Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – Even the drivers who beat him to the checkered flag acknowledged that Kevin Harvick had the fastest car in Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway.
But with a litany of issues to overcome, Harvick could do no better than fourth behind race winner Kyle Busch, runner-up Daniel Suarez and third-place finisher Alex Bowman.
After he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s time trials, Harvick’s car failed inspection, and his time was disallowed, bumping the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to 29th in the starting order.
It didn’t take the six-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner long to race his way to the front. Harvick won the second stage, but pit strategy by the Toyota camp left him ninth for the final-stage restart on Lap 106.
Contact with teammate Aric Almirola damaged the No. 4 Ford, and Harvick had to make multiple trips to pit road to repair the sheet metal. Though he raced his way to fourth at the finish—nearly catching Bowman on the last lap—Harvick was disappointed with the result.
“It was eventful,” Harvick said wryly. “I think we went to the back twice and made our way back to the front each time. We made a good race out of it, but it’s hard to swallow on a day like that when our Mobil 1 Ford was the class of the field.
“You never know what is going to happen on these days. It’s hard to put them together, and you win some and lose some.”
ALEX BOWMAN LEADS HENDRICK CHARGE WITH CAREER-BEST RESULT
Alex Bowman finished third in Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway, a high-water mark in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
Teammate William Byron came home sixth, also a career best for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender.
And with Chase Elliott finishing seventh, Hendrick Motorsports placed three drivers in the top 10 for the first time since October of last year at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Bowman was fourth for the final restart in overtime, but grabbed third at the stripe, narrowly holding off six-time winner Kevin Harvick.
“Obviously it was a great points day for us, but on top of that, it’s proof that we’re improving each and every week and continually getting better,” Bowman said. “Obviously, we’re not doing it as quickly as we want to, but days like today make all the hard work for the guys back at the shop, the engine shop, the chassis shop, body shop, the whole road crew—days like today make it worth it.
“Very glad, especially considering how bad we were when we started the weekend and how bad we qualified. To come out of here with a solid top five is a great day. Obviously, wish it would have been a little better, but I think we kind of had Pocono circled as a place that we thought we had pretty good race cars, and the 9 (Elliott) was really good, especially last race. We knew we were going to be pretty strong here.”
It showed, and the performance left Bowman 15th in the series standings, enhancing his Playoff prospects.
ERIK JONES GOES FOR THE WIN—AND FINISHES FIFTH
Erik Jones made an all-or-nothing move in an overtime restart in Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Teammate Kyle Busch led the field to green on Lap 163, with another teammate, Daniel Suarez, to his inside. Rather than push Suarez, Jones opted to take Busch and Suarez three-wide into Turn 1, but pinned to the inside, Jones ultimately slipped back to fifth at the finish.
“I think at that point, if I stayed and pushed the 19 (Suarez), I run the same spot I do now,” Jones said. “I mean, if we make the move we did, we at least had a shot, and we have a chance to go down there and clear, so we had to do what we had to do to win, and that was our one chance in the Reser’s Camry.
“It just didn’t work out, so still, a good, top-five day. We ran up in the top-five all day and just had a good car, so need to probably be a little bit better. I think the 4 (Kevin Harvick) was the class of the field today, but, you know, it was good to run up there in the top five and lead some laps.”
With Busch winning, Suarez running second and Denny Hamlin finishing 10th, Joe Gibbs Racing placed all four of its cars in the top 10.