NASCAR: Round 21 – Pocono – Aug 1

Greg Biffle won at last weekend’s Sprint Cup race in Pocono, delivering the first win for Ford and team owner Jack Roush this season – and giving Roush a big boost as he recovers in hospital from injuries sustained in a plane crash the week before.

The event was dogged by rain, which delayed the start by some 36 minutes and then delayed the restart after a serious accident on lap 165 brought out the red flag, but in the end the race ran to full 200 lap length before the chequered flag came out.

Tony Stewart led at the start but was soon overtaken by Jeff Gordon, who claimed the lead through to the first yellow on lap 16, a competition caution scheduled by NASCAR to allow the teams to see how the tyres were wearing because the track had been washed of its rubber by the rain.

After the restart, Greg Biffle briefly took the lead before Jimmie Johnson passed them both and pulled out a good lead over them as the race settled down for a length green flag period that lasted through pit stops around lap 80 and was only brought to an end on lap 121 for debris on turn 2. At the restart, Biffle led Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Johnson and Stewart. Gordon got the better of Biffle and led through to the next debris-inspired caution on lap 145 – the debris in question was the radiator pan form the 18 of Kyle Busch, which meant that he had a length stop on pit road to effect repairs.

Juan Montoya had pitted unexpectedly early just before the yellow but had avoided going a lap down, so by not coming in again during the caution it was he who led Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who took only two tyres), Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick at the restart on lap 150. Montoya and Gordon fought hard for the lead as rain seemed to be closing in, threatening an abrupt end to the race and the possibility of a rain-shortened result: Gordon just managed to see off Montoya when the caution flags came out again on lap 158 for a spin by Earnhardt Jr. that put him into the wall.

The race did get underway again, with Gordon still in the lead, but this time ran only 3 laps before Jimmie Johnson made contact with Kurt Busch on the main straight as the two battled over tenth place with Clint Bowyer. Busch was spun, made contact with Bowyer, and ended up running across the infield grass to make heft contact with the inside wall.

More seriously, behind them Elliott Sadler had been caught out by the inevitable reactions to the crash and got rear-ended. He ended up going across the infield as well, but where Kurt had made side impact with the wall, Sadler ended up running into it head on and at disturbingly highspeed: he also managed to make contact at the exact point of the wall where it inflected, creating a dangerous ‘corner’ that the car aimed straight into. The effect on the car was catastrophic, the entire front demolished and the huge powerful Ford engine ejected onto the track.

A red flag was thrown to allow the extensive clear-up; as for the driver, Sadler quickly had his side netting down (indicating he was okay) but then seemed to grimace in pain as he extracted himelf, and then had to lie down on the track next to the wreck of his car once he was out. But it turned out that he’d just had the breath literally knocked out of him: “I’m okay. I’m a little sore,” he said. “It was probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had in a race car,” he added, continuing: “I’m a little sore through my chest and my stomach, but that’s from where the seatbelts did their job and grabbed me and kept me in the car, so I’m thankful for that.”

Johnson took the blame for the accident, explaining that it was a botched attempt at helping Kurt to bump-draft. “So, we did make some contact. I was just trying to bump draft him. He was already wobbling and I bumped him and then it was wobbling some more and then eventually it did a lazy turn to the right and into the wall.”

Kurt was far from pleased and said Johnson had attempted to drive “straight through” him, leading Johnson to respond: “Kurt isn’t very fond of me, he never has been,” adding: “I think when he has a chance to take a shot at me, he will probably do so. But certainly nothing intentional and if he would like to talk about it, I’m more than willing to talk about [it].”

The red flag initially lasted half an hour, and then the cars were sent back out again and cycled through their pit stops: Sam Hornish Jr. opted to stay out, gambling on the rain returning to put an end to the day with him at the head of the field – and it nearly worked, with the track being forced back to red again for another brief period before the weather finally relented and conditions dried enough to restart the race.

Hornish was quickly dispatched, and Biffle emerged as the leader ahead of Carl Edwards and Mark Martin after all three opted to take just two tyres during their stops; Tony Stewart, by contrast, had fallen back to 11th place behind Kevin Harvick after opting to go for the full set of four tyres, and he put his foot down in an attempt to use the fresh rubber to his advantage and slice through the field in pursuit of Biffle.

But in clear air, Biffle was uncatchable, pulling out a five second lead by lap 190. With no further cautions coming out, and the rain staying away to allow them to make it to lap 200, Biffle’s attempt to gain access to victory road was triumphant – his 15th Sprint Car win but more importantly his first since 2008 following a 64-race drought. All that was forgotten, and he quickly learned how to celebrate a win at Pocono.

