From clutch issues to Victory Lane, Kyle Busch played a late fuel strategy to perfection after overtaking teammate Denny Hamlin prior to the final lap and coasting for a final full lap on a dry tank to win the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 at Pocono Raceway, the second of a Pocono Cup doubleheader weekend, on Sunday, June 27.
The starting lineup was based off the results from Saturday’s Cup event at Pocono, with the top-20 finishers being inverted for Sunday’s event. Chris Buescher, who finished 20th, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Michael McDowell, who finished 19th on Saturday.
Prior to the event, names like Cole Custer, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Corey LaJoie and rookie Anthony Alfredo started at the rear of the field in back-up cars. Justin Allgaier also started at the rear of the field after replacing Justin Haley in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, with Haley opting to sit out following his hard wreck in the Xfinity Series event occurring early Sunday at Pocono.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Buescher pulled ahead on the outside lane to retain the lead over McDowell and the field through the first turn and entering the second turn.
Through the first lap, Buescher was out in front followed by McDowell, Christopher Bell, Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Behind, Daniel Suarez was in sixth followed by Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace, Joey Logano and Tyler Reddick.
The following lap, the first caution of the race flew when rookie Anthony Alfredo made hard contact with the outside wall in Turn 2.
When the race restarted on the sixth lap, Buescher peaked ahead until he slipped entering the first turn and lost his momentum along with a bevy of spots. Buescher’s slip-up allowed McDowell to move to the lead followed by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Truex and Bell. Behind, Aric Almirola made his way to fourth followed by Stenhouse, Suarez, Keselowski, Reddick and Wallace as Buescher fell all the way back to 12th.
Through the first 10 laps of the event, McDowell remained in the lead by a narrow margin over Truex and Bell while Almirola, Stenhouse, Keselowski, Suarez, Wallace, Kyle Busch and Reddick were running in the top 10. By then, Kurt Busch was in 11th in front of Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Buescher. Chase Elliott was in 16th in front of rookie Chase Briscoe and teammate William Byron, Austin Dillon was in 20th behind Erik Jones and Alex Bowman, winner of the first Cup Pocono doubleheader event, was in 21st in front of Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson and Matt DiBenedetto. Ryan Newman, meanwhile, was in 29th.
Three laps later, Truex moved his No. 19 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota Camry into the lead. Teammate Bell quickly followed in his No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry to assume the runner-up spot while McDowell fell back to third in front of Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang.
By Lap 20, Truex was out in front by more than a second over teammate Bell while Almirola, McDowell and Kyle Busch were in the top five. McDowell was back in sixth followed by Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace. Stenhouse was situated in ninth ahead of Suarez. Meanwhile, Logano and Harvick were in 12th and 13th, Elliott was still mired back in 15th in between teammate Byron and Kurt Busch, Bowman was back in 21st behind Hamlin and Larson was in 22nd in front of Erik Jones.
Five laps later, Truex extended his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Bell. Behind, Almirola, Keselowski and Kyle Busch remained in the top five ahead of Blaney and Wallace, with McDowell settling in eighth ahead of Stenhouse and Suarez.
Shortly after, Hamlin brought his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry to pit road under green. A lap later, his teammates, Bell and Kyle Busch, pitted. Meanwhile, the fourth Joe Gibbs Racing competitor, Truex, remained on the track and in the lead. During this process, Hendrick Motorsports’ competitors Elliott and Byron also pitted.
At the front, Truex held a comfortable advantage over runner-up Almirola. With no lead lap challengers closing in approaching Lap 30, Truex was able to come back around and claim the first stage victory as he also claimed his fourth stage victory of the 2021 season. Almirola settled in second followed by Keselowski, Blaney and Wallace while McDowell, Stenhouse, Reddick, Suarez and Logano were scored in the top 10. By then, Byron, who was in 33rd, managed to beat Truex at the start/finish line to return on the lead lap.
Under the stage break, nearly all of the leaders pitted and Truex retained the lead following his exit from his pit stall. Back on track, names like Keselowski, teammate Blaney, Austin Dillon, Bell, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Elliott and Byron remained on the track. During the pit stops, Larson remained on pit road to have the front nose of his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE assessed after he ran into the rear of Hamlin on a restart.
The second stage started on Lap 35 with Keselowski and Bell starting on the front row. At the start, Keselowski received a push from teammate Blaney to retain the lead through the first turn over Bell. Behind, Kyle Busch retained fourth place ahead of Byron, Hamlin and the field.
