Chris Buescher

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Penalty report from Michigan International Speedway

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Three crew chiefs have been fined for unsecured lug nuts during the NASCAR race weekend in Michigan.

Trent Owens, crew chief on Chris Buescher‘s No. 37 Chevrolet, and Billy Scott, crew chief on Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford, were fined $10,000 apiece for having one unsecured lug nut after the Cup race.

In the Xfinity Series, Randall Burnett, crew chief for race winner Tyler Reddick was fined $5,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

NASCAR also announced the indefinite suspension of Taylor J. Morse for behavioral level penalties, including violating its substance abuse policy.

Two Cup cars to be docked practice time at Michigan

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Erik Jones and Chris Buescher each will be docked 15 minutes of practice at the end of the first Cup session Friday at Michigan International Speedway. They will serve the penalty for multiple inspection failures last weekend at Pocono Raceway.

First Cup practice will be from 2:05-2:55 p.m. ET.

Four Xfinity cars will be docked time at the end of the first practice session Friday at Michigan.

Brandon Jones‘ team will be docked 15 minutes for being out the garage late at Pocono. Chad Finchum will miss 15 minutes because his car failed inspection twice at Pocono.

The cars of Paul Menard and Riley Herbst each will miss 30 minutes for being late and failing inspection twice at Pocono.

The first Xfinity practice will be from 1:05 – 1:55 p.m. ET.

Long: How crew chiefs mastered Pocono’s challenges

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While the Cup race at Pocono Raceway went as drivers predicted with passing difficult, it showed the value of a strong team.

Rodney Childers, Paul Wolfe and Adam Stevens displayed talents Sunday that have made them among the sport’s top crew chiefs.

MORE: Joe Gibbs Racing on verge of tying Roush Fenway Racing for more national series wins

The talk before the race was how track position would be critical. Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, struck early. With a competition caution on Lap 20, Childers had Harvick pit for four tires before that caution.

“I know on our box when we got to Lap 19, (Harvick) rolled on to pit road and I looked at my engineer and I said, ‘Why are they … awwww’ because Rodney made a great call on that one, one we totally should have gotten and missed, the field missed it,” said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” on Monday.

Harvick was 11th when he pitted.

Harvick returned to the pits during the competition caution for fuel — teams cannot add fuel before a competition caution. Filling the car with fuel didn’t take as long as changing four tires. That allowed Harvick to pass cars on pit road.

The move put Harvick ninth on the restart — gaining two positions — but six of the eight cars in front of him had two tires to his four.

Harvick moved to sixth on the first lap of the restart. By pitting before the competition caution for tires and then filling up the tank during the caution, Childers gained Harvick two spots and put him in position to gain three more positions on the restart.

Austin Dillon‘s crash helped Kevin Harvick gain two spots on the ensuring restart. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

When Austin Dillon crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later, Harvick restarted sixth in the outside lane — the preferred lane — and moved to fourth after the restart.

Childers adjusted his strategy to be on the same plan with Kyle Busch and Stevens. They were among those who pitted on Lap 94 while others stayed out until the end of the second stage at Lap 100.

That put Harvick on the front row with Busch for the restart after stage 2 since they stayed out during the break. Harvick’s chances took a hit with a penalty for an uncontrolled tire on a two-tire stop on Lap 124 and then a steering box issue. But up to that point, Childers had played the game well enough to put Harvick in position to challenge for the win.

Wolfe did a masterful job in guiding Brad Keselowski to a second-place finish. While others sacrificed stage points for track position, Keselowski finished third in the first stage and fifth in the second stage. Keselowski scored 50 points — more than any other driver.

Wolfe’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t the point total but adjusting his strategy when things went against him. It’s a trait the champion crew chief has had for years.

Wolfe called for a two-tire pit stop for Keselowski during the competition caution. Keselowski entered the pits seventh and exited second. Keselowski was the first of two cars (Martin Truex Jr. was the other) who did not pit after the first stage. That gave Keselowski the lead. He needed to pit but since a car at the front can do it at Pocono without losing a lap, Keselowski was in good shape.

Then came the caution a couple of laps after the restart for Matt DiBenedetto’s spin.

Wolfe had to adjust his strategy. He pitted during that caution (as did Truex) and was outside the top 15 and mired in traffic. Keselowski moved up to fifth by the end of stage 2 as others in front pitted and he didn’t. Keselowski then pitted during the break.

But Keselowski still didn’t have track position. He was 13th on the restart. He gained three spots to 10th on the first lap of the restart but was stuck there.

Brad Keselowski’s team services his car. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Keselowski was 12.5 seconds behind the leader when Wolfe called Keselowski in to pit on Lap 119 of 160. Keselowski was in his fuel window to make it to the end, so Wolfe decided to bring his driver in for a two-tire stop to stay on the lead lap (changing four tires likely would have put Keselowski a lap down).

Keselowski was the first car to pit and worked his way through the field as others stopped under green. Keselowski was fourth when the caution came out on Lap 148 for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s incident.

The leaders stayed out. Keselowski, fourth, restarted in the outside lane and took advantage of that spot. He pushed Busch to the lead and shot to second, passing Erik Jones in Turn 1. 

But Keselowski couldn’t get by Busch, a tribute not only to Busch but to Stevens. Busch and Stevens have combined to win 26 of 142 races (18.3%) in Cup since being paired in 2015.

A good crew chief puts his driver in position to excel. For Stevens, that is putting Busch close to the front. While Keselowski and a few others pitted ahead of Busch on what was their final stop, Stevens held his driver out until Lap 124.

