Ryan: Three thoughts on Sunday’s race at Pocono
1 - The title favorites are clear …: A week after finishing 1-2 at Dover International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson (third) and Kevin Harvick (second) again made the case for why the pecking order in Sprint Cup starts with their Chevrolets, which overcame the type of adversity that tests every championship contender.
Johnson rallied from a flat tire to score his eighth top-three finish through 14 races – a career-best start to a Sprint Cup season for the six-time series champion. But even that wasn’t enough to match Harvick, who battled through a lack of power on restarts for his 10th top two – tying Bobby Allison (1972) for the most to open a year. With the equivalent equipment of Hendrick Motorsports chassis and engines, the California duo have the talent and the teams to lay claim to half the available slots in the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
2 - … yet Hendrick can be conquered: Martin Truex Jr.’s win snapped a five-race winning streak for Hendrick at Pocono Raceway, where an emphasis on horsepower and aerodynamics ensure that only the strongest teams rise to the top. Truex’s Furniture Row Racing has proved that its Denver-based operation has joined the elite, leading the most laps in four consecutive races.
Though he had a horrid first season with the team, Truex has picked up where Kurt Busch left off in 2013 when he brought the team its first Chase berth but didn’t win during his only season with Furniture Row. Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn, who excised the demons of recent strategy gaffes by calling a tactically sound race at Pocono, now seem poised to make a deep run into the playoffs – becoming the lead car for Richard Childress Racing’s engine shop despite being 1,500 miles from its North Carolina hub.
3 - ... but only by another Chevrolet: The bowtie brigade claimed six of the top eight spots at Pocono amid signs that Toyota seems to be making only incremental gains and Fords seem to be regressing – highlighted by the necessity of strategy gambles to gain position by the Team Penske tandem of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, who couldn’t keep pace otherwise.
Keselowski complained about a lack of straightaway speed in his Fusion and said while his team did well making the most of the No. 2, “all the other parts need a lot of work.” Logano finished a best-in-class fourth and also said his No. 22 needed to figure out how to catch up to Truex and Harvick.
It wasn’t much better for the Camrys of Joe Gibbs Racing, which topped out in sixth with Matt Kenseth. Though Carl Edwards (15th) led 16 laps early in the race, it was clear JGR’s cars couldn’t navigate traffic as well as the Chevys. Pocono kicks off the grueling summer stretch during which teams are scrambling to improve their performance while barnstorming around the country. If the Toyota and Ford teams don’t have their cars turned around by the mid-August race in Michigan, it could be a Chevy-dominated Chase.