NASCAR: Jeff Gordon leads at halfway in Pocono

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With multiple pit strategies in play, Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon currently holds the lead at the halfway mark of the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Moments after the green flag waved to start the race, Joey Logano took the lead from pole sitter Kyle Larson going into Turn 1. A short distance behind them, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch appeared to make contact in Turn 2 while fighting for third place.

The impact sent Keselowski sideways before he made a great save to keep his No. 2 Team Penske Ford off the wall. He dropped back to 12th at the end of Lap 1, but the early loss in track position certainly beat the alternative.

On Lap 9, Jimmie Johnson suffered a right-rear tire failure going into Turn 1 and scraped the outside wall. A debris caution came out shortly afterwards, allowing the team to change the flat. However, Johnson fell one lap down and to dead last in the field – 43rd place.

Kurt Busch, giving up third position, then led a number of drivers to the pits under the caution that included his brother Kyle and Kyle’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth.

Beyond Kurt Busch, most of the Top 10 stayed out for the restart at Lap 13 (Kurt himself took the restart in 21st). Logano held the point, but behind him, Kevin Harvick and Gordon jumped Larson and shuffled him back to fourth.

On Lap 16, Top-10 runner Danica Patrick started to have an apparent tire rub after glancing off the wall previously. Then on Lap 17, a tire failure caused Patrick to hit the wall in Turn 2, triggering the second yellow of the day.

While Patrick’s crew worked to fix her damaged car on pit road, the leaders again decided to stay out while Johnson returned to the lead lap by virtue of the free pass.

Logano powered past Harvick on the outside to keep the lead off the Lap 20 restart, while Larson dropped Gordon for third place.

On Lap 23, Kyle Busch slowed down dramatically from 17th position and after reaching his pit box, his crew popped the hood on his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The car was then pushed to the garage with a terminal engine problem, ending Busch’s day.

Gordon moved past Harvick for second on Lap 27 and was homing in on Logano for the lead until Landon Cassill hit the wall for Caution No. 3 at Lap 29.

At this point, the leaders finally made their first appearances in the pits. Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart each took two tires and won the race off pit road ahead of Logano, Larson and Harvick (who all took four tires).

But after pitting under the first caution, Kurt Busch stayed out to assume the race lead. Busch would hold the point until Lap 45, when he went in for service and gave the lead to Gordon. Leading up to Busch’s second stop, Gordon had passed Logano, Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. to move up to second.

By Lap 50, Gordon was holding a lead of roughly two seconds on Logano. But that edge was erased with another caution, this time for Joe Nemechek, who slapped the wall off Turn 3 after he was tapped on the inside by an oncoming Kasey Kahne.

Kahne aired his frustrations with Nemechek over his radio:

Nemechek also wasn’t thrilled with Kahne:

Another group of drivers including Johnson and Keselowski chose to pit under this yellow. Also pitting were the Richard Petty Motorsports duo of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, who each had problems – Ambrose parked his car sideways in his pit box, while Almirola had the hood go up on his car for an unspecified issue.

Gordon lined up on the outside for the restart at Lap 56 and quickly shot past Logano to retain his lead. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer took advantage of the restart to make a move and crack the Top 5, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. got around Vickers at Lap 60 for third place.

Bowyer and Larson decided to pit under green at Lap 64. One lap later, the Top 3 – Gordon, Logano, and Earnhardt – chose to come in together.

Kurt Busch inherited the lead again, followed by Kahne, Johnson, Stewart and Kenseth. But as the multiple strategies continued to play out, Johnson, Kahne and Stewart all pitted shortly after Lap 70.

Busch and Kenseth, who last pitted on Lap 44, went to first and second place. But on Lap 74, Kenseth gave up second to pit, and on Lap 75, Busch abandoned the lead to do the same.

A.J. Allmendinger inherited P1 as the leader of a group of cars that pitted on the Nemechek caution. But after that group cycled through, Gordon returned to the top of the leaderboard.

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.