Good morning from Pocono Raceway! I’m here today for the Pocono 400, the first of two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races hosted annually at the Long Pond racetrack. The 400-mile, 160-lap race gets underway at 2 p.m. today.
Check this space for live updates leading up to and during today’s race. I’ll be doing a lap-by-lap of the on-track action during the three stages of the Pocono 400. The first stage lasts 50 laps, the second stage is 50 laps, and the third stage lasts 60 laps.
LAP BY LAP
LAP 160: Truex wins the Pocono 400 by a nearly 2.5-second lead over Kyle Larson. Top 10 finishers: 78, 42, 18, 4, 2, 12, 10, 48, 22, 9.
LAP 158: Truex building lead. 42, 18, 4 battle for second.
LAP 156: 4 lap to go. 18 pressures 42 for second.
LAP 153: Back to green as Truex leads 42, 4, 18. Larson tries to clear Truex for lead, but Truex blocks him. Kyle Busch gets by Harvick for 3rd.
LAP 150: Caution: 6th caution of the day for Erik Jones spinning and hitting the wall in Turn 1. Looks like Logano had gotten into the 20.
LAP 148: 78, 42, 4, 18 stay out. Kyle Busch pitted before and has four new tires. 78, 42, 4 did not pit on prior stop.
LAP 146: Caution out for Denny Hamlin spin in Turn 1. Hamlin was running 11th when he got loose and slid up into Bowman. 5th caution of the race.
LAP 142: Truex leads 4, 9, 42, 12th to green. Kyle Busch restarts 8th. Larson jumps to 2nd and Busch moves up to 4th.
LAP 140: 18, 2, 11, 88, 41, 1, 12 and more come to pit road road. 78, 4, 9, 42 stay out. Blaney wins the race off pit road, takes 2 tires. 34 of Michael McDowell facing wrong way in pit box. May have been turned around.
LAP 139: CAUTION – 4th caution of the race, this time for debris in Turn 1. 21 laps to go.
LAP 135: Top 3 cars within .73 of a second within each other. Kyle Busch leads Harvick by .53 second, then Truex third.
LAP 133: Larson gets Johnson loose, slides on by for 6th. Chase Elliott follows Larson and snaps up 7th, leaving Johnson in 8th.
LAP 132: Kahne, DiBeneddetto officially out of race.
LAP 130: 30 laps to go and halfway through Stage 3.
LAP .129: Leader Kyle Busch leads field back to green on restart. Harvick drops to 3rd, Truex in 2nd.
LAP 126: Drivers come to pit road, including 4, 41, 88, 2, 4, 11, 1, 3, 78. 2 takes four tires. 78 complains about car being loose. Kyle Busch wins the race off pit road. Harvick comes out second. Blaney picks up two spots. This pit stop ensures that most of the drivers have enough fuel to make it until the end. However, if the race goes into overtime, things could get tricky.
LAP 123: Caution: Derrike Cope spins in Turn 3 after Larson gets into him. This is the race’s third caution and first for an incident (not the end of a stage).
LAP 120: Kasey Kahne has gone behind the wall.
LAP 117: Small brake fire on Matt DiBenedetto’s racecar. The 32 goes into the garage.
LAP: 116: Harvick has a 1.2-second lead over Kyle Busch. Truex is 3.476 seconds behind the leader.
LAP 111: Top 10: 4, 18, 78, 42, 12, 14, 48, 9, 11, 19. Truex 3rd. Kurt Busch pits and the crew replaces his helmet.
LAP 109: Bowman pits.
LAP 108: Darrell Wallace Jr. has slowed down, coasting down Turn 3 to made his way to put road. 43 has lost its engine. First car out of the race.
LAP 106: Harvick leads field to green for restart and beginning of Stage 3.
Pits: All 20 cars on lead lap pit. Harvick, after a four-tire stop, wins the race off pit road. Austin Dillon, who took two tires, will restart second.
LAP 100: Kevin Harvick wins Stage 2, with a 2.8-second lead over Kyle Busch. It’s his 7th stage win of 2018. He also led the most laps today (63).
LAP 97: 3 laps to end of Stage 2. Top 10: 4, 18, 14, 78, 9, 42, 2, 12, 48, 88.
