LONG POND, Pa. — Ryan Blaney dealt with radio issues in the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday in the best way possible, recording his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win.
“I think it exceeds the dream a little bit,” Blaney said of his initial victory. “I grew up watching my dad race on this race track, and it’s so cool to get the Wood Brothers in victory lane, No. 1, and to do it here at a race track that is really close to Ohio, a home to me, is pretty awesome.”
Wood Brothers Racing had been winless since Trevor Bayne’s victory in the 2011 Daytona 500.
“Just happy, happy that we finally get a finish that we deserve,” Jones said of his career-best finish. “We ran top five most of the day and had good strategy, and it worked out.”
Kyle Busch dominated the race before winding up ninth at the checkered flag.
Kyle Busch stayed out during the final caution of the race for a Kasey Kahne wreck with 19 laps to go to retain his lead. Keselowski also stayed out to start on the front row alongside Busch, but Keselowski pitted just before the caution and had less than one lap of green-flag racing on his tires.
Despite the newer tires, Keselowski fell back on the restart, but Kyle Busch was able to maintain his lead, for several laps, on his old tires. Blaney took the lead from Kyle Busch with nine laps remaining in the 160-lap race. Harvick took second two laps later and closed in on Blaney to battle for the win.
“Kyle stayed out, and he was on a little bit older tires, and it looked like he was getting pretty tight, especially off of (turn) one, and that’s where new tires really seemed to come alive, because you could hold the line and get runs on him, downshift and get next to him,” Blaney said. “I had a big run on him off of (turn) three, and he did a good job blocking, and we were able to get under him, but then, I had to hold the 4 (Harvick) off. He was super-fast.
“I can’t thank Kevin enough for racing me clean. That was really cool of him, but it was definitely hectic. Hopefully, the fans liked it. It was really cool.”
Blaney ran second to Kyle Busch throughout much of the third stage of the race. After Kyle Busch cycled back to the lead following the final cycle of green-flag pit stops, just before the Kahne caution, Blaney was a distant second. Pit strategy shuffled Blaney back to fourth for the final restart, but when the race returned to green, Blaney retook second.
Kyle Busch and Jones combined to lead the entire 50-lap opening stage of the race with the former taking the stage win. Kyle Busch started on the pole and ran up front until a cycle of green-flag pit stops began just before lap 15. When Kyle Busch gave up the lead to pit, Jones took over up front and waited until lap 35 to make his pit stop.
When Jones finally stopped, Kyle Busch was up front with a lead of more than 13 seconds over Kevin Harvick. Harvick cut into the deficit, though, over the course of the remainder of the first stage, closing to within two seconds by lap 50.
Harvick passed Keselowski to take the position before Jones pitted from the lead. Blaney ran second to Kyle Busch prior to the round of pit stops, but difficulty on pit road necessitated a second stop for Blaney.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., after pitting late in the first stage, stayed out at the stage’s end. But when the race restarted for stage two, he lost the lead to Jones, who got off pit road first with a two-tire stop between the first two stages. Kyle Busch retook the lead on lap 60.
Like Jones before them, Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates pitted late in the second stage. While others pitted around lap 65, Busch and several others waited until lap 90 to pit, planning to stay out between the second and third stages and making only one pit stop in the laps that remained. Busch had a lead of more than 12 seconds on Jones when he made his second-stage stop.
When Kyle Busch, Jones and others finally pitted, Kyle Larson took the lead late in the second stage and was up front when the yellow flag waved on lap 96 for Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, as both drivers suffered brake failures. Johnson made hard contact with a SAFER barrier and McMurray’s car caught fire.
“(The brake pedal) went right to the floor, and I saw a replay inside the medical center,” Johnson said. “The smoke, I think, is the brake fluid coming out of wherever failed and onto the rotors. 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. 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.”
The yellow flag led to a 23-minute, 15-second red flag for extensive track clean-up. That caution was the first of the race, other than the yellow flag that separated the first two stages.
Clint Bowyer hit the wall early in the second stage, but the race remained green. Bowyer got into the wall again at the end of stage two to avoid a swerving Larson.
When the red flag was lifted, the race ran green for one lap before the close of the second stage. Larson maintained his lead to take the stage, while Kyle Busch moved up two positions to second. When others pitted to start the third stage, Kyle Busch inherited the lead. Larson was first off pit road, but he restarted 12th, as 11 cars stayed out.
NOTES: After tying Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time wins list with his 83rd career victory last week at Dover International Speedway, Jimmie Johnson is just one win away from tying Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth. He wore a special helmet honoring Wallace and Allison in the Pocono 400. … Martin Truex Jr. qualified second at Pocono Raceway but had to start in the back because of an engine change. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had to drop to the back at the start because of an engine change, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. started in the back because of an unapproved body modification. … Darrell Wallace Jr. made his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut Sunday at Pocono, making him the first African-American driver to compete in a Cup Series race since Bill Lester in 2006. He finished 26th. Wallace will drive the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford until Aric Almirola returns from a broken back. … The Pocono 400 is the first race of a four-race suspension for Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens, tire changer Jacob Seminara and tire carrier Kenneth Barber. Busch started on the pole for the second consecutive race. … Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono on Saturday.