We all tune in for the potential excitement, but the storylines set up the race. At Pocono, we witnessed Jimmie Johnson make his 600th career start. We wondered if the Big Three would dominate yet again. We also wondered how the bad boys, and maybe a few bad girls back at the shop, would fare after 13 cars failed post-qualifying tech.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were the best qualifying, but the penalty sent them both beyond 25th when they dropped the green. Same for Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano. Would that cripple the chances of four of the top handful of contenders on Sunday? Nope.
Daniel Suarez needed a win to make the Chase, and he inherited the pole. He looked good and he was part of the conversation most of the day. However, it was Harvick who opened the discussion as he charged from 29th to claim the second spot after the opening stage. Up front was Chase Elliott, who once again went charging to glory like Slim Pickens riding an atomic bomb to detonation to claim it. Suarez had to settle for fifth best, right behind Rowdy and just ahead of Bowyer.
Next stage, it was Harvick getting the nod, swapping spots with Jones, with Bowyer just behind them. However, some decided to forgo the stage points to hit the pits and grab position just before they closed the service lane. The question remained, would Harvick, Elliott, and Bowyer do better with their strategy than the likes of Kyle Busch, Jones, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. or Suarez?
It did not seem so, as the younger Busch sat on point and allowed the rest to try to track him down. Harvick was out of the mix after a collision on pit road with teammate Aric Almirola. That forced him to return more than once to ensure the damage was truly corrected.
The scariest moment came when Bubba Wallace saw a brake rotor go to pieces, sending him on a wild run through the grass in a bid to scrape off some speed before making hard impact with the outside wall, on the passenger side, when he ran out of lawn. He got out under his own power, but he needed a moment to get all his marbles settled. Wallace will be fine, but he will be a hurting unit for a couple of days.
Back to the racing, nobody had anything for Busch as even a couple of re-starts, including a green-white-checkers finale, was not going to change how this one was scripted. His 49th career win ties him with Tony Stewart as he successfully defends his Pocono summer title. Suarez was second, behind his teammate, followed by Bowyer and his teammate, one Mr. Harvick. Jones finished fifth, while Elliott had to settle for eighth. As for Truex, 15th was his fate while early front-end damage caused Logano to limp home in 26th.
Kyle claimed his sixth season win in taking 47 points on the day. Harvick did him five better in that department, with Elliott adding 48 to his tally, 43 for Alex Bowman, and Suarez got 41. Unfortunately, points do not matter for him at this point in the season. A win would be everything.
Despite it all, the only meaningful change in the standings has Elliott moving 21 points ahead of Johnson for 14th in the standings, while Bowman has increased his margin over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard for 16th. That is fine, depending on how Watkins Glen turns out next Sunday.
That is your storyline for next week, even more so than anything the Big Three might or might not do. Truex won there last year, but four years ago the man was A.J. Allmendinger. A win for him next week, and he takes Bowman’s spot and drops Johnson down to being the man on the bubble.
If a Top 16 driver wins next Sunday then, well, I hope the action proves to be riveting and you enjoy the broadcast on NBC. As for the story, the ending will probably be very familiar.