Kyle Busch was in a position to win his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup race on Sunday at Pocono as he was in the lead on the final lap at the giant 2.5-mile triangle when his Toyota began sputtering as he ran out of Sunoco fuel.
Busch wasn’t by himself as he actually inherited the lead after Joey Logano’s Ford ran out of gas with fewer than three laps left.
The race quickly turned into what is often referred to as “math” racing as crew chief after crew chief up and down pit road decided to start counting back from the advertised 160 laps of the event to minimize the number of times that they would have to bring their driver into the pits for fuel.
The crew chiefs actually showed their hands immediately after the command was given to start the engines as several drivers turned their cars off before they had to leave pit road for the parade laps to start saving gas.
The race was only in its sixth lap when Kasey Kahne brought out the first of what would be eight caution flags on the day that would total 32 laps. Kahne’s hit on the inside wall of pit road was so hard that it actually brought out the red flag. The last of the caution flags waved on lap 93 for four laps with the remaining 63 laps being caution free. Because the cautions came so close together early in the race, crew chiefs started to separate themselves from the rest of the field by leaving their drivers out during some cautions periods while other crew chiefs brought their drivers down pit road. Helping crew chiefs to make the decision to stay out during caution was the fact that Pocono is one of the few tracks on the entire Cup schedule that a driver can make a green flag pit stop without going a lap down.
The long stretch of green flag racing to end the race without the fuel saving laps under caution forced every diver to try and save as much fuel as he possibly could as the laps went off the board. Saving fuel is somewhat of an art form as some drivers are better at it than others but Pocono presents an unusual set of problems for drivers trying to save gas.
Pocono with the longest straightaway in the sport forces teams to shift during the race to protect the engine and shifting actually hurts gas mileage. One of the first things that a driver does to save fuel is to back off the gas a little earlier in the turns and let the car roll a little further coming out of the turn but Pocono has one less turn to do this with three.
Sometimes a driver’s ability to save gas depends on where he is in the field and that was the case on Sunday. Kyle Busch forced Logano to run out of gas as even though Busch was trying to save gas, he kept the pressure on Logano forcing him to run harder than he wanted but in the process both drivers ran out handing the lead and the win to Matt Kenseth. The Joe Gibbs driver had no chance of winning until that point so he was definitely in gas saving mode that gave him enough gas not only to take the checkered flag but to also conduct a good burnout.
It was the second win of the season for Kenseth as he won earlier in the year at Bristol but maybe the two biggest winners on the day were Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon. Both of these drivers have yet to win a race this season but would be in the Chase right now because of their positions in the points. McMurray’s 15th place finish put him 97 points ahead of Aric Almirola in 17th and Gordon’s third place finish put him 83 ahead of Almirola.
PIT NOTES: Kyle Busch is now only 13 points out of the top-30 that would make him eligible for the Chase because of his four wins. His anticipated move into the top-30 would knock Kasey Kahne from the Chase field as he sits on the bubble in the 16th spot in the points standings without a win.
Event: Cheez-It 355 at The Glen
Track: Watkins Glen International (2.45-mile road course, 11 turns banked 6o to 10o)
Date: August 9, 2:00 PM
Defending Champion: AJ Allmendinger