Pocono's first race of 2012 and its winners and losers -
JOEY LOGANO - winning the race in and of itself is a huge development for a driver who has run poorly throughout his Cup career. The way he won, though, is also noteworthy, because he screwed up on the last restart where Mark Martin got the lead and appeared cemented to the win; Logano was able to run him down and take the lead late in the race.
MARK MARTIN - Finishing second after contending for the win is nothing to be ashamed of.
TONY STEWART - A superb finish after a very spotty portion of the season.
PAUL MENARD - A driver who frankly doesn't belong gave a decent effort.
JAMIE MCMURRAY - Solid outing after a rough run the last year-plus.
POCONO RACEWAY'S PAVEMENT - there were concerns aplenty going in; the pavement proved not to be any kind of issue. Though there were numerous yellows and several wrecks, the race if anything was noticeably less aggressive than some recent Pocono races (notably 2009 and 2010) had been.
There were plenty of losers to sort through in this race.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. - His efforts have gotten gushing coverage, and he is solid in the points race. At Pocono he led, but as the race went on he seemed to get somewhat weaker. Finishing eighth is a solid effort but also a letdown given how he ran to the front, and it raises anew the question of why he's never able to go for a win even with consistent finishes.
NASCAR's PREPOSTEROUS CONTROL OVER PIT ROAD - NASCAR's rule closing pit road when the yellow comes out has always been a problem since debuting in late March 1989; it led to numerous pit crashes and eventually to the present system of pit speed limits. Those rules haven't prevented pit crashes since they debuted in 1991, and the epidemic of pit penalties in this race was worse than usual. Why NASCAR won't consider dropping the pit closure rule et al - basically going back to pit rules pre-1989, an era when pit road was safer than it's been since March 1989 - remains baffling and indefensible.
GREG BIFFLE AND KYLE BUSCH - both had engine issues.
PETTY MOTORSPORTS - Marcus Ambrose ran respectably but got a mediocre finish out of it. Aric Almirola clawed into top-ten contention, then seemed to throw it away on a restart where he fell out of the top-20, then crashed out. Richard Petty deserves much better than this.
SHORTENED DISTANCES - Mark Martin likely wanted another 50 to 100 miles for the race distance so he could get back at Logano. This first 400 miler for Pocono added nothing competitively to the racing, just as 400-mile distances have never added anything that 500 miles ostensibly do not have. 400 wasn't enough; 500 remains the better race.
So Pocono is a wrap and Michigan awaits.