(Ford Racing Public Relations)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Greg Biffle for the lead with 14 laps to go and then held on after a restart with three circuits remaining to win Sunday’s Go Bowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway and complete a sweep of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at the Pennsylvania track this season.
It was an eventful 400 miles with the tone being set on the very first lap when Ford’s Brad Keselowski, who appeared headed to victory in the first Pocono event in June before a hot dog wrapper ruined that chance, got sideways and nearly hit the wall after running on the inside of Kurt Busch. The incident forced Keselowski from third to 12th and he spent the rest of the race trying to regain that lost track position.
While Keselowski was trying to recover, fellow Team Penske driver Joey Logano set sail from the outside pole position and led the first 30 laps before pitting under yellow. A number of different pit strategies took place during the early stages of the event, but the middle portion belonged to Jeff Gordon, who led a race-high 63 laps.
The complexion of the race took another turn when a 13-car accident happened on lap 118 that ended the day for Aric Almirola. Carl Edwards was also forced to the garage and Keselowski got some damage as well, but was able to continue. Almirola ended up 35th while Edwards ended up 29th and Keselowski 23rd.
At that point fuel mileage became the big story and Ford’s Greg Biffle was right in the middle of it after he pitted on lap 121 and decided to stay out the rest of the way. That enabled him to take the lead with 25 laps to go and when the caution came out with 20 to go, it allowed him to save fuel and better his chances.
Biffle was able to hold Earnhardt Jr. off on the ensuring restart with 17 to go, but he could play defense only so long before the Hendrick Motorsports driver made the winning pass three laps later.
When Kurt Busch brought out the final caution with seven laps to go, that ensured Biffle had enough fuel to finish and he took advantage by finishing fifth and strengthening his position for one of the final Chase berths as he moved into 13th-place in the standings.
“We did everything we could. We had a good strategy there and we might have been able to sneak one out. The 4 was pretty fast, but if that second caution wouldn’t have come out for Kurt, we might have had a prayer to try and steal one,” said Biffle. “Overall it was a great day to get the 3M retro paint scheme Ford Fusion up in the top five. We beat the 24 car, which I’m not sure how we did that. They were definitely the fastest car, but we feel good about it. We’ve got to keep working on our car and trying to find the rest of that speed.”
Logano was in position to win on the final restart with three laps to go as he sat third on the inside lane behind Harvick, but Earnhardt Jr. got a good jump and while Harvick was on his rear bumper at the white flag, he didn’t have enough to pass. Logano finished third while Clint Bowyer fourth.
“I felt like it was about a third-place car,” said Logano. “I felt like the 88 and the 24 were probably the two best and felt like Kevin and I were pretty close to being about the same. Overall, it was a decent day. The last few weeks we’ve finished where we deserve and not having the issues we had the previous four or five weeks before that, so we’re gaining momentum.
Marcos Ambrose led the Richard Petty Motorsports effort with a 14th-place effort, but it proved to be a solid race for Front Row Motorsports as David Gilliland (17th) and David Ragan (19th) posted top-20 finishes.
Ambrose will be front-and-center next week as the circuit heads to Watkins Glen International, where he has won twice in the last three years.
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Joey Logano
4. Clint Bowyer
5. Greg Biffle
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Jamie McMurray
8. Ryan Newman
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Kasey Kahne
14. Marcos Ambrose
17. David Gilliland
18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
19. David Ragan
23. Brad Keselowski
29. Carl Edwards
35. Aric Almirola
ARIC ALMIROLA – No. 43 Go Bowling.com Ford Fusion – “Honestly, I don’t know. I watched the replay to see. I saw smoke and I saw one car make a hard right into the fence and I knew that they were wrecking. I just tried to aim for the middle and hope for best. I was behind Keselowski and there were cars inside of us, so I couldn’t turn left. I was just along for the ride.” WHAT DID YOU SEE? “I honestly didn’t see it. I saw a little bit of smoke in front of me. Cars probably four or five rows in front of me, and I saw a car make a hard right. I don’t even know who it was, but instantly I knew that they were wrecking. I was trying to get low and I was following Keselowski and everybody started to check up. I was on the brakes as hard as I could and I got creamed from behind and pushed into the wreck. There’s nothing you can do when it gets like that, so it was just a big pile up trying to get all we can get on the restarts.” IT SEEMED FROM THE START THERE WAS A LOT OF AGGRESSIVENESS. WAS IT DUE TO THE WEATHER? “No, I think it’s getting closer and closer to the Chase and everybody is getting really aggressive to try and win races. It’s Pocono. Track position is a premium, so the easiest way to get track position is to pass a lot of cars on the first lap when everybody gets bottled up.”
GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – YOUR GAMBLE PAID OFF. “Yeah, it did but it was still a tough day. We had a 20th-place car and got track position and drove our butt off. We did everything we could. We had a good strategy there and we might have been able to sneak one out. The 4 was pretty fast, but if that second caution wouldn’t have come out for Kurt, we might have had a prayer to try and steal one, but, overall it was a great day to get the 3M retro paint scheme Ford Fusion up in the top five. We beat the 24 car, which I’m not sure how we did that. They were definitely the fastest car, but we feel good about it. We’ve got to keep working on our car and trying to find the rest of that speed.”
MARCOS AMBROSE – No. 9 DeWalt Ford Fusion – “If you had asked me at the start of the day would I take a top-15 finish, I would have said yes but it was just a little frustrating there at the end. We had some issues and I probably let a few spots go, but we’ll keep digging and keep working on it. It’s frustrating for all of us to not be as competitive at these downforce tracks as we want, but we’ve got a good one next week coming up and hopefully we can get rolling there.”
DAVID GILLILAND – No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford Fusion – “I’m very happy and very proud of the guys. Our Long John Silver’s Ford Fusion was pretty good all weekend from the time we unloaded. We knew that we had a good enough car to take advantage of some situations out there on the race track and be able to race hard for lucky dogs and those kind of things. We were able to do that and caught a couple breaks and had a good, solid day.”
DAVID RAGAN – No. 34 A&W All-American Food Ford Fusion – “It was as solid top-20 day. I felt like our car was a little better at times, but we just didn’t quite have the track position. It seemed like we were fighting every single restart, but I’m proud of our A&W team. Front Row Motorsports had two cars in the top-20, so that’s a solid day for us.”
JOEY LOGANO – No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion – PRESS CONFERENCE – THIS RACE HAD ITS SHARE OF DRAMA TODAY. “Yeah, it sure did. I felt we were on the right strategy and then that caution came out and quite a few cars pitted there, and then they pitted at the same time a few laps later as we did, but they were able to put two tires on or fuel only and gain a lot of track position that way, so we lost quite a bit when that change-up happened. We kind of got jumbled back a little bit and had to work our way back up through the field. That last restart my plan was to push Kevin down into one and hopefully those two would be door-to-door inside of the race track and the seas would part for me, but Dale just went quite a bit earlier than I thought he would and I didn’t have the full momentum behind Kevin. I was almost sleeping a little bit there, so I’m kind of bummed out a little bit about that, but, overall, our Shell/Pennzoil Ford was good. I felt like it was about a third-place car. I felt like the 88 and the 24 were probably the two best and felt like Kevin and I were pretty close to being about the same. Overall, a decent day. The last few weeks we’ve finished where we deserve and not having the issues we had the previous four or five weeks before that, so we’re gaining momentum.”
HOW HAVE THE PENSKE CARS STACKED UP VS. THE OTHERS? “We’re in the hunt. I feel like our cars are definitely where they need to be. I feel like when we come to a race track like this, where you’re able to shift, I think our motors are quite a bit better. Our motors run really well at the top end, so when you get them singing like we have here when we downshift into third gear, our corner exits are a little better than maybe what we have at Indy when you have a lower RPM coming off the corner. What we need to work on is bottom end power to become better, and then obviously the constant stuff we always work on with aero and chassis and suspension and the typical stuff everyone is always working on, but I feel like that’s probably our weakest point right now is just some bottom end power. Our top end power is where it needs to be, so we’ll just keep forging forward on that. That’s probably the biggest thing right there.”