By Lap 40, Keselowski continued to lead over teammate Blaney, Bell, Kyle Busch and Byron. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, who was running in the top five, radioed issues to his No. 18 M&M’s Mini’s Toyota Camry as the car was popping out of fourth gear.
Five laps later, teammates Keselowski and Blaney pitted, moving Kyle Busch to the lead. Larson, who reported overheating issues to his car, also pitted during this process. Earlier, Austin Dillon pitted.
Through the first 50 laps of the event, Kyle Busch remained as the leader by nearly three-tenths of a second over Byron, with Bell, Hamlin and Elliott in the top five. Truex was in sixth followed by Almirola, Ross Chastain, Logano and Harvick. Not long after, Blaney made another pit stop to address a loose right-front wheel, a move that dropped him a lap behind the leaders.
By Lap 60, Kyle Busch continued to lead by three-tenths of a second over Byron. Bell, teammate Hamlin and Elliott continued to run in the top five followed by Truex, Almirola, Chastain, Logano and Bowman.
On Lap 65, Byron brought his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to pit road under green. By then, Daniel Suarez pitted. With Byron pitting from the runner-up spot, teammates Bell and Hamlin moved up to second and third behind their third teammate and leader, Kyle Busch. By then, all four Joe Gibbs Racing competitors were running in the top five, with Elliott in fourth.
A few laps later, Kevin Harvick brought his No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang to his pit stall for service under green.
At the halfway mark on Lap 70, Kyle Busch was the leader followed by teammate Bell, Elliott, teammate Truex and Almirola. Chastain moved up to sixth followed by Logano, Bowman, Reddick and Kurt Busch. A lap earlier, Hamlin pitted.
During the ensuing laps, Ryan Newman pitted along with Bell, Elliott, Truex, Chastain, Almirola, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Logano, Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and others. During the sequence, Kyle Busch, who surrendered the lead to pit, had to receive a push from his crew after stalling his car with the car getting stuck in gear and not moving.
Back on course and on Lap 75, Bubba Wallace was leading followed by DiBenedetto, Byron, Keselowski, Hamlin and Bell. Two laps later, Wallace pitted and Byron inherited the lead with Keselowski in second.
By Lap 80, Byron was leading by more than two seconds over Keselowski, with Hamlin, Bell and Elliott in the top five. Truex was in sixth followed by Larson, Almirola, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.
With the laps in the second stage concluding, Hamlin managed to overtake Keselowski for the runner-up spot. By then, Byron was clear out in front by more than two seconds. With a clear sight in front amid the lapped traffic, Byron was able to claim his second stage victory on Lap 80 as he also recorded his second stage victory of the season. Hamlin settled in second followed by Keselowski, Bell, Elliott, Truex, Kyle Busch, Larson, Almirola and Chastain.
Under the stage break, some led by Keselowski pitted while others led by Byron remained on the track. During the pit stops, Kyle Busch spent extra time in his pit stall to have the shifter and gear issue on his car addressed. Despite pitting for a second time for repairs, Busch remained on the lead lap.
With 50 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Byron received a push from Hamlin to remain as the leader. Behind, Elliott charged to third place followed by Bell, teammate Truex, Almirola and Bowman as the field battled intensely for positioning.
Two laps later, the caution flew due to debris that came off the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE piloted by Erik Jones, who earlier had a left-front tire flat.
Under caution, some led by Byron and Hamlin pitted while the rest led by Elliott remained on the track. During the sequence, Elliott, who faked coming to pit road, was penalized for not maintaining his position on the track under caution, sending him back to fourth as Bell moved back to the lead.
With 44 laps remaining, the race restarted under green as Bell and Bowman started on the front row. At the start, Bowman received a push from Ross Chastain on the inside lane to move into the lead over Bell. Behind, Chastain challenged Bell for the runner-up spot while Elliott and Harvick battled dead even for fourth place in front of Almirola and Keselowski.
Back to the frontstretch, Harvick made a bold three-wide move to move into the runner-up spot after Bell and Chastain made contact against one another. Following the contact, Chastain’s No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE went up the race track in Turn 1 with a flat tire following the contact with Bell.
Then entering the frontstretch, Elliott made contact with Bell, sending Bell sideways. Though Bell sustained right-rear damage to his car, he prevented the car from spinning sideways as the race proceeded under green. The contact scattered the field as Bell fell out of contention. Both Bell and Chastain pitted following their on-track incident.
Back up front, Bowman was the leader by nearly seven-tenths of a second over Harvick, with Keselowski, Blaney and Reddick in the top five. McDowell was up in sixth followed by Elliott, Almirola, Kurt Busch and Hamlin.
