Pocono takeaways: William Byron, Denny Hamlin lose out in Sunday fuel finish


Long Pond, Pa. – Saturday’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway ended with a surprise. Sunday’s Cup race ended with desperation.

Calculations on fuel mileage were put to the test as the final laps wound down Sunday. Winner Kyle Busch passed the test, as did others.

William Byron and Kyle Busch‘s teammate, Denny Hamlin, did not.

Having pitted on Lap 94, Byron was initially told that he was good to go on fuel to the finish. But while running second behind Brad Keselowski with less than 20 laps to go, he was told to “max save” by his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team.

  • At Lap 124 of 140, he ran the lap at 54.015 seconds.
  • At Lap 127, he was again told “max save” and posted a lap of 55.860 seconds.
  • At Lap 129, he was then told to “clutch it in the corners” and slowed to a lap of 56.823 seconds.

He slowed by nearly 3 seconds within that five-lap window in an attempt to save enough fuel to make it to the finish.

After Keselowski went to pit road for fuel at Lap 133, Byron picked up the pace again and started running laps in the 54-second range. But at Lap 137, Byron reported that his car had low fuel pressure. Finally, at Lap 138, he had to pit himself.

Finishing 12th in the end, Byron later said he believed he was closer on fuel than what it turned out.

“I thought we could get up as far as we could, and a couple of guys would have to pit and we’d save and win,” Byron told NBC Sports. “So that was kind of how it was looking to work out there with (Keselowski) and then we had to go into max save.

“I thought for sure we’d make it, because usually you’ve got a little bit of fudge factor there. But we ran out with three (laps) to go, so not even close.”

As for Hamlin, he, too, was trying to nurse his final fuel tank. But with Byron assuming the lead with three seconds to spare, Hamlin was allowed to go a bit quicker to try and pressure Byron.

Byron’s lead promptly fell, but by then, Hamlin had been told that he was racing Kyle Busch behind him for the win. When Byron pitted with three to go, Hamlin moved into the lead but through the tunnel turn, he reported that he was running dry and promptly pitted.

Hamlin wound up finishing 14th, victimized by fuel mileage for the second weekend in a row. With three laps to go at Nashville, Hamlin had to pit from 10th for fuel and ended up 21st.

“You’re trying to win or you’re trying to get the best finish that you can,” Hamlin told NBC Sports about having to save in the final laps. “But ultimately we just didn’t save enough. (Kyle Busch), I think came in and got topped off because he had transmission issues. That was essentially the race.”

“We’re just not getting any luck right now. I hate luck, in racing terms, because you make your own luck. But gosh, it’s just kind of crazy at this point.”

Larson salvages weekend

On Saturday, Kyle Larson‘s luck ran out when he blew a tire while leading on the final lap. But on Sunday, that luck held as he survived the fuel duel to finish second in a backup car.

Fuel mileage wasn’t the only issue Larson had to contend with Sunday. On the day’s first restart at Lap 7, Hamlin was forced to check up entering Turn 1, causing Larson to run into him.

The incident not only damaged the nose of Larson’s car, but also put a hole in his car’s grille.

That led to an extended pit stop for repairs during the Stage 1 intermission. After making another stop under green at Lap 46, Larson steadily climbed through the field and finished Stage 2 in eighth despite having a much more loose-handling car than he did Saturday.

Following pit stops during the Stage 2 intermission, Larson again charged back into the top 10 by Lap 110 and then fifth with around 20 laps to go.

That set up the final frantic laps, where Larson benefitted from Keselowski, Byron and Hamlin having to pit and moved into the runner-up spot.

Larson admitted that the result was a “surprising” one.

“Seemed like every point of the race, everything that happened in the race, nothing went my way,” Larson said. “Restarts, just guys messing up in front of me, me getting shuffled out of the groove, bad lane choices on my part, everything didn’t go my way.”

“(Crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) did a really good job keeping my head in it, coached me through saving fuel. Yeah, I mean, I had a lot of hope there at the end thinking that (Kyle Busch) might run out.”

A series of unfortunate events

Before Sunday’s race ended with a fuel mileage derby, the most interesting portion of the day came following the debris caution at Lap 94.

Unfortunately for reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell, this was where potential top five runs fell apart for them both.

During the caution, Elliott faked coming down to pit road and was to inherit the lead. However, it was ruled that he didn’t maintain his speed under caution, which gave the point to Bell for the restart at Lap 97.

After losing the lead to Alex Bowman, Bell raced Ross Chastain for second through Turn 3 when Chastain slid up the track. Bell and Chastain made contact, with Bell also getting into the outside wall.

On the next lap, Chastain suffered a flat right-front tire from the contact and slowed in Turn 1 while Bell continued racing with Elliott. Then, in Turn 3, Elliott got loose under Bell and made contact with him.

With some help from the wall, Bell got straightened again. But now with considerable rear-end damage to his car, he had to pit next time around and fell off the lead lap.

Elliott did not get through unscathed, either. Not long after Bell pitted, he suffered two right-front tire failures that forced him to pit at Lap 101 and again at Lap 107.

The incidents relegated Elliott to 27th (one lap down) and Bell to 32nd (five laps down) at day’s end.

Dog day afternoon

Will Kurt Busch end up ruing how his Pocono doubleheader weekend ended on Sunday?

The former Cup champion gained 27 points on Chris Buescher over the two races to take a three-point lead on him for the 16th and final playoff spot.

In Saturday’s first race, Busch finished sixth after earning a playoff point (Stage 2 win) and 14 stage points.

But he lost in the fuel mileage battle that ended Sunday’s second race.

With two laps to go, Kurt Busch had risen to fourth behind leaders Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. But he had to pit with the white flag in sight like Hamlin did.

That sent him to a 20th-place finish after having scored no stage points – an opportunity to get some playoff cushion lost.

He later tweeted: “Running out of gas when our equipment and calculations said we were good is frustrating.” On the bright side, his puppies at the motorhome were blissfully unaware.

As for other drivers on the fringe of the playoff picture, Daniel Suarez moved up to 18th after back-to-back top-15 finishes this weekend (13th on Saturday, 15th on Sunday). The Trackhouse driver shaved his gap to the cutline a bit; he entered Pocono 61 points behind and leaves 48 points back.

An engine issue at Lap 111 ended Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s day on Sunday, and that cost him some ground playoff-wise. He entered Pocono 43 points behind the cutline. After finishes of 15th and 38th, he’s slipped to 19th in the standings at 54 points behind.

The biggest gainer, points-wise, among the bubble drivers was Bubba Wallace.

With finishes of 14th and fifth at Pocono, he moved from 77 to 54 points behind the cutline and moved into 20th in the standings.

Dustin Long contributed to this report

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told Frontstretch.com: “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.