Race results

Pos  Driver              Car        Laps
 1.  Greg Biffle         Ford        200
 2.  Tony Stewart        Chevrolet   200
 3.  Carl Edwards        Ford        200
 4.  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet   200
 5.  Denny Hamlin        Toyota      200
 6.  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet   200
 7.  Mark Martin         Chevrolet   200
 8.  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet   200
 9.  Martin Truex Jr     Toyota      200
10.  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet   200
11.  Sam Hornish Jr      Dodge       200
12.  Ryan Newman         Chevrolet   200
13.  Paul Menard         Ford        200
14.  David Ragan         Ford        200
15.  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet   200
16.  Juan Montoya        Chevrolet   200
17.  David Reutimann     Toyota      200
18.  Matt Kenseth        Ford        200
19.  Kasey Kahne         Ford        200
20.  Brad Keselowski     Dodge       200
21.  Regan Smith         Chevrolet   200
22.  Jamie McMurray      Chevrolet   200
23.  Kyle Busch          Toyota      200
24.  A.J. Allmendinger   Ford        200
25.  Joey Logano         Toyota      200
26.  Scott Speed         Toyota      200
27.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Chevrolet   199
28.  Bobby Labonte       Chevrolet   199
29.  Travis Kvapil       Ford        199
30.  David Gilliland     Ford        198
31.  Kevin Conway        Ford        198
32.  Reed Sorenson       Toyota      171
33.  Kurt Busch          Dodge       164
34.  Elliott Sadler      Ford        163
35.  P.J. Jones          Toyota       63
36.  Casey Mears         Chevrolet    62
37.  Todd Bodine         Toyota       49
38.  J.J. Yeley          Dodge        48
39.  Marcos Ambrose      Toyota       46
40.  Joe Nemechek        Toyota       42
41.  Landon Cassill      Chevrolet    32
42.  Dave Blaney         Toyota       24
43.  Michael McDowell    Toyota       23

Sprint Cup standings

	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	
Pos +/- DRIVER                Pts   BEHIND  ST  P  W  T5 T10
1   --  Kevin Harvick         3080  Leader  21  0  2  10 15 
2   --  Jeff Gordon           2891  -189    21  0  0  10 12 
3   --  Denny Hamlin          2820  -260    21  0  5  8  9  
4   --  Jimmie Johnson        2803  -277    21  0  5  8  12 
5   +2  Jeff Burton           2757  -323    21  0  0  4  11 
6   --  Kyle Busch            2724  -356    21  2  2  5  10 
7   -2  Kurt Busch            2722  -358    21  2  2  7  12 
8   +1  Tony Stewart          2719  -361    21  2  0  6  11 
9   -1  Matt Kenseth          2682  -398    21  0  0  4  8  
10  --  Carl Edwards          2666  -414    21  0  0  3  10 
11  --  Greg Biffle           2652  -428    21  0  1  4  12 
12  --  Clint Bowyer          2564  -516    21  0  0  3  11 
====== CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS ======
13  --  Mark Martin           2530  -550    21  1  0  5  7  
14  --  Dale Earnhardt Jr.    2435  -645    21  1  0  2  6  
15  --  Ryan Newman           2426  -654    21  1  1  2  6  
16  +1  Kasey Kahne           2396  -684    21  1  0  5  7  
17  -1  Jamie McMurray        2392  -688    21  3  2  6  7  
18  --  David Reutimann       2381  -699    21  0  1  4  4  
19  --  Joey Logano           2329  -751    21  1  0  2  8  
20  --  Martin Truex Jr.      2283  -797    21  1  0  1  5  
21  +1  Juan Montoya          2241  -839    21  2  0  4  8  
22  -1  A.J. Allmendinger     2227  -853    21  1  0  0  3  
23  --  Paul Menard           2226  -854    21  0  0  1  3  
24  --  David Ragan           2060  -1020   21  0  0  0  1  
25  --  Brad Keselowski       2039  -1041   21  0  0  0  0  
26  --  Scott Speed           2011  -1069   21  0  0  0  2  
27  +2  Sam Hornish Jr.       1903  -1177   21  0  0  0  0  
28  -1  Marcos Ambrose        1885  -1195   21  0  0  0  2  
29  -1  Elliott Sadler        1860  -1220   21  0  0  0  0  
30  --  Regan Smith           1763  -1317   21  0  0  0  0  
31  --  Bobby Labonte         1616  -1464   21  0  0  0  0  
32  +1  Travis Kvapil         1470  -1610   20  0  0  0  0  
33  -1  Robby Gordon          1438  -1642   18  0  0  1  1  
34  --  Kevin Conway*         1369  -1711   20  0  0  0  0  
35  --  David Gilliland       1333  -1747   17  0  0  0  0  
36  --  Brian Vickers         1158  -1922   11  0  0  0  3  
37  +1  Joe Nemechek          854   -2226   20  0  0  0  0  
38  -1  David Stremme         825   -2255   11  0  0  0  0  
39  --  Mike Bliss            799   -2281   11  0  0  0  2  
40  --  Max Papis             770   -2310   16  0  0  0  0  
41  --  Dave Blaney           699   -2381   17  0  0  0  0  
42  +1  Casey Mears           654   -2426   9   0  0  0  0  
43  -1  Bill Elliott          609   -2471   7   0  0  0  0  
44  +1  Reed Sorenson         560   -2520   8   0  0  0  1  
45  +1  J.J. Yeley            545   -2535   9   0  0  0  0  
46  -2  Michael McDowell      542   -2538   14  0  0  0  0  
47  --  Boris Said            399   -2681   5   0  0  0  1  
48  +1  Todd Bodine           273   -2807   6   0  0  0  0  
49  -1  Robert Richardson Jr. 249   -2831   3   0  0  0  0  
50  --  Michael Waltrip       200   -2880   3   0  0  0  0  
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