Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – Clint Bowyer capped a solid day at Pocono Raceway with a fifth-place finish in Sunday’s Pocono 400, but he was chagrined by a Lap 152 restart where he dropped two spots.
“I’m a little bit frustrated,” Bowyer acknowledged. “Wherever you came off Turn 1 is where you ran.”
The race left the Stewart-Haas cars still searching for the speed necessary to compete with the Joe Gibbs Racing contingent, and it left Bowyer wondering how to accumulate some stage points in the process. The No. 14 team was blanked in both the first and second stages of the race.
“We had a pretty good car,” said Bowyer, who scored 32 points for the event, compared with 45 for pole winner William Byron, who finished ninth but ran second in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2. “We had a third-to-fifth place car.
“That’s about what we had, and we did a good job finishing with what we had. We’re just giving up way too many stage points. We have to figure out how to get some stage points. That’s all we had today.”
ERIK JONES MATCHES SEASON-BEST FINISH. GAINS GROUND IN STANDINGS
Erik Jones was realistic.
He was well aware that the chances of overtaking Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch late in Sunday’s Pocono 400 were remote, too say the least.
To compound the challenge, Busch had fresher rubber, having taken four tires during his last pit stop on Lap 94 at Pocono Raceway. Jones, on the other hand, had taken right-side tires only on his pit stop a lap later—a strategic choice to gain track position.
Even though a late caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s contact with the outside wall in the Tunnel Turn stacked up the field for a restart on Lap 152, Jones knew the odds against taking down his teammate were long indeed.
But one can always hope.
“Well, yeah, you always want to think that way, but I think Kyle and I on four tires… if we were both on four tires, it would have been pretty even, but he had an advantage on tires there at the end,” Jones said. “We needed some track position, so we had to take two, and had it stayed green, we were going to run second, and we ended up third. You know, a good day overall.
“It would have really had to be a perfect scenario for us to win today, but we had a good car. The DeWalt Camry was fast, and it was fast all weekend. We’ve been doing it every week. We’ve just got to have things go our way and have a little luck on our side. Had some good luck today and some things play out the way we needed them, so hopefully that trend keeps rolling here the next couple months.”
Jones restarted next to Busch on Lap 152 but surrendered the second position to Brad Keselowski. Nevertheless, his third-place finish matched his best of the season.
More important, Jones moved from 17th to 15th in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings, now inside the Playoff cut line and one point ahead of both Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson.
STRATEGIC PLOY NETS TOP-FIVE FINISH FOR CHASE ELLIOTT
With three laps left in the second stage of Sunday’s Pocono 400, Chase Elliott tossed away 10 stage points and a Playoff point.
But it wasn’t a mistake. Though Elliott held the lead at Pocono Raceway at the time, pitting was a big-picture decision, because it produced a significant gain in track position when most of the lead-lap cars came to pit road after the stage ended.
Elliott restarted fifth on Lap 106 and improved one spot by the time the race ended 55 laps later. Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, had the luxury to make that call, given that Elliott already had a race win at Talladega and a guaranteed spot in the postseason Playoffs.
“Playing the strategy game was really important,” Elliott said. “Pitting before the stages (ended) was giving up stage points doing that, but ultimately having track position in the back half (of the race) was where it was worth it. Luckily, Alan and our group saw that earlier in the race, and we kind of jumped on board with that strategy.
“It worked out for a top five. I’m proud of the effort. We’ve had some good NAPA Chevrolets the last couple of weeks. We’ve been good, just not great, and you have to be great to win these things. I’ll go to work and try to do a better job, and we’ll see what we can do next week.”