Ryan: Three thoughts on Sunday’s race at Pocono

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1 — Pocono’s pit problem: After Kasey Kahne eerily mimicked Jeb Burton’s practice crash Saturday – sliding precisely through the same tire tracks off Turn 3 – it readily became apparent there were multiple issues in need of addressing.

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The first was the sturdiness of a pit wall that needed repair after heavy impacts on consecutive days (the latter necessitating a 15-minute red flag Sunday). The second was the placement of helmets on pit wall that went flying 25 feet (but thankfully didn’t hit anything) after Kahne’s impact. The third was the positioning of three spectators standing in front of A.J. Allmendinger’s pit box and a few feet from where the wall was struck. The fourth was whether this season’s reduction in horsepower and the subsequent increase in corner speeds might be contributing to a more dangerous trajectory for cars losing control off Turn 3.

That’s a lot for NASCAR and the track to digest and dissect, but it’s essential given that all of it involves safety.

2 — The results belied the takeaways: Sometimes it’s hard to glean much from a race in which contenders’ fuel cells run dry en masse in the closing laps, and Pocono was no exception.

If you were looking for evidence of Martin Truex Jr.’s team finding its groove, Brad Keselowski continuing to make unusual mistakes with a fast car, and Hendrick Motorsports still seeming to be in a minor slump, the box score wasn’t much help. Truex (19th) ran extremely well before being one of several contenders to miscalculate on mileage, Keselowski took advantage of others’ misfortune to grind out a runner-up finish after hitting a few of his team members on an errant pit stop, and Jeff Gordon (third) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) both salvaged solid finishes for Hendrick during a race in which the team weathered a crash with major Chase implications for Kasey Kahne and an engine failure for Kevin Harvick.

There won’t be as much dwelling on Sunday’s finishing order because it fell far short of telling the full story of 400 miles.

3 — The race to the Chase is emerging as a thriller: Kyle Busch’s dramatic swing in fortunes – from inside the top 30 requirement to be eligible for the Chase to still 13 points short – might have been the least significant among those trying to sew up championship bids. Busch still seems a foregone conclusion to surpass Cole Whitt and David Gilliland over the next five races and break into the top 30 in points. For winless drivers trying to point their way into the championship playoff, Sunday’s results could have much larger implications.

Gordon, who was reeling from a 42nd at Indianapolis last week, seemed headed for a midpack finish at Pocono before strategies unfolded perfectly and put him nearly two full races’ worth of points ahead of the cutoff. After a tumultuous week at Michael Waltrip Racing, Clint Bowyer (eighth) rebounded with his second straight top 10 and improved a spot in the standings to 15th. Bowyer now clings to what is expected to be the last provisional berth on the Chase grid (provided Busch makes the top 30, and there isn’t another new winner) because of Kahne dropping two spots in the standings because of a last-place finish Sunday.

There still are five races remaining in the regular season – which could allows for more major shifts in momentum – but the way Pocono ended had the feel of a turning point.