LONG POND — Just when the wackiness subsided Sunday, it took off in another direction in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway.
And when a strange race ended for good, there was an unlikely winner in Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth was roughly 20 seconds behind leader Joey Logano with three laps left in a 160-lap race that plodded along through a myriad of cautions.
But Logano began to wiggle with three laps to go, trying to get the last drops of fuel to keep his No. 22 Ford moving. It didn’t work. Then with two laps left, second-place Martin Truex Jr. succumbed to the same fate, leaving Kyle Busch running 16 seconds ahead of Kenseth with one lap left.
And then — you guessed it — Busch saw his chance at a fourth consecutive Cup Series win go by the wayside as he ran out of fuel.
That made Kenseth, who had finished 22nd or worse in five of his last six Pocono races, the improbable winner.
“I couldn’t catch the leaders anyway,” Kenseth said, “but I wanted to get as close as I could in case they ran out. That’s hard not to go as fast as you can in the last five or six laps. It’s tough to discipline yourself to do that.”
The other members of the top three also were surprised.
Brad Keselowski finished second despite bowling over three pit crew members during a green-flag stop on lap 57. He was assessed a pass-through penalty when one of his tires rolled down pit road after the incident.
“Unfortunately, it was another race where I didn’t feel it all came together for us,” Keselowski said. “This one (is) on my end, having problems on pit road and sliding through the (pit) box, I dug a hole and got us a lap down with the penalty and so forth.”
Jeff Gordon was third in his final race at the track. The winner of a record six Pocono races was never in position to win and even a top-10 finish seemed debatable. But he was able to push his No. 24 Chevrolet a little more than others in the final laps and it paid off.
“At the end we were one of the last ones to pit,” Gordon said. “That allowed us to run hard at the end and not conserve or save fuel. I thought we were trying to get 10th or 12th and all of a sudden they said we’re third. I think I was probably the most shocked person on the race track when I found that out.”
Maybe the second-most shocked person. Kenseth probably would be in the top spot in that category.
“I didn’t know I would be in the lead until I came off Turn one and could see Kyle shaking his car going into turn two trying to pick up gas,” Kenseth said. “I knew where we were as far as who was in front of me and what was going on. I did not know when (Logano) ran out except for them telling me and nobody said anything about (Truex). I just saw him pulling onto pit road.”
Kenseth led just two laps, but one of them was the most important. Until then, his No. 20 Toyota was solid enough to garner a top-five finish and at the worse a top 10.
Logano led a race-high 97 laps, but finished 20th. Truex, the Pocono winner in June, placed 19th. Busch saw his hot streak sputter out as he finished 21st.
Pocono is known for long green-flag runs that gives the teams a good idea on fuel mileage, but early on this race wasn’t going to be a typical one.
The race was red-flagged on lap 6 when Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet veered off the track coming out of the third turn and crashed into the pit wall. The impact sent pit crews in that area scattering. It also launched some pit crew helmets into the air, but no one was hurt.
“Well first I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m clear over here this late in the corner and then all the way to the left heading towards pit wall,’” Kahne said. “Then I saw the people and was like ‘Man, you guys better take off running.’ I’ve never been in anything like that before.”
The race was resumed about 15 minutes later after repairs to the wall, which buckled sightly and had a piece of Kahne’s car stuck in it.
Kevin Harvick was strong throughout the weekend and it appeared it would carry over to Sunday. But while leading on lap 21, his engine went up in smoke. The end result was his first DNF at Pocono since 2004. He was the runner-up in the previous two Pocono races.
The caution periods continued to pile up. There were seven by the midway point. There were eight total in the June race. There were two restarts that ended in wrecks before the drivers were able to get through turn one.