**That’s not a blurry photo. What you are seeing is fog… intense fog**
Capacity: 76, 812
Length: 2.5 miles
Banking: Turn 1: 14°, Turn 2: 8°, Turn 3: 6°
For the second time this season, Pocono Raceway encountered rainouts that forced the postponement of scheduled races. In June, the Axalta We Paint Winners 400 was held over until the Monday due to inclement weather, and this past weekend the Pennsylvania 400 saw so much fog, mist, and ongoing rain that even the re-scheduled race encountered problems.
Despite a planned start of 11:00 am, the race was held until 12:30 while a series of jet dryers – 6 on the track and 7 on pit road – worked diligently to dry the raceway. Given that opening ceremonies had already taken place the day prior, most formalities were skipped in favor of getting the race underway. So, with threatening clouds on the horizon and a big question mark hanging over the track, the pace car led the 40-car train onto the track. Pole winner Martin Truex Jr., in his matte black No 78 car led the field, with Kurt Busch ordered to the back of the line due to unapproved body modifications during pre-race. Truex looked strong as he led 16 solid laps before the competition caution.
As seems typical of Brad Keselowski and his team lately, he decided not to pit during the competition caution and assumed the lead. The restart on Lap 20 saw a front row consisting of Keselowski and Greg Biffle, the latter of whom appeared to jump the restart but was not called out. The second caution of the day came down only half a lap later when Truex Jr blew a right-front tire and slammed the wall in Turn 2. He headed straight to the garage and returned to the track shortly after… but not for long. On Lap 41 Truex cut the left-front tire and he was forced to pit. This eventually led to garage time for 13 laps.
By lap 70, rain could be seen heading toward Turn 1 so NASCAR officials aimed to race to the halfway mark of 80 laps. This was met with cheers from frustrated fans, many of whom had skipped work in order to return to the track for the re-scheduled race. Thankfully, the weather held, the finish did NOT take place at Lap 80, and the remainder of the race was anything but boring.
Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon, both of whom are looking for their first win of the year, battled for first place for eight solid laps. The battle was ended when Dillon made contact with Larson and the slight rub created enough of a slowdown that it allowed for Joey Logano to slingshot under them and claim the lead. Logano was strong, breaking away from the pack in the No 22 car as he created a growing gap between himself and Larson. Unluckily, his dominance came to an end during the restart on Lap 104 as he and Chase Elliott spun coming out of Turn 2. With too much speed in the turn, Elliott got loose and took Logano into the wall. Both cars went straight to the garage which ruined Logano’s chance for a win and Elliott’s chance for a Top 10 finish.
The Pennsylvania 400 was intended to be the last race that recent retiree Jeff Gordon would fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is suffering from concussion-like symptoms that have “plateaued” over the past week given that he is still struggling with balance and focus. Gordon qualified 24th in Earnhardt’s No 88 Chevy and pretty much remained there the rest of the day. He eventually finished 27th but not before being challenged with seat belt issues during the second half of the race. Gordon reported the right seat belt coming undone when leaving pit road and again during a restart, forcing him to rectify the situation while driving, and it was no small feat.
By Lap 107 thick fog began to roll in and spotters reported losing sight of the cars between Turns 1 and 2. By Lap 130, the fog had covered most of the right side of the track and half of the infield. The race was red flagged by Lap 138. NASCAR officials brought the cars down pit road where they sat for ten minutes before drivers were instructed to get out and car covers were put in place as rain was seen approaching the track. Meanwhile, NASCAR pondered whether to end the race as they watched and waited for the fog to dissipate. Another 15 minutes passed before the track received a severe weather warning which included a tornado watch. At that point, officials called the race. It ended with 22 laps remaining and with rookie Chris Buescher sitting at the front of the pack. Buescher, an Xfinity Series champion, was declared the surprise winner, with Brad Keselowski, Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart rounding out the top 5.
The Pocono track, which is dubbed the Tricky Triangle, was definitely trickier than usual this past weekend and the weather proved to be a huge and ongoing obstacle. But for fans who were able to wait the extra day, they were treated to an interesting race.
All Photos by Jett White