Three Big Stories: Pocono

After the Pocono double, the crossed flags are out on the 2021 season.

With both the Pocono Organics CBD 325 and the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 in the books, there’s no shortage of storylines in the NASCAR Cup Series. Is Alex Bowman inching towards the next step in his development? Fuel mileage races (that’s the sentence). Kyle Larson‘s hot streak falls flat, thanks to a flat. NASCAR missed a huge opportunity to run both high and low downforce during the Pocono double-header.

So without further adieu, let’s delve into the Three Big Stories of Pocono Raceway.

Three Big Stories: Pocono

1a. When does Alex Bowman take the next step?

LONG POND, Pa. – JUNE 26: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway on June 26, 2021, in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Photo:Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Three wins.

The journeyman driver now has three wins in the 2021 season.

None of which he dominated. Saturday’s victory came when Larson cut a tire just a few hundred yards from the finish line.

So unlike Larson, I can’t definitively say Bowman’s an elite driver, yet.

And it’s not from a lack of talent. In the last five years, from Phoenix in 2016 and his career revival at Hendrick Motorsports, I’ve seen what Bowman can do in great equipment. Take his fight for the win with Larson in the closing laps. Even with a slower car, he held off Larson’s charge point-for-point, taking the air off him in Turns 2 and 3, while plowing in Turn 1. Though I don’t know how much that’s on the high-downforce package (more on that, later).

I feel like Bowman’s knocking on the door, or fixing to bust through. If just once or twice in the next few weeks, he puts on a clinic from start to finish and wins, then I can say he’s there.

Chase Elliott got there, last season, Larson got there in the last month and William Byron isn’t too far, either.

1b. Fuel mileage races aren’t extinct

LONG POND, Pa. – JUNE 27: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Mini’s Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 at Pocono Raceway on June 27, 2021, in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

With the introduction of electronic fuel injection, fuel mileage races became rarer and rarer, thanks to more precise fuel calculations. NASCAR hasn’t helped the matter with adjusting stage lengths, either.

Sunday was the exception to the rule.

After Brad Keselowski pitted with nine laps to go, it was a race to see who saved the most gas. With four laps to go, Byron radioed that he had “low fuel pressure,” and pitted the next lap by. With two laps to go, Denny Hamlin ran out and pitted.

As other cars dropped like flies, Kyle Busch saved just enough to score his 59th NASCAR Cup Series victory.

At a track like Pocono, where overtaking is at more of a premium than at any other track, it’s good to see old fashioned pit strategy factor into the outcome of a race.

Three Big Stories: Pocono

2. Kyle Larson’s hot streak falls flat

LONG POND, Pa. – JUNE 26: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, drives with a flat tire on the final turn of the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway on June 26, 2021, in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

Just a few hundred yards.

Larson was just a few hundred yards from becoming the seventh driver in the modern era of the NASCAR Cup Series to win four straight points races.

But then he felt something was wrong in Turn 2, and a tire shredded coming towards Turn 3. Thus, he drifted up into the wall and hit it.

He limped across the line to ninth.

It’s a brutal way to lose a sure-fire victory. Though given his run Saturday and his runner-up, Sunday, he left Pocono with the best outcome in that scenario. Especially when he only lost three points on Hamlin.

Three Big Stories: Pocono

3. Missed opportunity to run multiple packages

LONG POND, Pa. – JUNE 27: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 at Pocono Raceway on June 27, 2021, in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images

With back-to-back races at the same track, NASCAR missed a golden opportunity to run one race with the high-downforce package and the other with the low-downforce package. With both races having similar climate conditions, it would’ve been a great case study for which package runs best at a track like Pocono.

But instead, we got the same, maddeningly inconsistent and frustrating racing that comes with the high-downforce package. With it, we got cars that more often than not couldn’t overtake the race leader, even if the trailing car had a faster car (like the aforementioned example with Larson and Bowman), and waiting for someone to let off the gas longer than you to get a run (also with the aforementioned Larson and Bowman example).

Neither race were bad, but they were good in spite of the high-downforce package. Not because of them.

TOP IMAGE: Sean Gardner/Getty Images


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