Monday, August 01, 2016

From Odd To Bizarre At Pocono Summer 500

The Pocono Summer 400 of 2016 became easily the strangest race of the season so far between frustrating rain, postponement to Monday, and then the cycle of staggered pitstops that has become characteristic of Pocono racing the last number of years; it also saw some of the old Pocono vinegar as the lead became a spirited fight; the Austin Dillon-Kyle Larson showdown at halfway where the two diced side-by-side for two laps and nearly wrecked was the highlight, but the weirdness exploded when fog put Chris Buescher - such a darkhorse that he only had two career finishes higher than 20th and nothing higher than 14th - into Pocono's victory, the first first-time winner for Winston Cup since Aric Almirola - wrecked out well before halfway - in 2014 at Daytona.

Buescher managed to prove wrong the proclamation of yours truly that a darkhorse or first-time winner looks out of reach.   Whether the rest of the season will see any additional darkhorses emerge remains to be seen.   The race certainly became a battle of the youth brigade as Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon emerged near halfway up front and started fighting it out, this coming a week after as one-sided a race as seen in years to where a lot of fans and some media were questioning the wisdom of keeping Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NASCAR's schedule.

Other surprises were Greg Biffle, who led sixteen laps and was perhaps the only leader to take the lead on the bottom on a restart.   It seems to me too many tracks no longer have any low-line grip, especially with those tracks that went to progressive or semi-progressive banking; it's a gripe I've heard about Bristol and it applies even more to places like Loudon and Pocono,  and was in evidence at Kentucky.  But as with everything else that phenomenon gets back to the general technology arms race that remains a major competitive issue for the sport.

When their set-to got settled Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon had strikingly different finishes as Larson, who led 37 laps, by far his most since Dover, finished sixth while Dillon wound up thirteenth.   For Dillon this race was a step, given a career with just five top-five finishes and 56 laps led, doubly pedestrian compared to Larson's fourteen top-fives and 309 laps led.   For Larson it was another solid run, though the wait for those breakthrough wins is still gathering some cobwebs.

If lack of wins for Larson is a disappointment given how touted he is, the collapse of Chase Elliott the last six races is downright disturbing as he is starting to look not like the next NASCAR star but the next Bobby Hillin Jr.

It certainly is wrong to blame Chase Elliott for this wreck - the classic racing accident - but his downfall since finishing second at the Michigan 400 with a high incidence of crashing cannot be anything but disturbing.   It also continues the fall of Hendrick Motorsports, as it failed to get one car in the top-ten at Pocono and has only two wins between four cars and five drivers.

It surprisingly wasn't that hot for JGR even though he got three cars to finish 7-8-9.   Bettering him there was Stewart-Haas Racing at 4th, 5th, and 10th.   It can only leave Ford execs rubbing their hands for 2017;  Ford's 1-2 at Pocono was the highlight, yet the Blue Oval brigade had nothing else to celebrate outside of yet another one-team rampage by Penske.  

So wrapped up one of the weirdest races in awhile, and the NASCAR guys head a short ways north to Watkins Glen.

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