Sunday’s Axalta Presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway was a day of big speed and hot brakes as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series made a stop in Pennsylvania. Ryan Blaney, 23, grabbed his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race at Pocono Raceway after holding off Kevin Harvick late in the Pocono 400.
The day was dominated early on by Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson as the two Kyles took the first two stages of Sunday’s race. A late race caution led to Busch (led 100 laps) staying out while others pitted and were able to get fresh tires; he was a sitting duck late in the run once Blaney caught up to him. The two had a great back-and-forth run before Blaney finally made the pass.
Rookie Eric Jones finished in third place behind Harvick, Kurt Busch was fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.
The victory was Blaney’s first career win and first win for his owner’s, the Wood Brothers, since Daytona in 2011 (Trevor Bayne). The race could very well mark the beginning of a great career for Blaney, who many consider one of the up-and-coming young guns of the NASCAR scene. The sport certainly is in need of young star power as it shifts into a world without its most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr, in 2018.
Earnhardt Jr. Makes Rookie Mistake For Second Time This Week To End Day
Dale Earnhardt Jr’s hopes of returning to victory lane in his last appearance at Pocono Raceway were put to rest Sunday afternoon after Earnhardt made a rookie mistake at the beginning of stage 2 (Lap 57) of the Pocono 400. It was the same mistake, in fact, that Earnhardt made earlier this week during Friday’s opening practice. Earnhardt blew his engine after attempting to shift into fourth gear but instead went into second. It’s a fatal mistake that generally doesn’t happen to the more experienced drivers, such as Dale.
“Something in my motion is (different) — there really isn’t anything (else) different,” Earnhardt told reporters in the garage. “I wish I could blame it on something else because this is awful, it feels awful. It’s my fault, I really don’t know what else to do. I wish I could say the shifter is different or something is out of line…. I’ve been doing this my whole life and it has never been a common issue, but it has this weekend.”
For Earnhardt, who hasn’t won a race since Phoenix in 2015, the disappointing weekend is all too familiar to the feeling he’s had this entire year as his final season has been forgettable at best up to this point. Currently, Earnhardt sits 22nd in points, 317 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr. He has six finishes of 30th or worse in 14 races this season.
In Other News
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson had massive brake failure heading into turn 1, where speeds have been clocked at over 200 mph lately. The brake failure led to Johnson smashing his number 48 Lowe’s Chevy into the outside wall. Johnson was noticeably shaken after the race.
“I can only speculate that I got the brakes too hot and when I went to the brakes they just traveled straight to the floor,” said Johnson. “I didn’t even have a pedal to push on. At that point, I threw it in third gear and I was just trying to slow it down. I was heading to the grass and I was wondering why I didn’t turn right and get to the wall sooner, but I’m fine. Certainly, a big scare. I haven’t had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen. So, just want to let my wife and kids and my mom know that I’m okay and I will go change my underwear and get ready to go home.”
[Featured Image by Chris Trotman/Getty Images]