With a picture-perfect race day after a qualifying rainout, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 32nd annual Party in the Poconos 400.
Surprising: With good practice times and a decent starting position set on owner’s points, it was most surprising to see the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet head to pit road and then to the garage on the first lap of the race.
“We have no idea what happened with the car yet,” Kasey Kahne said. “The crew and engineers have been looking at things but they’re still unsure.”
“II know that when I took off, in second gear, I had no power and it was just vibrating like crazy,” Kahne continued. “The faster I went, the worse the vibration was.”
With the garage time, Kahne finished nineteen laps down in the 36th position. He also lost two positions in the point standings, falling from the fifth to seventh spot.
Not Surprising: With the controversy of the Dover restart still ringing in his ears, Jimmie Johnson put it all behind him, leading a record setting 128 laps out of the total 160 at Pocono Raceway.
And with a lap leading percentage of 80%, there was no surprise that the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet found Victory Lane for the third time of the season and the third time at Pocono.
“I’m sure we’ve had some other really strong races like that, but not in recent memory,” Johnson said. “What a race car.”
“There are only so many tricks you have if you play by the rules with those restarts,” Johnson continued. “Fortunately, I was able to get the lead and have clean air again at the end.”
Surprising: With all the struggles of team Ford, it was most surprising to see Greg Biffle, in the No. 16 3M Ford, surge at the end to score the runner up position.
“We had some good restarts and we were lucky with the lane choices and my car ran pretty good on restarts,” Biffle said. “Clearly we’re not celebrating that we finished second quite yet and have our cars figured out, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
“We certainly ran better here than we have been all season and certainly that’s a positive for us going to next week, so hopefully we’ll continue to build on that.”
Not Surprising: With a third place finish in the books, NASCAR’s most popular driver pronounced it all good, as well as predicting that the momentum might just carry the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet into Victory Lane soon.
“We are all right,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said. “We know what we need to do.”
“Confidence is there so all the fans can rest assured we feel like we are on the right track,” Junior continued. “We want to get a win, man.”
“If we keep getting close, we are going to get one.”
Surprising: The announcement of Toyota Racing Development backing down the horsepower to improve reliability surprisingly came at the worst time for Denny Hamlin, who has been battling intently to recover from his injury and make the Chase.
“We weren’t competitive,” the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota said after finishing eighth. “We’re just trying to do everything we can and grind and finish good when we don’t have a winning car.”
“And by no means did we have a winning car this weekend.”
Not Surprising: Fellow Toyota teammate Kyle Busch was the top Toyota finisher, bringing his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Camry home in the sixth position.
“The car was loose in turn three all day, but we got the car feeling pretty good towards the end,” Busch said. “We probably had a seventh place car all day long.”
“I just couldn’t get going on that last restart,” 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.”
Surprising: Stewart-Haas Racing had a surprisingly good time at the Party in the Poconos, with Tony Stewart finishing in fourth, Ryan Newman finishing fifth, and Danica Patrick finishing on the lead lap at her first ever try on that tricky track.
“It’s one thing if one car runs good, but to have two or all three of us running good shows that we are gaining momentum,” Tony Stewart, team owner and driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, said . “Really proud of our group at SHR.”
Not Surprising: Kurt Busch, behind the wheel of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, once again faced adversity, this time with a problem on pit road. And not surprisingly, he and his team rallied yet again to finish top-10.
“We had a fast car again, ran up front but a mistake on my part on pit road stalled our momentum,” Busch said. “But we battled back with a solid finish.”
“The good news is that we know how to overcome adversity and the more we perform the way we have been, the better we’ll get.”
Surprising: Matt Kenseth had an uncharacteristically and surprisingly tough day, doing some synchronized spinning with Juan Pablo Montoya and then wheel-hopping on pit road and having some contact with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
“I mean, disappointing,” the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Tools Toyota said. “I thought we had a top-five at the very worst or seventh or eighth-place car.”
“Whenever you don’t finish where you are running, it’s always disappointing.”
Not Surprising: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing just keeps gaining ground, this week with Jamie McMurray finishing thirteenth and Juan Pablo Montoya finishing fourteenth.
“We just have to execute,” Montoya said. “Each person has got to do its own little thing.”
“We just have to keep our heads down and keep doing our work and we will be fine.”
Surprising: AJ Allmendinger had a surprisingly difficult day in the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet, finishing a disappointing 33rd. The ‘Dinger was responsible for the next to the last race caution after experiencing significant tire troubles.
In spite of this, Allmendinger was surprisingly chosen to replace Bobby Labonte when the Cup crowd heads to Michigan next weekend. JTG Daugherty Racing’s leadership apparently selected ‘Dinger to shake down the car to see if and how the performance can be enhanced.
“I have raced for Phoenix Racing some this year and feel confident I’ll be able to provide JTG Daugherty Racing with a good comparison,” Allmendinger said. “I’m thankful for this opportunity to work with the team and Bobby.”
Not Surprising: For Chad Knaus, crew chief, and team Jimmie Johnson, the focus still remains on the point standings. And this team not surprisingly knows exactly how important their points lead is, now 51 points ahead of Carl Edwards.
“As far as points go, it’s always important,” Knaus said. “We’ve got some very tricky race tracks coming up and we want to make sure that we get as many points accumulated as possible.”
“That’s just the way we roll.”