane, but Bowman pulled the block. While Larson attempted to crossover on the outside lane, Bowman retained the top spot.
A lap later, Larson finally succeeded after he gained another run and overtook teammate Bowman through Turn 2 after side-drafting him. By then, Kyle Busch cut the deficit to be under a second behind the two Hendrick Motorsports’ teammates. Larson, however, started to pull away with the lead.
With the white flag waving and the final lap of the race occurring, Larson was ahead by more than a second over teammate Bowman with Kyle Busch trailing by less than two seconds.
Then, trouble occurred for Larson, whose No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE lost a left-front tire and went dead straight into the outside wall in Turn 3, thus smacking the wall and losing his momentum. With Larson scraping the wall and limping back to the finish line, Alex Bowman reassumed the lead on the final corner and was able to come back around to take the checkered flag and grab the win.
The victory was Bowman’s fifth of his NASCAR Cup Series career in his 207th series start and third of the season since taking over the iconic No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports car. Bowman, who signed a two-year contract extension to remain at Hendrick Motorsports a week ago, also became the third competitor to achieve three or more victories of this season.
In addition, Hendrick Motorsports’ competitors have won the last seven Cup events in recent weeks, including the All-Star Race, and 10 of the first 18 regular-season points-paying races of 2021.
“I don’t even know what to think,” Bowman said on NBCSN. “I hate to win one that way, but hell yeah, I’ll take it. Super proud of this Ally No. 48 team. Man, we kind of gave the lead away. We’re on two tires, just got super tight. Tried to hold [Larson] off as long as I could, but can’t say enough about everybody at Team Hendrick right now. From top to bottom, everybody’s just putting great race cars on the track. [Crew chief] Greg [Ives] and all the guys did a really good job. Man, we didn’t run that good all day, so I’m kind of in shock. I don’t know what to say to you guys…Heck yeah. I’ll take it.”
While Bowman celebrated, Larson, who made significant contact with the wall, coasted across the finish line in ninth place and with a wrecked race car as his hopes of winning four consecutive Cup races in recent weeks were spoiled on the final lap. The wreck will force Larson to move to a back-up car for Sunday’s Cup event at Pocono.
“I guess, disbelief still,” Larson, who made a trip to the infield care center, said. “I don’t know. A little bit laughable just because I can’t believe it. Hate that we didn’t get another win. It would’ve been cool to win five in a row, but just wasn’t meant to be, I guess, today. I felt something like right in the middle of the tunnel [turn], wasn’t quite sure what it was yet and then, it finally shredded halfway through the little short chute there and couldn’t turn. Hate that we didn’t get the win, but cool that Alex still did. Cool to keep Mr. [Hendrick]’s streak going, but hate that we didn’t get HendrickCars.com into Victory Lane. But, we’ll try and start another streak tomorrow.”
Kyle Busch settled in second place, nearly seven-tenths of a second behind, while Byron, Hamlin and Blaney finished in the top five.
Kurt Busch notched a strong sixth-place result while Logano, Harvick, Larson and Keselowski finished in the top 10.
Reddick, Elliott, Suarez, Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned top-15 finishes, Truex settled in 18th behind Almirola and Bell, Austin Dillon ended up in 21st in front of Erik Jones and rookies Chase Briscoe and Anthony Alfredo finished 24th and 26th.
There were 14 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 25 laps.
With eight races remaining until the 2021 Cup Playoffs commences, Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by eight points over Larson. Eleven competitors (Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell and Michael McDowell) are currently guaranteed Playoff spots based on winning at least once through the first 18 regular-season races of this season. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kurt Busch occupy the remaining five vacant spots as winless competitors, with Busch ahead by four points over Chris Buescher, 42 over Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 55 over Daniel Suarez, 62 over Matt DiBenedetto.
1. Alex Bowman, 16 laps led
2. Kyle Busch, 30 laps led, Stage 1 winner
3. William Byron, 13 laps led
4. Denny Hamlin, 11 laps led
5. Ryan Blaney
6. Kurt Busch, 12 laps led, Stage 2 winner
7. Joey Logano, 18 laps led
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Kyle Larson, 15 laps led
10. Brad Keselowski
11. Tyler Reddick
12. Chase Elliott
13. Daniel Suarez
14. Bubba Wallace
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
16. Aric Almirola
17. Christopher Bell
18. Martin Truex Jr.
19. Michael McDowell, five laps led
20. Chris Buescher
21. Austin Dillon
22. Erik Jones
23. Ryan Preece
24. Chase Briscoe
25. Cody Ware
26. Anthony Alfredo
27. Justin Haley
28. James Davison
29. Garrett Smithley
30. B.J. McLeod
31. Quin Houff
32. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down
33. Ross Chastain, one lap down
34. Josh Bilicki, two laps down
35. Timmy Hill, four laps down
36. Corey LaJoie, five laps down
37. Ryan Newman – OUT, Accident
38. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident
The NASCAR Cup Series will return for its second event of the weekend at Pocono and to cap off a doubleheader weekend on Sunday, June 27, with the event to occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.