Kyle Busch takes fuel-mileage Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 win

Fuel mileage was the name of the game in the final stage of the NASCAR Cup SeriesExplore the Pocono Mountains 350 on Sunday. As those around him ran out of gas, Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team were able to conserve their way to his second win of the year.

With an inversion of the top twenty from Saturday, twentieth-placed Chris Buescher started on the pole alongside Michael McDowell. Multiple drivers were sent to the back after switching to backup cars due to wrecks on Saturday: Anthony Alfredo, Ross Chastain, Cole Custer, Kyle Larson, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Newman, and Ryan Preece. Justin Allgaier also joined the seven at the rear as a last-second driver change, filling in for Justin Haley in the #77 Spire Motorsports car after Haley opted out due to a wreck in the Xfinity race earlier in the day. Allgaier’s last Cup start at Indianapolis in 2020 also came as a substitute driver, while Haley missed a Cup race for health reasons for the second time in 2021.

Stage #1

After just two laps, Alfredo’s difficult weekend continued when his right-front tyre went down and sent him into the turn two wall. The rookie has not enjoyed much success at Pocono, with his lone national series start prior to this weekend being the 2019 Truck Series race that ended with an opening-lap crash.

Buescher, whose lone Cup win came at Pocono in 2016, led at the lap six restart before being passed by McDowell, who was incidentally driving the car that Buescher piloted in his 2016 victory. Martin Truex Jr. took the lead on lap 14 with Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Christopher Bell following.

Green-flag stops began taking place with less than five laps to go in the stage. While Bell gave up second to pit, Truex stayed out to win the stage; Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suárez, and Joey Logano rounded out the top ten. William Byron barely beat Truex to the line to rejoin the lead lap.

Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images

Stage #2

While Truex pitted between stages and was the first off pit road, Keselowski and Blaney stayed out. Larson, who nearly won Saturday’s race before a tyre doomed his chances on the final lap, suffered nose damage in a stack-up with Denny Hamlin on a restart that needed repairs during the break.

The race resumed on lap 35 as Keselowski and Bell comprised the front row. Keselowski led 13 laps before ducking onto pit road, as did much of the field. Larson’s car troubles persisted due to an overheating engine that needed tape on the grille, while Blaney had to pit again for a loose wheel. Kyle Busch inherited the lead after Keselowski pitted.

Another pit cycle took place with 15 laps left in the stage. Busch pitted on lap 73, but needed a push from a crewman to exit his box due to transmission issues. Wallace led three laps followed by Byron, the latter of whom went on to win the stage ahead of Hamlin, Keselowski, Bell, Chase Elliott, Truex, Busch, Larson, Almirola, and Chastain.

Stage #3

Byron and Hamlin led the field to green and remained in that order as the leaders organised into single file. After two laps, Erik Jones‘ left-front tyre went down due to contact with Custer and resulted in a caution for debris. The leaders including Byron elected to pit, with Hamlin only adding fuel, while others like Bell and Elliott stayed out.

The green flag waved on lap 96, and a good restart by Bowman propelled him to the lead. While racing with Bell for second, Chastain’s right-front tyre was cut and forced him to pit. Two laps later, Bell got sideways after contact with Elliott in turn three but the race stayed green, prompting both drivers to also head to the pits. Elliott subsequently pitted again for another flat, while Stenhouse retired from the race on lap 110 with an engine failure.

Although Bowman led, he and many other drivers did not have enough fuel to reach the finish and thus made stops as the race progressed. Bowman pitted on lap 114 to give the lead to Keselowski, while Reddick made his stop from second to push Byron into the position.

By the ten-to-go mark, the leaders were tasked with conserving their fuel. Unable to reach the finish on his current load, Keselowski pitted with eight laps remaining and surrendered first to Byron. Hamlin and Busch tailed him and attempted to close the gap as the trio continued to manage their gas.

With two laps to go, Byron could not save any further and pitted. Although Hamlin assumed the lead as a result, he ran out of fuel himself and also had to pit coming to the white flag. Busch was thus cycled into the lead and he held on to win his second race of the year and fourth of his career at Pocono.

Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images

“I thought I did a better job of saving fuel when I got closer to them,” said Busch. “As much as they were rolling out of the gas, I was rolling out of the gas out down the straightaways. We were all saving. If we were laps ahead of them on fuel, we were either going to be let go earlier than them and race it out to the finish or we were just going to be more beneficial to being in the draft, being back in the draft.

“[…] (Fuel mileage races are) stressful, that’s for sure. Like you just don’t know. There’s so many variables, so many unknowns. Some of the guys, like even me, as we’re going down the front straightaway, I wish I could clutch it—I didn’t have one. I probably could have done a better job saving fuel. I was lifting off the gas and the thing was sitting there going [whirring] instead of being able to clutch it.

“That’s how fuel mileage races are. It’s fun to a point, especially when you come out on top of it and you do it right. That makes you feel good. There was one other fuel mileage race last year—Texas, that’s how we won at Texas. That was a good one for us. Same today.”

Keselowski was able to finish third despite the stop, while Byron placed twelfth and Hamlin fourteenth. Wallace finished fifth to score his and 23XI Racing‘s first top ten and five of the season. Allgaier was twenty-fifth in his backup duties.

“Fuel mileage has got us the last two weeks. Lug nuts the week before,” Hamlin commented. In spite of missing a top ten and Larson finishing runner-up, Hamlin remains the points leader by two points. “We’re running fast. We’re getting a little better. I think overall we had a little bit more speed this weekend than what we’ve had the past few weeks.”

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 19 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 140 Running
2 12 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 140 Running
3 11 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford 140 Running
4 13 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 140 Running
5 7 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 140 Running
6 16 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 140 Running
7 20 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 140 Running
8 23 37 Ryan Preece* JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 140 Running
9 10 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 140 Running
10 14 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 140 Running
11 3 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 140 Running
12 18 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 140 Running
13 21 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 140 Running
14 17 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 140 Running
15 8 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 140 Running
16 5 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 140 Running
17 2 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 140 Running
18 32 21 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford 140 Running
19 1 17 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford 140 Running
20 15 1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 140 Running
21 24 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 140 Running
22 37 6 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford 140 Running
23 36 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 139 Running
24 38 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 139 Running
25 27 77 Justin Allgaier* Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 139 Running
26 33 42 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 139 Running
27 9 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 139 Running
28 25 51 Cody Ware* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 139 Running
29 30 78 B.J. McLeod* Live Fast Motorsports Ford 138 Running
30 28 15 James Davison Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 137 Running
31 22 43 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet 136 Running
32 4 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 135 Running
33 31 00 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet 135 Running
34 26 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports Ford 134 Running
35 34 52 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Ford 132 Running
36 29 53 Garrett Smithley* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 122 Engine
37 35 66 Timmy Hill* MBM Motorsports Toyota 113 Handling
38 6 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 111 Engine
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points

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