Under the final 40 laps, Elliott’s No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE fell off the pace due to a flat right-front tire as he made the trip to pit road for four fresh tires. Not long after, Matt DiBenedetto pitted along with Logano.
With 35 laps remaining, Bowman continued to lead by four-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Harvick, with third-place Keselowski trailing by more than a second. Soon after, names like Blaney and Austin Dillon pitted. In addition, Elliott made a second pit stop due to another flat tire.
Down to the final 30 laps of the event, the battle for the lead intensified as Bowman led by less than three-tenths of a second over Harvick. Soon after, Almirola surrendered his spot on the track to pit along with Stenhouse, who had smoke trailing out of the tailpipe of his No. 47 Scott Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE as he made the left-hand turn to the garage.
Two laps later, Harvick pitted along with McDowell. Another three laps later, more pit strategy occurred as Bowman surrendered the lead to pit for fuel for his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, giving the lead to the No. 2 Freightliner Ford Mustang piloted by Brad Keselowski.
Nearing the final 20 laps of the event, Tyler Reddick surrendered the runner-up spot to pit.
With 20 laps remaining and the fuel strategy conversation continuing among multiple teams, Keselowski, who was in question about having enough fuel to make it to the finish, was leading by over Byron. Kurt Busch, Hamlin and Larson were in the top five followed by Kyle Busch, Wallace, Preece, Briscoe and Suarez. Harvick, who had enough fuel to complete the race to its scheduled distance, was in 13th behind Truex while Bowman was in 15th behind Blaney.
Five laps later, Keselowski continued to lead by more than three seconds over Byron, with Kurt Busch, Hamlin and Larson remaining in the top five. Harvick, meanwhile, was still mired back in 13th behind Truex as Blaney, Bowman and Reddick were in 14th, 15th and 16th.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Keselowski was leading by more than 11 seconds over Byron, with Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Larson, Kyle Busch and the field trailing by more than 21 seconds. Harvick, meanwhile, was up in 10th place behind Ryan Newman.
Two laps later, Keselowski, who last pitted on Lap 87, surrendered the lead to pit for fuel, with the former Cup champion not having enough to initially complete the remainder of the race. Despite pitting for fuel, Keselowski managed to pick up speed and pull ahead of Harvick as both awaited the fuel fate of the front-runners.
Back on course, Byron inherited the lead followed by Hamlin, the Busch brothers, Larson and Wallace.
With five laps remaining, Byron, who was trying to conserve fuel, was leading by more than two seconds over Hamlin with Kyle Busch also joining the party. By then, Keselowski and Harvick were in seventh and eighth.
Then with two laps remaining, Byron, who last pitted on Lap 94, pitted as teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch moved into first and second.
Shortly after, Hamlin fell off the pace exiting Turn 2 as he ran out of fuel. Despite trying to block his teammate, Kyle Busch assumed the lead on the outside lane entering the frontstretch as he started the final lap of the race. With Busch out in front and Hamlin pitting, Kyle Larson moved into second place, trailing by more than seven seconds. By then, Kurt Busch pitted.
With the gas tank in the No. 18 Toyota running dry, Kyle Busch, who last pitted on Lap 95, was able to navigate his way around the triangle circuit for a final time and come back around to take the checkered flag and steal the win a day after finishing in the runner-up spot in the first Cup Pocono doubleheader event.
The victory marked Busch’s second of this season, fourth at Pocono and the 59th of his NASCAR Cup Series career. It was also Busch’s second of the season with rookie Cup crew chief Ben Beshore.
“[The car’s] Stuck in fourth gear,” Busch said on NBCSN. “About out of gas. Just saving, just riding, just playing the strategy the best we could with what was given to us. Just can’t say enough about everybody on my team, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, [Toyota Racing Development], all the work that they’re putting in and everything. Sometimes, these races aren’t always won by the fastest car, but I still felt like we had the fastest car. Even though we were in the back and behind and having to come back and having to persevere, being stuck in fourth gear, no clutch, all that stuff, it’s all burned out. Nothing left in his M&M’s Mini’s Camry. It was awesome today…This is really awesome to pull off another win here at Pocono. Feels good.”
Behind, Larson, who struggled throughout the event and wrecked a day ago while leading on the final lap, had enough fuel to come home in second place as he collected his ninth top-two result of the season.
