After stringing together three straight weeks of good results, NASCAR’s 2019 rules package delivered a dud at Pocono on Sunday afternoon. The race featured one true green flag pass for the lead, coming from Kyle Busch passing Clint Bowyer in the middle of stage two.
Busch went on to win the race, but remained unimpressed with the package as a whole.
“I passed one guy on the outside of Turn 3 and that was the only guy I needed to pass, I guess,” Busch said after winning. “It was hard otherwise. We kind of got stuck in traffic back there a little bit earlier in the race. We were about fifth or sixth and couldn’t really do anything.”
William Byron and Kyle Larson each grabbed the lead before Busch in stage one. Byron was able to keep Erik Jones behind him with a second lead, while Larson was able to keep the obviously quicker Brad Keselowski behind him to land the stage one win. Larson noted on the radio during the race that he just needed to hit his marks and he knew Keselowski wouldn’t be able to pass him.
“I feel like if we would have got to the front, nobody ever would have passed us,” Keselowski said. “One of those races, with the way the cars are, if you’re the leader you could be a 20th-place car, nobody is going to pass you.”
Track position was the name of the game, as evidenced by multiple two tire strategy calls throughout the race. The stage ending cautions offered an opportunity to come down pit road early and give up stage points, which Kyle Busch did all day. That was enough to keep him out front for the duration of the day.
“Track position was just such a huge deal,” Denny Hamlin said after finishing 6th. “I didn’t see many cars out there passing today and we were one of them that couldn’t. You got stuck behind guys and it didn’t matter how old their tires were in front of you, you just got stuck behind them and we were one of those guys.”
Several bigger names started mid-pack on Sunday, one of which being Joey Logano, who began the day 16th. The 2018 Cup Series champ was one of the few to make some headway during the first run, moving up to 10th. Joey ended up 7th, never really advancing past that position all day.
“It was brutal to pass,” Logano said. “Really hard in dirty air. Tough. Tough racing here. It was all about strategy and restarts and you saw some chaotic restarts.”
You probably should have seen this coming, considering what a similar package did in the Xfinity Series last year. Kyle Busch ran away with that race too as single file racing ruled the day.
The bottomline? Anywhere that you have to get out of the gas, separation is going to happen. With these increased corner speeds on the flat 2.5 mile Pocono surface, dirty air was bound to rule the day. The 2019 rules package may shine at one place, but it may flop elsewhere. One idea isn’t going to work everywhere and NASCAR knows this.
There may not be a ‘fix’ for Pocono, either. It kind of is what it is — a big spread out, flat track that creates dirty air. However, the Xfinity cars put on one heck of a show without any gimmicks, just straight-forward hard racing with horsepower. That race gave us a dramatic finish thanks to a driver mistake from Tyler Reddick.
Sometimes the best moments come organically. That’s something that NASCAR’s highest level series isn’t giving us right now.