It was clear from the outset of today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam’s RV Insurance 500 that all three Joe Gibbs Racing entries brought a car capable of winning at Pocono Raceway. Indeed, all three teammates would share the lead through most of the day, but separate late-race incidents would keep each of them from their desired finish. Kyle Busch would lead JGR with a second-place finish, while Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano were forced to settle for 15th and 26th respectively.
Kyle Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in the 11th position and was fast through the early going as he made his way up into the sixth spot just a dozen laps into the race. Despite being fast, Busch felt he was just a bit tight and was attempting a few techniques to loosen his Camry up a bit when he got loose and spun coming out of turn three on lap 12. Busch did a great job saving his No. 18 Toyota from any real damage as he spun down into the entrance of pit road. The result was a penalty from NASCAR for pitting illegally under the caution, but the M&Ms crew was able to give him four fresh tires and put him back on the track. The penalty forced Busch to restart at the rear of the field on lap 17, but the setback only proved to be an opportunity to show just how fast his M&Ms Camry was this day. Busch was all the way up to 15th by lap 24, entered the top 10 just a few laps later and by lap 55 he had ascended all the way up into second place behind only his teammate Denny Hamlin. Busch would take the top spot briefly just prior to the midpoint of the race before settling in just behind his teammate once again following a round of green flag pit stops. Crew chief Dave Rogers would call for a four-tire stop under caution on lap 102 that left the No. 18 Camry to restart in the fifth position on lap 104. Busch would slide up on spot shortly after the restart into fourth as he sought to chase down his teammates Logano and Hamlin who were running first and second respectively at the time. Rain brought out a red flag on lap 124 and following a lengthy delay and a round of pit stops, Busch would find himself in the fifth position when the race finally restarted. He would move up into the second spot behind his brother Kurt shortly after the restart and held that position until he was able to grab the lead with 38 laps remaining. He would hold that lead through the final round of green flag pit stops, but a final caution flag with 20 laps remaining would allow the field to bunch up for one final restart with 15 laps to go. Busch would choose the inside lane on the final restart, but lost his momentum when Jimmie Johnson made contact with the No. 18 Camry from behind. Busch would recover to settle in behind the No. 2 car of Brad Keselowski, but was unable to claim the top spot from him. It was still an impressive day for the M&Ms team with Busch leading 27 laps en route to his second-place finish.
Denny Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota from the sixth position and wasted no time in moving toward the front of the field. Hamlin, who entered the day as a four-time winner at the tricky triangle, would climb into the second position behind his teammate Joey Logano by lap 8. He would take his first lead on lap 25 and once again proved to have one of the strongest cars on the track. Crew chief Mike Ford would call for a four-tire stop while under caution on lap 102 and with several teams only taking two tires it put Hamlin back in the fourth spot on the lap 104 restart. He would gain two spots on the restart and settle into second behind his teammate Logano. Hamlin would lose one spot to Jimmie Johnson just before rain forced a red flag stop of the race on lap 124. After a long red flag stop, the field would come back down pit road just prior to the restart on lap 131. When the green flag finally waived again Hamlin would be in the 8th position. He would manage to race his way up to the fifth spot, but loose conditions on his No. 11 Camry would make it difficult for him to gain more ground on the leaders. The team would make an adjustment during a round of green flag pit stops with 27 laps remaining and Hamlin was racing in the seventh position until a caution flag came out with 20 laps to go. The team made the decision to come down pit road for a two-tire change, but trouble on the right rear tire cost the FedEx team valuable track position leaving them toward the back of the field for the restart on lap 185. Thus despite leading a race-high 65 laps on the day, Hamlin would be forced to settle for a 15th-place finish.
Joey Logano started the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the top spot after an impressive qualifying lap on Saturday morning to earn the pole position. Logano got a good start and would lead the field for the first 17 laps of the race. Much like his teammates, Logano proved to have an extremely fast car and spent much of the first half of the race battling inside the top five. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli would call for a two-tire stop while pitting under caution with the rest of the leaders on lap 102, with great work by The Home Depot team allowing Logano to claim the top spot for the race restart on lap 104. Despite running with only two fresh tires, Logano would hold off the other leaders that had chosen to take four tires on the previous stop. He would lead the next 20 laps before a red flag came out on lap 124 due to heavy rain at Pocono Raceway. The red flag stop lasted nearly two hours and when it was lifted, the No. 20 Camry would come down pit road for a four-tire change prior to the restart. Logano would find himself in the fourth position when the race started again and he quickly battled his way up to the second position. However, the rain changed the track at Pocono and left his Home Depot Camry with tight handling conditions shortly after the restart. He would come down pit road for a final adjustment under green flag conditions with 28 laps remaining in hopes of loosening his car up for a final run. When the day’s final caution came out with 20 laps remaining The Home Depot team elected not to pit allowing Logano to restart sixth with 15 laps to go. Unfortunately Logano never had an opportunity to compete for the race win over the final laps as a cut right rear tire forced him back down pit road for fresh tires. By the time he was able to get back onto the track he would find himself toward the back of the field. The result from the late-race misfortune was a disappointing 26th-place finish for Logano, who had led 44 laps in car capable of winning the race.
Keselowski captured the victory, while Busch was second, Kurt Busch third, Jimmie Johnson fourth, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. There were five cautions for a total of 21 laps and 23 lead changes among 10 different drivers over the course of the 200-lap race.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will go road course racing next weekend from Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, NY. Coverage of the race will start on Sunday, August 14 at Noon ET on ESPN (race starts at 1 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius Radio NASCAR channel 90 and MRN Radio.