From the impact of crew chief suspensions inspired by the No. 11 Denny Hamlin penalty to the forecasted rain that never reared its ugly head, here is what else was surprising and not surprising in the 41st Annual GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Surprising: They may have swept Pocono for the first time since Denny Hamlin did it in 2006 and also scored their third victory of the season, but what Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte were most eloquent about after the race was their praise for the positive impact of team owner Rick Hendrick on their lives.
“I just told him thanks for believing in me and making my life better,” Dale Jr. said of the call he made to Mr. H. in Victory Lane. “He has that effect on all the people that work for him. He makes everybody’s life better.”
“He put me with Steve and I think that Steve was in a place where he was looking for something new and I was definitely needing something new, and it worked out,” Earnhardt Jr. continued. “I was, it was a touch and go there for a while, but we have worked, we have done some good things together and we have continued to get better and we finally are realizing that potential and doing the things on the racetrack that we dreamed about doing when we first started working together.”
“Mr. Hendrick has helped me become a better person, put me around people that influence me to be a better person, so just want him to know that I appreciate it.”
“He’s the kind of guy that through the low times in your life you can lean on and you don’t worry about talking to him about it,” crew chief Steve Letarte said of Mr. H, in support of his driver’s opinion. “He’s given me a tremendous amount of advice without probably ever even knowing it. He’s just that kind of guy.”
“People don’t work at Hendrick Motorsports because we win races, people work at Hendrick Motorsports because they want to work for Rick Hendrick and that’s a big difference.”
Not Surprising: Jeff Gordon may not have won the race in spite of leading 63 laps, but he did achieve two career milestones as a result of his sixth place run in the GoBowling.com 400. The driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet broke the 24,000 career laps led mark and also achieved the milestone of leading 1,000 laps at Pocono Raceway.
“I’m really happy with the way our car performed,” Gordon said. “It’s just so awesome and encouraging and has got my confidence sky high. And I just can’t wait to get to the next race.”
Surprising: Tony Stewart and Paul Menard had a close encounter of the on-top-of-each-other-yet-again kind after a multi-car pileup on Lap 118.
“I told Tony the last time we did that was about two years ago at Talladega,” Menard, driver of the No. 27 Certainteed/Menards Chevrolet, said. “So, we have got to stop doing that.”
“Yeah, I tend to end up on Paul (Menard) a lot,” Stewart said, followed by a quick clarifying statement. “Car wise, our cars tend to end up on top of each other for some reason.”
“I think that is the second time I’ve landed on top of him,” Smoke continued. “This time at least we weren’t’ looking windshield in at each other.”
Not Surprising: For at least one driver, who officially locked himself into the Chase with his second place Pocono finish, there were lessons to be learned at the Tricky Triangle.
Kevin Harvick described his team’s biggest lesson learned as the ability to scramble after suffering damage in the multi-car wreck that sent their car into a drain and then the wall.
“Well, I think today was very important,” the driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Chevrolet said. “We didn’t have the car that we wanted, I felt like we had a top three car today, we were going to need track position and things were not really going well.”
“They were able to fix the car after we wrecked it,” Harvick continued. “So that’s what we talked about as we came back from the break was just scrambling, being able to scramble and get a finish of some sort to get something out of a day.”
“That’s what you’re going to have to do the last 10 weeks and today we were able to accomplish that and hopefully this is a good sign of things to come.”
Surprising: Danica Patrick and Jimmie Johnson had one surprising thing in common at Pocono. Both of their races were pretty much ruined by tire issues, which coincided with hitting the wall issues as well.
Six-time champ Johnson had his tires go down twice, once early in the race and the second time on lap 113, sending him into the wall.
Patrick actually hit the outside wall first on lap 14, which resulted in a severe tire rub. Just one lap later, her right-rear tire failed as she was trying to make her way to pit road.
Johnson finished 39th and Patrick ended her day in the 30th spot.
“Unfortunately, we had some trouble early and were able to really rally back and get ourselves in the top-five,” the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet said. “So disappointed for sure, but really unclear as to what happened going into Turn 2. The car went straight down into the Tunnel Turn.”
“I feel so badly that I started the problems when I hit the fence there in Turn 2,” the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet said. “I just wish I would have been smart enough to bring our GoDaddy Chevy to pit lane as soon as it happened, but sometimes tire rubs seem worse than what they are, so I stayed out there and we lost the tire.”
“I’m really disappointed, and I know all the guys are, too.”
Not Surprising: After scoring the pole with a new Pocono track record of 183.438 mph and 49.063 seconds, it was not surprising for rookie Kyle Larson to yet again score Rookie of the Race honors with his 12th place race run.
NASCAR Camping World Truck race winner and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Austin Dillon finished in the 15th position as the next highest rookie runner.
Surprising: While Kyle Busch is quite often the dominant Toyota, the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, exited early with some sort of engine issue and Clint Bowyer instead led the charge in his No. 15 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota Camry, finishing 4th.
“We had a good car all weekend and we unloaded good,” Bowyer said. “I’m proud of (Brian) Pattie (crew chief) and all these guys that work so hard.”
“It’s the work during the week, day in and day out, that makes the difference when you come to these weekends and it’s good to be getting a good finish.”
Not Surprising: Denny Hamlin, sans his regular crew chief Darian Grubb, deemed his substitute crew chief Mike Wheeler good after a top-10 finish at the Tricky Triangle.
“You know, he (Mike Wheeler) did a really good job,” the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota said. “He called the race nice. Good communication and we were on the same strategy as far as what I was thinking and what he was thinking so that was good.”
“So really pretty seamless for the most part.”
Surprising: Matt Kenseth’s predictions of Pocono not being the best track for him came true when he finished a disappointing 38th after having his car destroyed in the Pocono version of the ‘Big One.’
“It’s never been a wonderful track for me,” Kenseth said prophetically prior to the race. And after the race, he simply said. “We just got all collected.”
Not Surprising: There was at least one driver that was ready to accept his 15th place finish and head on to the road course at Watkins Glen for next weekend’s race.
“If you had asked me at the start of the day would I take a top-15 finish, I would have said yes but it was just a little frustrating there at the end,” Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 DeWalt Ford Said. “We had some issues and I probably let a few spots go, but we’ll keep digging and keep working on it.”
“It’s frustrating for all of us to not be as competitive at these downforce tracks as we want, but we’ve got a good one next week coming up and hopefully we can get rolling there.”