Weekend Recap: Pocono/Iowa – Toyota Sweeps, Preece Makes His Name
By Matteo Marcheschi
Busch Finally Wins at Pocono
Kyle Busch captured his first win of 2017 and his first career Cup win at Pocono Raceway Sunday afternoon in the Overton’s 400. With the victory, Busch snapped a 36-race winless streak and locked himself into the 2017 playoffs. Busch led 74 of the race’s 160 laps, most of anyone, and also won stage one. Clint Bowyer played strategy to win stage two, his first stage win of 2017.
Strong Showings from Rookies Suarez and Jones
Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones both scored top-10 finishes Sunday (seventh and eighth respectively), after neither scored a stage point all day. It marks the second time (Phoenix) that the two drivers have both finished in the top-10 in the same race. Both drivers are outside the playoffs, so each must win a race to lock himself into the playoffs, which is likely to require strategy. Despite combining for 13 top-10 finishes, they only have one top-5: A third-place finish scored by Erik Jones in the first Pocono race.
Playoff Pressure Increases as Logano and McMurray Struggle
Joey Logano sits outside of the playoffs and Sunday didn’t help his situation. Two pit road penalties during the final stage, one for speeding and one for fueling during the pass-through penalty, sent Logano a lap down. A caution-free final stage meant that there was no recovering for him, and so Logano finished a dismal 27th, falling to nearly 70 points behind the playoff cutoff. With only five races before the playoffs begin, Logano is now in a must-win situation. Jamie McMurray is not, but a bad race has sent him backwards in points as well. Engine issues, possibly stemming from an oil leak, plagued McMurray during stage 2, causing him to lose at least a lap. Much like Logano, McMurray finished a lap down, as the final stage went caution-free. McMurray’s 26th-place finish meant that Chase Elliott passed him in points. McMurray now sits 15th on the playoff grid, meaning he now has only Matt Kenseth between him and the cutoff line.
Preece Captures First Career Win in Second Start of 2017
Ryan Preece dominated the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, leading 141 of the 254 laps and winning stage one, as well as the overall race. This is expected to be Preece’s final XFINITY Series start of 2017, at least with Joe Gibbs Racing. In his only other XFINITY Series start of 2017, Preece finished second to Kyle Busch at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Allgaier’s Gutsy Pit Call Nearly Pays Off
Justin Allgaier led 106 laps and won stage two, but when he stayed out on a lap 170 caution, he’d placed his bets. He fell to about 15th and ran to about lap 230 before being forced to pit for fuel. It must have felt like a punch to the gut when the caution came out about a lap later, when Sam Hornish Jr. blew a tire and slammed the wall. Allgaier ended the day 20th, but took home a playoff point and 32 regular season points.
Benjamin Finishes Second in Strong Run for JGR
Kyle Benjamin finished second to Ryan Preece, his teammate for the race. Benjamin led five laps and finished top five in both stages. This was Benjamin’s third of four scheduled starts, the last of which will come on September 23 at Kentucky Speedway. Benjamin finished only 0.054 seconds behind Preece, as he was able to get beside him coming to the start/finish line.
Bell Takes Fourth Win of the Season, Overtakes Sauter for Points Lead
Christopher Bell led seven laps on route to a victory in the Overton’s 150 at Pocono Raceway. The win was Bell’s fourth of the season, and allowed him to take the points lead from Johnny Sauter, who finished fifth, but didn’t earn a single stage point versus Bell’s 17 stage points. Bell now sits 18 points in front of Sauter with only four races remaining before the Truck series playoffs begin.
Dominant Busch Wrecks in Final Stage
Kyle Busch dominated Saturday afternoon, winning both stages and leading 32 laps. Busch, however, wrecked after pit strategy sent him into the middle of the pack. On the first restart of the final stage, Busch and Justin Haley made contact, sending Busch into the outside wall. It was Busch’s first DNF of the 2017 season in the Truck series in five races.
Rhodes, Truex Unable to Lock Themselves into Playoffs
Ben Rhodes and Ryan Truex both had strong runs Saturday, but neither was able to take a playoff point or the race win. Both of them sit inside the eight-truck playoffs right now, but a couple of new winners in the next four races could put them out of the postseason. The pressure to win will only increase for the next four races.