LAP 94: Truex, Larson get close together. Truex keeps the 4th spot.
LAP 92: Top 10: 4, 18, 14, 78, 42, 9, 2, 12, 48, 88. Alex Bowman, who started 14th, now 10th.
LAP 90: 22 pits. Truex is now running 6th.
LAP 88: Dillon pits, takes a two-tire stop. Top 10: 4, 18, 2, 14, 42, 78, 9, 12, 48, 88.
LAP 87: PENALTY: Wallace Jr. penalized for too fast exiting of pit road. Deja vu: Bubba got three speeding penalties last year in his Cup debut at Pocono.
LAP 85: Wallace Jr. pits.
LAP 84: Kyle Busch takes second.
LAP 83: Harvick passes both Wallace Jr. and Dillon to take the lead.
LAP 80: Truex is 8th. Austin Dillon has yet to pit. Also: The weather is looking good here, but if weather were to become a factor, the race is now official at this point.
LAP 78: Darrell Wallace Jr. inherits the lead. Top 5: 43, 3, 2, 18.
LAP 77: 18, 1, 88, 42 pit. 78 pits and has a smooth stop. On the previous pit stop, the tire carrier bumped the jack, causing the long stop.
Lap 76: Blaney pits, taking four tires. Erik Jones has gotten up to 12th.
Lap 73: Larson passes Blaney for 4th.
LAP 69: Top 10: 4, 18, 14, 12, 42, 9, 78, 1, 48, 10. Truex is up to 7th.
LAP 66: Green flag pit stops underway as Keselowski pits from third spot, takes four tires. Harvick has some debris on his grille but continues to lead. 17, 32, 15 pit.
Lap 64: Daniel Suarez pits for a loose wheel.
LAP 62: Harvick has a 3-second lead over Kyle Busch, who took over 2nd. Keselowski hanging on in 3rd with two tires. Truex, who restarted 14th, is in 12th.
LAP 56: Stage 2 begins. Keselowski, who took two tires, lead the field to green on the restart. Harvick passes the 2 to become the leader.
Pits: Leaders come into pit. 18 gets a chassis adjustment, and the 4 undoes the changes from the last stop. 78 doesn’t take any changes, but they had some trouble with the left rear, which lead to a long stop. The Stage 1 winner will restart 14th. Chase Elliott wins the race off pit road. Logano will serve a penalty for pitting when pit road was close. Since he is serving a penalty, he cannot take the wave-around.
LAP 50: Martin Truex Jr. wins Stage 1. Top 10 finishers: 78, 4, 18, 14, 11, 9, 12, 42, 48, 2. Truex had a 1.1-second lead over Harvick.
LAP 49: Logano pits, having run out of fuel.
LAP 47: 3 laps to go. Jimmie Johnson running 10th. 14 seconds separates 1st and 4th place.
LAP 45: Top 5: 78, 4, 18, 14, 12.
LAP 43: NEW LEADER: After gradually closing in Harvick, Truex gets a good run and passes Harvick on the outside.
LAP 40 (10 laps left in this stage): Top 5 are 4, 78, 18, 12, 14.
LAP 38: Erik Jones, who started 25th, has made his way up to 15th. Keselowski gets around him to take the spot.
LAP 36: Harvick is your leader, followed by 78, 18, 12, 14. Kahne is the last car to come in and pit.
LAP 34: Keselowski comes in, stretching the fuel window. 2 gets four tires and complains about being tight. Kasey Kahne is the only car that hasn’t pitted.
LAP 33: Top 5: 2, 4, 18, 78, 12. Harvick is the highest-running car that has pitted.
LAP 30: Keselowski leads as Ragan comes in to pit. Majority of drivers getting four tires.
LAP 29: Ricky Stenhouse pits. Keselowski, David Ragan and Kasey Kahne still have to pit.
LAP 27: Jimmie Johnson took the lead when Harvick pitted. Brad Keselowski takes over lead.
LAP 25: Leaders Harvick, Truex both pit and get four tires. 4 also gets a chassis adjustment.
LAP 24: Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Alex Bowman pit. Several drivers pitting around the halfway point of the stage. Fuel window is around 34 laps.