“It’s surprising finish for us. Our HendrickCars.com Chevy was really loose for a majority of the race, then we got a lot of nose damage there on one of the restarts. Was off on speed. I felt like after that. [Crew chief] Cliff [Daniels] and everybody did a really, really good job managing the race, coached me through saving fuel there at the end. [I] Was hoping that [Kyle Busch] was going to run out. I saw [Hamlin] running out. I was, ‘Okay, they’re teammates, they got to be close to running out.’ [Busch] did pit a lap after us under caution. That actually probably won them the race. But, yeah, second-place finish, I thought we would be outside of the top-20. A lot of points throughout the race today; we’ll take it. Happy about the effort for sure all weekend.”
Keselowski and Harvick, both of whom were charging hard on fuel, finished in third and fourth while Bubba Wallace achieved his first top-five result of the season and for 23XI Racing by finishing fifth.
“We knew we were in a worse position than [Kyle Busch],” Wallace said. “It was just racing our race. I was trying to do the best that I could, but all in all, really solid weekend. First top five for the team. I think that’s a little pen to the paper action there to re-sign and re-up there. All in all, just happy with how the weekend went. Smooth sailing for the most part. Today was a little bit trickier, but perseverance. Just got to battle through it and proud of everybody here.”
Blaney, Bowman, Preece, Reddick and Logano finished in the top 10.
Byron, following his late pit stop, ended up in 12th behind Truex while Hamlin, who was a lap away from capturing his first victory of the season until he ran out of fuel, fell all the way back to 14th.
“We had our hands tied up behind our backs,” Byron said. “Definitely had the fastest car. The caution didn’t fit us perfectly. We had control of the race there and was right on our number to make it or not, and just didn’t work out. Really fast car. The AXALTA Chevrolet was awesome. Sucks to lose’em like that, but I feel like we had everything we needed in the car. Just couldn’t save enough fuel as far back as we were. Just part of it, but thanks to the guys.”
“The result is we’ve pitted on the last lap for three weeks in a row,” Hamlin said. “That’s tough. I hate seeing the white [flag], ended up coming to pit road. It’s just so frustrating, but fuel mileage’s got us the last two weeks and lug nuts the week before, but we’re running fast. We’re getting a little better. I think that overall, we had a little bit more speed this weekend than what we’ve had in the past few weeks. Just can’t see the checkered right now.”
Truex settled in 11th, Austin Dillon and Suarez finished 13th and 15th, Almirola came home in 16th ahead of McDowell, Kurt Busch fell all the way back to 20th behind Chris Buescher, rookie Chase Briscoe finished 21st, Justin Allgaier finished 25th as a substitute competitor for Spire Motorsports, Chastain and Elliott ended up in 26th and 27th and Bell ended his strong run in 32nd behind Erik Jones.
There were 12 lead changes for 10 different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 15 laps.
With eight races remaining until the 2021 Cup Playoffs commences, Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by four points over Larson. Eleven competitors (Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell and Michael McDowell) are guaranteed Playoff spots based on winning at least once through the first 19 regular-season events. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kurt Busch occupy the remaining five spots as winless competitors, with Busch ahead by three points over Chris Buescher, 48 over Daniel Suarez, 54 over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bubba Wallace, 60 over Matt DiBenedetto and 72 over Ross Chastain.
1. Kyle Busch, 30 laps led
2. Kyle Larson
3. Brad Keselowski, 31 laps led
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Bubba Wallace, three laps led
6. Ryan Blaney
7. Alex Bowman, 18 laps led
8. Ryan Preece
9. Tyler Reddick
10. Joey Logano
11. Martin Truex Jr., 19 laps led, Stage 1 winner
12. William Byron, 22 laps led, Stage 2 winner
13. Austin Dillon
14. Denny Hamlin, one lap led
15. Daniel Suarez
16. Aric Almirola
17. Michael McDowell, seven laps led
18. Matt DiBenedetto
19. Chris Buescher, six laps led
20. Kurt Busch
21. Chase Briscoe
22. Ryan Newman
23. Corey LaJoie, one lap down
24. Cole Custer, one lap down
25. Justin Allgaier, one lap down
26. Ross Chastain, one lap down
27. Chase Elliott, one lap down
28. Cody Ware, one lap down
29. B.J. McLeod, one lap down
30. James Davison, three laps down
31. Erik Jones, four laps down
32. Christopher Bell, five laps down, three laps led
33. Quin Houff, five laps down
34. Anthony Alfredo, six laps down
35. Josh Bilicki, eight laps down
36. Garrett Smithley – OUT, Engine
37. Timmy Hill – OUT, Handling
38. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Engine
Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Road America, the series’ return to the track near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, since 1956. The event is slated to occur on Sunday, July 4, during Independence Day weekend at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.