After dominating at Dover last week and not getting the result he wanted due to a restart penalty, Jimmie Johnson ordered up a table for one at the Party in the Poconos 400 Presented by Walmart, right in Victory Lane.
Although challenged by some late race cautions, Johnson dominated the race, leading a career high 128 laps.
He also dominated the race weekend, from being quickest in first practice to being at the front of the field in the final practice session. And thanks to the rainout of qualifying, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet also started from the pole, which was critical for track position.
The win was Johnson’s 63rd career victory, his third win of the season, and his third checkered flag in 23 races at the Tricky Triangle.
“What a race car,” Johnson said. “Not only the car and the handling and the grip that it had, but also the engine and what was under the hood.”
“When I would lean on the throttle, this baby would yard anybody and everybody,” Johnson continued. “Today everything worked out.”
Not only did Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, concur but he also enjoyed every minute of the Pocono competition.
“Wow, it was a lot of fun,” Knaus said. “I really love this race track.”
“It’s always been one of my favorites,” Knaus continued. “When you come up here you have to have a race car that will handle, great horsepower and so many cool things that come into play.”
“When we showed up on Friday, we realized that we had a great car,” Knaus said. “Jimmie did a fantastic job and his car control was second to none.”
Greg Biffle, who had a great run at Pocono, particularly on the last restart, finished in the runner up position with his No. 16 3M Ford. Although this was his fifth top-10 finish in 21 races at Pocono and his fifth top-10 finish of the season, Biffle acknowledged that the good finish did not come quite as easily as he would have liked.
“It was definitely a struggle for us,” Biffle said. “We had two pit stops that weren’t the greatest and hung a lug nut.”
“We were struggling for track position all day,” Biffle continued. “Turns 3 and 4 (or whatever you call it) was where we struggled.”
“I was terrible there and anything I would gain in turns 1 and 2, I would lose.”
Biffle acknowledged that he simply did not have anything for the 48 bunch. But he took the runner up finish as a positive, particularly going into Michigan next week, a track where he has had success in the past.
“The 48 was super fast,” Biffle said. “He just drove away from everybody.”
“We had some good restarts and we were lucky with the lane choices, but most of the top five cars were faster than us on sheer speed,” Biffle continued. “We still have work to do but this is a step in the right direction.”
“That’s a positive for us going to next week.”
Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the Hendrick Motorsports team in the finishing order, taking the checkered flag third in the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet. This was Junior’s 10th top-10 finish in 27 races at Pocono.
But even with the top-five finish, Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged that the restarts at the Tricky Triangle were the most challenging for him to overcome.
“Them last restarts were kind of tough,” Junior said. “Being on the inside on the front row really ain’t the cat bird’s seat.”
“The guys behind you can get good runs and put you three-wide,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “So, I was more in defense mode there and Greg (Biffle) just got around us on the outside.”
“But I’m pretty happy with the way we ran,” Junior said. “Just looking forward to going to Michigan, a track we run pretty good at, next week.”
Stewart-Haas Racing had a great time at the Party in the Poconos, with Tony Stewart, in the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, finishing fourth and teammate Ryan Newman, in the No. 39 HAAS Automation Chevrolet, finishing fifth.
“The restarts got tight,” Stewart acknowledged. “The good thing is we got confidence from the last three weeks in a row.”
The third member of the Stewart-Haas team, Danica Patrick, finished 29th in her first ever run in a Cup car at Pocono. She did, however, bring her No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet to the checkered flag on the lead lap.
“For Ryan and I to finish in the top five and Danica doing better, we’re just gaining on it,” Stewart said. “I’m just proud our group had a good run.”
Stewart’s teammate Ryan Newman did indeed have a good finish, playing both the speed and strategy cards throughout the race, even on the restarts.
“Well we did have the speed today,” Newman said. “Strategy worked out to our benefit.”
“I thought I was going to be in the middle of a Busch (brother Kurt and Kyle) sandwich there at the end going into Turn 2,” Newman continued. “But I have to thank them for giving me a little bit of room.”
“Strategy worked to our benefit with the yellows there at the end,” Newman said. “Just a good rebound for us and that’s really what we needed for this team.”
The Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, finished sixth and seventh respectively. Both, however, had their share of adversity from which they had to battle back.
“We just kept working on our M&M’s Camry all day,” Kyle Busch said. “We probably had a seventh-place car all day long and found ourselves in third on the last restart.”
“I just couldn’t get going for some reason,” Busch continued. “I just didn’t do a good job there and we found ourselves in sixth.”
“We’ll take that and go on to Michigan.”
“We had a fast car again, ran up front but a mistake on my part on pit road stalled our momentum,” Kurt Busch said, after overshooting his pit box on Lap 126. “But we battled back with a solid finish.”
“We’ve made great strides in the past month and need to continue the progression,” Busch continued. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t.”
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota, Kevin Harvick, behind the wheel of the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, just back from Iowa in time to jump behind the wheel of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford rounded out the top ten finishers for the 32nd annual Party in the Poconos.