LAP 22: Harvick continues to lead, followed by Truex, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin.
LAP 19: Darrell Wallace Jr., who made his Cup debut in last year’s June race, pits for a chassis adjustment. Jamie McMurray also pits for a four-tire stop.
LAP 17: Green flag pit stops underway. Blaney, who has fallen back after leading the first 11 laps, pits for four tires and a chassis adjustment. Logano also comes in to pit.
LAP 14: Truex, Kyle Busch pass Blaney,
LAP 12: New leader: Harvick gets around Blaney to take the lead.
Lap 9: Truex goes around Kyle Busch for 3rd.
Lap 8: Harvick takes 2nd back from Kyle Busch, who gets loose. 4 now closing in on Blaney.
LAP 6: Kyle Busch is moving in on Blaney for the lead. Top 5: 12, 18, 4, 78, 22 of Joey Logano.
LAP 3: Kyle Busch steadily making his way up. He passed the 78 and then the 4 for second. Blaney still leads.
LAP 1: Ryan Blaney leads field to green on outside lane and leads the first lap. Tiki Barber, former NFL running back, drove the pace car. Top 5: Blaney, Harvick, Truex, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray,
Stages: Stage 1 ends on lap 50. Stage 2 ends at lap 100. Third stage is 60 laps and ends on lap 160. If weather plays a role today, the race would be considered official on lap 80. Right now, it is cloudy and windy. It’s 60 degrees, which colder than yesterday, when Cup teams were practicing. But according to weather.com, there was a 15 percent chance of rain this afternoon.
Pre-race: Command to fire engines at 2:03 p.m. There are 38 cars in the field today. None will be going to the rear of the field.
Times-Tribune reporters Scott Walsh, Herb Smith, Donnie Collins and myself are covering the Pocono 400 today.
Here’s our picks for which driver we think will end up in victory lane today:
Scott: Kyle Larson
Herb: Kevin Harvick
Donnie: Kyle Busch
Me: Ryan Blaney
Green flag is set for 2:12 p.m. Ryan Blaney has the pole and will lead the Pocono 400 field to green.
RIDING AROUND POCONO
This morning, I took a ride around the track with Ty Dillon, driver of the No. 13 Chevrolet. During the exhilarating, three-minute ridealong, Dillon walked us through how to shift around Pocono and its unique trio of turns. We felt the bump in the Tunnel Turn, one of the toughest corners in all of NASCAR. Watch the video above to listen to him describe the track.
Dillon said his favorite turn is Turn 3, which he described as the most difficult but also “fun.” He said if you can get at that corner the right way, you can carry that speed into Pocono’s long straightaway.
DRIVERS TO WATCH
Going into today’s race, here are five Cup drivers to keep an eye on:
Ryan Blaney (No. 12 Ford): The Team Penske driver earned his first Cup win in last year’s June race at the Tricky Triangle, and he’ll be looking to defend his victory today. He’s already off to a good start. Blaney will start from the pole position, where 16 Cup drivers have gone on to win the race.
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Ford): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has five wins, the most of all drivers this season. There’s only two tracks where he hasn’t won on the Cup circuit: Kentucky and Pocono. But that could change this weekend. In his last seven races here, Harvick has four second-place finishes, including both of last year’s events.
Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota): The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has four victories this season, including the Coca-Cola 600, making him the only active driver to have won at every racetrack on the Cup schedule. Busch knocked off Pocono from the list last July, and he’ll be looking to make it back-to-back wins. He was the fastest in both practice sessions this weekend, and he’ll start fifth today. Busch also won Saturday’s Xfinity race here and will be looking to sweep.
Chase Elliott (No. 9 Chevrolet): The Hendrick Motorsports driver had a breakthrough performance during his rookie season in the June 2016 race, racing against the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and finishing 4th. The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has finished in the top 10 three times in four starts. He’s hungry for his first Cup win.
Erik Jones (No. 20 Toyota): Also looking for his first Cup win, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has an average finish of 5.5 in just two starts at Pocono. He crossed the finish line third in last June’s race and eighth last July. Starting 25th today, Jones will have some work to do to get upfront.