Kurt Busch wins delayed race at Pocono
Kurt Busch celebrates in victory lane at Pocono Raceway after winning the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 on June 7, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
When the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., finally took the green flag midday on Monday after being postponed 23 hours because of rain and dense fog at the track on Sunday, Kurt Busch made his way to victory lane for the first time in nearly a year, winning for the first time since a victory last June at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
“This is a wonderful win for us,” Busch said. “We have been so close all year. It’s a matter of just putting it all together — pit crew, engine. Thanks to Hendrick engines and Chevrolet and everybody that works on these bodies, the chassis, you name it. It’s just so much fun to drive and to be competitive and to be up front. Thanks a lot.”
The win came with interim crew chief John Klausmeier atop the pit box. Busch’s regular crew chief, Tony Gibson, was one of three crew chiefs suspended for at least one race because of a rules infraction last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.
“Well, it’s special anytime you win,” Busch said. “For Tony Gibson to be out this week because of a lug nut issue, we had to overcome a lot. Johnny Klausmeier, our interim crew chief, our lead engineer — he stepped up, and when you do that, it makes you really feel about that team comradery, that team chemistry and that team effort.”
Busch led the final 32 laps of the 160-lap race after taking the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last restart. Earnhardt finished second. Brad Keselowski was third, and Chase Elliott finished fourth after leading a race-high 51 laps. Joey Logano rounded out the top-five.
Neither Earnhardt nor Busch led the race until Jimmie Johnson got into the wall on a restart on lap 122. When the race restarted for the final time with 33 laps to go, Earnhardt and Elliott restarted in first and second, while Busch restarted fourth. As soon as the race returned to green, Busch got up to second and then quickly got by Earnhardt for the lead.
“I should have been able to hold that No. 41 (Busch) off on that final restart,” Earnhardt said. “Me and the No. 24 (Elliott) was racing pretty hard, and it gave the No. 41 the opportunity to get a run on us. I should have been able to defend that a little bit better. If I could have got in front of him, I don’t think he would have got by us. The car wasn’t all we hoped it would be, but it was good. They worked on it and improved it.”
Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano started the race on the front row, and Logano took the lead from pole sitter Keselowski on lap one. He led the first 17 laps before varying pit strategies shuffled him outside the top-five during a competition caution. Soon after, Keselowski was penalized when NASCAR determined that a crew member made an illegal body modification on a pit stop and Logano lost positions after an incident with Ryan Newman on a restart. Both eventually recovered to return to the top-five.
Kyle Larson stayed out during the competition caution and inherited the lead, and Matt Kenseth moved from second to third on the restart. Kenseth assumed the lead and Elliott moved up to second when Larson made a scheduled green-flag pit stop on lap 27.
Kevin Harvick was assessed a pit-road speeding penalty early in the race but raced his way back toward the front and then took the lead by staying out as his fellow-competitors cycled through green-flag pit stops on lap 54. Harvick was able to stay out during the cycle after getting on a different pit sequence. He gave up the lead to Kenseth to pit during a caution on lap 59.
Elliott took the lead from Kenseth on the restart and dominated the middle portion of the race. He lost the lead for the final time during a lap 117 yellow flag when a pit strategy of taking four tires shuffled him outside the top-five while others took fuel only and two tires only.
“I’m just really proud of the car we had today,” Elliott said. “What a fast NAPA Chevy and had a car that could compete for the lead all day. There were definitely times we were better than others. I wish once we had taken a couple of those green flags after the cautions, we could have got going and ran some laps. That is not how the day unfolded, so we will take it and move on.”
Kasey Kahne finished sixth, Kenseth seventh, Carl Edwards eighth, Harvick ninth, and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-10.