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Pocono 400 Had a Dramatic Finish but not Much Else

June 9th, 2014 at 7:34 AM
By Clayton Caldwell

No doubt the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday ended in dramatic fashion when Brad Keselowski had debris on his grille which eventually led to Dale Earnhardt Jr passing him in a late race battle leading Earnhardt to win his second race of the season, locking him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with his second victory of the season.

'Pocono Raceway' photo (c) 2006, Jack - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The win was one of the most entertaining of the season for the NASCAR fans. Earnhardt is the most popular driver in NASCAR and not only does the win lock him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2014, but also ensures him of his first multi-win season since the 2004 season.

Even though Earnhardt was thrilled about the victory and the race did have a dramatic finish, many people who went to Pocono Raceway may not forget the first 140 laps of the Pocono 400.

While the new Generation six, Sprint Cup Series car has provided some decent racing early on in the season, the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday was a race where one thing was essential. Clean air. Even Earnhardt himself mentioned how difficult it was to pass in his post race press conference.

“It’s real hard to pass here,” Earnhardt said in the media center. “And I knew that dirty air was going to be a big challenge for anybody so if you can get that clean air like Brad, he was going to be hard, that was what was going to win the race.”

There’s no doubt had Keselowski not tried to get the debris off his grille that he would have beaten everyone Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway. Keselowski tried to follow the #10 car of Danica Patrick through turn one to get debris off his grille. Patrick was off the pace after an earlier incident and as Keselowski moved to get behind Patrick to clear his grille off, the lack of speed in Patrick’s car killed his momentum and slid him up the racetrack. That enabled Earnhardt to take advantage of Keselowski’s misfortune and pass him as he sailed to victory.

Keselowski’s car was strong all day long and after losing the lead everyone knew it was going to be difficult to pass Earnhardt because, as Brad Keselowski said in his post race press conference, clear air was an important factor.

“I thought it was kind of a lottery draw as to whoever had the lead in the clean air as far as who was going to win it and just—Dale once he got up front, he was probably a little better than I was with the clean air.”

Keselowski also made one more comment about the clean air before exiting Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Keselowski was asked how important clean air was at Pocono on Sunday. To which he responded

“Yeah, it just was going to dictate who was going to win the race. That’s part of racing. That’s part of really all of racing, the aerodynamics taking over motorsports, and we’ve all kind of learned to live around it and it makes the restarts so critical. But it’s just kind of part of the deal.”

Keselowski was obviously frustrated but he wasn’t the only one who thought clear air was a key factor. Fourth place finisher and four time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin also agreed that clear air was important.

'Denny Hamlin' photo (c) 2006, Jack - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

“Yeah it was a challenge for everyone," Hamlin said after the race. "It’s just these cars poke such a big hole in the air you can’t get around whoever is in front of you—you have to be substantially faster. Those are the cards you are dealt and you have to deal with it.”

There is no doubt that clear air was a major factor in the Pocono 400. NASCAR has tried desperately to try and reduce the advantage of clear air but at Pocono Raceway on Sunday clear air was important. One can’t help but wonder how the race at Pocono in August will be and how the Brickyard 400 will be that same month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both Indianapolis and Pocono are very similar in the way they race.

Clear air usually makes for lack luster racing because very little passing occurs. Most of the time teams and drivers get in the “dirty air” (which occurs in heavy traffic) and it’s extremely hard to pass because once you come up on another car the car starts to handle poorly and you can’t make a pass, providing a lot of single-file racing.

The blame shouldn’t fall on Pocono Raceway. They haven’t made drastic changes to the track, although the racing has really changed at the racetrack since the repave prior to the 2012 season. That has produced more grip and allowed for less tire wear, usually resulting in some tough racing.

While the repave hasn’t helped the situation, NASCAR is still at fault for the lack of passing at Pocono Raceway. NASCAR had teams build these new racecars after the disastrous generation five car. The new generation six car debuted prior to the 2013 season and saw much of the same thing we saw at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, throughout the 2013 season.

Those issues, however, were suppose to be fixed after NASCAR tested the car several times at Charlotte Motor Speedway, looking to improve the racing of the generation six racecar. NASCAR made minor changes to the rear bumper and side skirts of the racecar to try and help passing.  With what we’ve seen so far throughout the 2014 season that testing was a waste of time and money for all teams involved.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule heads to a part of the schedule where we will see a lot of high speed racetracks in the coming months (the next short track race won’t be until Bristol in late August) one can’t help but wonder how the racing at some of these tracks will be.

'Pocono Saturday Practice' photo (c) 2010, BethAnne Heisler - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Next weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Michigan International Speedway a place where clear air will most likely be a big factor. Expect crazy pit strategies and very little passing like we saw at Pocono Raceway on Sunday.

One can’t help but wonder what the future of NASCAR will be at some of these tracks. Will the reduction in horsepower help limit the importance of clear air at the bigger tracks? Maybe. However, bidding just on that could mean another season with lack of passing.

As ratings and attendance continue to fall (although the crowd at Pocono was very good), there needs to be a lot more significant changes to the generation six racecar, or NASCAR may be sent into a really bad spot and that would be a disaster for everyone.

Tags: Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Pocono 400, Pocono Raceway

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