Four years ago, Busch lost a bid to win a fourth consecutive Cup race when he ran out of fuel on the last lap at Pocono. Stevens said that day that they were good with fuel to make it to the end but didn’t factor how much the pace increased in the closing laps and that cost Busch the win.

Stevens didn’t let the same thing happen this time and was celebrating in victory lane with Busch afterward.

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It’s easy to overlook since Chris Buescher didn’t finish in the top 10 but Sunday’s 14th-place finish was significant.

It marked the first time Buescher has placed in the top 15 in three consecutive races for JTG Daugherty Racing since joining the organization in 2017. He was 10th at Kansas and sixth in the Coca-Cola 600.

Seven finishes of 20th or worse have Buescher 22nd in the season standings. He’s 60 points out of what would be the final playoff spot.

Still, this is a step forward for the organization and will be worth watching in the coming weeks if similar performances can continue.

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Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski have combined to win 10 of the 14 points races this season.

Cole Custer celebrates his Pocono Xfinity win. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

There’s a similar level of domination taking place in the Xfinity Series among three drivers. Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have combined to win the past six Xfinity races.

They’ve also combined to win eight of the 12 races this season. Busch has three wins. Michael Annett is the only other driver to win, capturing the season-opening race at Daytona. Bell, Custer and Reddick also have combined to win 13 of 24 stages and lead 58.8% of the laps (1,300 of 2,212).

They’ve also all finished in the top five in five races. They went 1-2-3 at Bristol with Bell winning, followed by Reddick and Custer.

The key question is where will they be next season. Reddick, the reigning Xfinity champ, is in his second full season. So is Bell. This is Custer’s third full season in Xfinity. They’re showing that it’s time to move them to Cup next season.

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Pocono winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — It’s a recurring theme but Kyle Busch’s season-high fourth win gives JGR nine victories in 14 points races.

Chris BuescherHis 14th-place finish marked his third consecutive top-15 finish. It’s the first time he’s had such a streak since joining JTG Daugherty Racing in 2017.

Erik Jones and Denny HamlinNothing bad happened to them. Jones finished third to move into a playoff spot. Hamlin was sixth, ending a streak of four consecutive finishes of 15th or worse.

Chase Elliott His fourth-place finish marked his series-best fifth consecutive top-five finish.

LOSERS

Kyle LarsonBold moves needed to be made to pass at Pocono, and Larson’s bold move backfired in the waning laps as he ran in the top 10. Contact with Clint Bowyer’s car caused Larson to hit the wall. Larson finished 26th, losing about 20 points from where he likely would’ve finished. Because of that failed move, Larson is tied with Jimmie Johnson for the final playoff spot. Will Larson need those 20 points when the playoff field is set in September?

Austin DillonContact with Paul Menard sent him into the wall early and to a last-place finish. Dillon entered the race 27 points out of a playoff spot. He left Pocono Raceway 57 points out of a playoff spot.

Jimmie Johnson — He is tied with Kyle Larson for the final playoff spot but would lose the tiebreaker and wouldn’t make the playoffs if the field was set today. Johnson has 12 races to either secure a playoff spot with a win or put himself in a better position via points. Johnson has qualified in the previous 15 seasons of the playoffs.

Pocono will be a ‘different world now’ with Cup rules package

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Why does William Byron think Pocono Raceway will be “even trickier” for Cup drivers this weekend?

They’ll drive cars at the “Tricky Triangle” with 550 horsepower and aero ducts, leading to increased “downforce and straightaway speeds being a little slower,” Byron said in a media release.

Sunday’s event will be the first Cup race since Dover on May 6 to use brake ducts instead of aero ducts.

“I think it’s going to make it a little more similar to the Truck Series race there and that was one of my best races,” Byron said.

In the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s one Truck Series start at Pocono in 2016, Byron started from the pole, led 44 of 60 laps and won.

The package’s first use at Pocono has led to questions of how it will impact the racing.

“It’s a different world now,” said August 2016 Pocono winner Chris Buescher in a media release. “We won’t be shifting and we won’t know what to expect with the corner speed. I would imagine that the Tunnel Turn (Turn 2) should be pretty easily wide open now, but (Turns) 1 and 3 still have some big unknowns to them.”

Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard predicts “big drafts on the straightaways and not as much braking as before.”

“And with the new transmission rules, you’ll be wanting to shift but with the third gear (and how) we’re now required to use it would probably just blow the engine,” Menard said in a media release.

Kurt Busch, a three-time Pocono winner, says the rules package “definitely changes the game” when it comes to the 2.5-mile triangle. That includes in qualifying and whether or not drivers will lift off the throttle entering Turn 1.

“It is one of the toughest turns,” Busch said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “With the draft, you’re definitely going to have to lift because of the extra speed that you’ll gain. But maybe in qualifying, it’s going to be that moment of ‘Do I hold it wide-open and see if it sticks or do I crack the throttle and make sure I still survive the other couple corners?'”

Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon says getting off Turn 3 to get a good run on the front stretch is “pretty key.”

“Just think of it like running a mile and losing a shoe,” Dillon said in a media release. “It’s not fun when your car is not turning off that corner and you are tight and you can’t get back to the gas.”

Martin Truex Jr. looks at the track a little differently. The two-time Pocono winner thinks all three corners are “all important.”

“Years ago, you would go there and you’d hear guys say they were focused on Turn 3 as the most important and today if you go there and you don’t have all of them really, really good, you’re going to get your butt kicked,” Truex said in a media release. “That’s honestly the way it works.”