Pocono Rear View Mirror

Dale Jr.

Pistone: "Throw in Earnhardt Jr. trying to fulfill some truly inspired pit strategy by crew chief Steve Letarte, a late race caution and a dash to the checkered flag and race number two at Pocono this year delivered the goods." (Photo: Getty Images)

This is not your father’s Pocono Raceway.

A track that had built a reputation as a unique but to be fair at times lackluster stop on the NASCAR schedule was anything but that on Sunday.

In fact ever since Pocono trimmed its Sprint Cup race lengths to 400 miles and underwent a repave of the 2.5-mile speedway, things has picked up considerably at the “Tricky Triangle.” That was again the case in this year’s edition of the GoBowling.com 400.

From the opening laps “slide for life” save by Brad Keselowski to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s exhilarating win to give him a Pocono sweep in 2014, The 21st race of the Sprint Cup Series season delivered.

After a scintillating start to the year when a parade of different drivers visited Victory Lane in a string of exciting, entertaining and compelling races things have leveled off in the middle summer months of the schedule.

But that changed Sunday in a race that had enough “water cooler” moments for a Hinkley and Schmidt annual meeting.

Crazy pit strategies? Check. Side-by-side racing? Yep. How about a multi-car crash worthy of a day at Talladega? Sure thing.

Throw in Earnhardt Jr. trying to fulfill some truly inspired pit strategy by crew chief Steve Letarte, a late race caution and a dash to the checkered flag and race number two at Pocono this year delivered the goods.

Superman’s Bizarro World has nothing on NASCAR racing these days where suddenly Pocono has become a must-see stop on the schedule.

  • The rough patch of the regular season continued for Jimmie Johnson Sunday. First the Hendrick Motorsports driver slapped the wall early in the race and fell back in the field laps down to the field. But in pure 48 team fashion Johnson rallied back and worked his way into the top five until trouble struck again this time in what appeared to be yet another tire issue, a reoccurring theme for the six-time champion this season. There’s a distinct possibility crew chief Chad Knaus, with three wins in hand and a Chase spot secured, is trying some things to be used when the championship run begins. And we’ve seen Johnson have bad finishes to wind down the regular season (last year for instance) but is fine once the Chase begins. Regardless it has still been a strange couple months.
  • There might be some nervous folks at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota after Kyle Busch exited the race early with an engine problem. Perhaps the issue was an isolated one but on the other hand its no secret Toyota teams have dealt with horsepower issues this season and turning things up a notch (or two) is needed to keep up with the potent engines at Hendrick and Penske. The final autopsy on Busch’s power plant will be interesting.
  • Greg Biffle’s fifth place finish was by far the best performance of the day for the beleaguered Roush Fenway Racing team. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 18th while Carl Edwards posted a 29th place finish to continue the frustrating trend for the team. Biffle will be the leader of the organization next year when Edwards moves on and Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne fill out the Sprint Cup stable so ending the year on an up note will go a long way for the 16 team to take over the anchor role in 2015.
  • If you’re someone who doesn’t like the term “points racing,” you may not like what’s ahead over the next five races of the regular season. Earnhardt’s victory kept the number of winners this year at 11 and the balance of the Chase field will be filled out by the standings. A win still gets you in so the opportunity to automatically punch your ticket to the playoffs exists at Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond. But it’s looking more and more like consistency and coming out of each week with a solid points effort will determine a good chunk of the drivers eligible for the new-look Chase.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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