NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Can't Hold on at Pocono

NASCAR Barometer: Harvick Can't Hold on at Pocono

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Sunday's Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway quickly became one of the most difficult races to predict when the top drivers from early in the season were the same faces at the top of the timesheets for each practice session. Kevin Harvick appeared to have the dominant car, but none of the Hendrick Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing cars could be counted out either. Kurt Busch started from pole position, but Martin Truex Jr. stamped his claim on the trophy very early.

For the fourth week Truex led the most laps, but this time the cards fell in his favor. He held on through all of the late caution periods, dominating restarts, to cruise ahead of the competition to score his first win of the season. A victory seemed likely almost any week for this team, but it finally came in Pennsylvania. The No. 78 led 97 of the race's 160 laps. Only Harvick seemed likely to challenge, but a gap of nearly two seconds was what Truex was able to maintain in the closing miles. The Furniture Row Racing team finally made all the right decisions on pit road, and made no mistakes. That enabled Truex to sail home to victory on track.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. - Truex continued to flex his muscle this season by leading the most laps for yet another week in Pocono. After weeks of disappointment it looked like the breakthrough would finally come for the No. 78 team. Earlier in the race the team

Sunday's Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway quickly became one of the most difficult races to predict when the top drivers from early in the season were the same faces at the top of the timesheets for each practice session. Kevin Harvick appeared to have the dominant car, but none of the Hendrick Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing cars could be counted out either. Kurt Busch started from pole position, but Martin Truex Jr. stamped his claim on the trophy very early.

For the fourth week Truex led the most laps, but this time the cards fell in his favor. He held on through all of the late caution periods, dominating restarts, to cruise ahead of the competition to score his first win of the season. A victory seemed likely almost any week for this team, but it finally came in Pennsylvania. The No. 78 led 97 of the race's 160 laps. Only Harvick seemed likely to challenge, but a gap of nearly two seconds was what Truex was able to maintain in the closing miles. The Furniture Row Racing team finally made all the right decisions on pit road, and made no mistakes. That enabled Truex to sail home to victory on track.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. - Truex continued to flex his muscle this season by leading the most laps for yet another week in Pocono. After weeks of disappointment it looked like the breakthrough would finally come for the No. 78 team. Earlier in the race the team used two-tire stops to maintain track position, and a four-tire stop on the final change gave Truex what he needed to finally get the job done. The team scored a long overdue win, and firmly placed one foot into the Chase for the Championship. Truex hasn't finished in the top-10 at Michigan since the spring of 2013, but the way he is currently racing means he should be among the fastest yet again this week.

Kevin Harvick -
Dominating a weekend is nothing new to Harvick, and he did that again throughout practice last week in Pocono. When the race got under way, however, he was second best. Harvick continues to be a dominant contender each and every week, and nothing will change for next week's race in Michigan. He has been the runner up there in each of the last four races, and will need just a small tweak to take one step forward to claim his second win at the track. The No. 4 team is one of the most consistent teams in the series, and we learned last season that consistency is a necessity to win a championship. Harvick is well positioned to do that again in 2015.

Jimmie Johnson -
A flat tire put Johnson behind last week. The damage could have been worse, but it happened with about half of the race distance remaining and he worked to put himself back in contention. Johnson found himself restarting in the top 10 with 20 laps remaining after refusing to give up, and then in the top 5 just a few laps later. When all was said and done Johnson was able to salvage a top-5 finish despite the adversity. The team doesn't have the consistency of Harvick or Truex, but they are coming up big when the chips are down and that counts for a lot. Johnson only has one Michigan victory, but that came in this race last season.

Joey Logano -
The award for making something out of nothing goes to Logano for his fourth-place Pocono finish. The Penske cars showed nothing throughout practice and were forced to make adjustments in the race to overcome the lack of speed earlier in the week. Logano kept his nose clean throughout the distance and scored a confident top-5 after two races outside of the top 10, though. Logano's lone 2015 win puts him in solid position to compete in the Chase, but the team will need to make some improvements to be a contender at the end. They have plenty of time, and Logano hasn't missed a top-10 finish at Michigan since 2012. Logano is back, and next week should see a return to contention for the win.

DOWNGRADE

Bred Keselowski - Keselowski's team was not at its best last week in Pocono. The Ford-powered cars were off of the pace, but Keselowski was able to piece together a valiant effort in Sunday's race. First, it was an air hose that caused misery, but things got worse. After fighting back, the team's effort amounted to nothing when Keselowski collided with a slower car late. The No. 2 drifted into the gray, and collected the No. 34 machine. That contact sent Keselowski to pit road for repairs, and ended his hopes of stealing a win. He finished 17th, and marking consecutive weeks that the No. 2 failed to finish in the top 10. Keselowski has never won at Michigan, but had two top-10 finishes there last season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Contact with teammate Kasey Kahne gave Earnhardt rear damage, forcing him to lose track position as the team made what repairs were possible. That contact came with less than 50 laps remaining in the race, which was too late to overcome for the No. 88 team. Prior to the issue Earnhardt did his best to prove that the two races he won at the track last season were no fluke. He was running well, but was bitten by the bad luck. He finished the day in 11th position, missing the top 10 in the last two races. Michigan has been kind to Earnhardt in the past, though. Two wins and an average finish of 15.6 indicate he may be in position to overcome.

Ryan Newman -
A disappointing effort throughout practice meant that Newman would have to make all the right adjustments during the race last week. He did just that. Newman put himself into the top 10 in the closing miles when contact with A.J. Allmendinger sent him into the wall when the No. 47 bobbled underneath him. Newman is fighting to remain in Chase contention, and without a win Sunday's finish didn't help matters. Newman was forced behind the wall to make repairs, which was a disappointing result for the work the team put in to salvage what they could from a tough week. Newman has won twice in Michigan, but not since 2004. He hasn't finished inside the top 10 since 2012.

Carl Edwards -
Having one of the fastest cars throughout each of the practice sessions for last week's race meant nothing for Edwards. The team struggled almost as soon as the green flag waved, and Edwards dropped steadily backward from his front-row starting position. The speed simply was not there for the No. 19, and they settled for a 15th-place finish on a day they should have been challenging for the win. Though Edwards got his win to earn a spot in the Chase, the team still needs to correct a lot of problems. Michigan could be a good barometer of that progress. Edwards has won there twice, but finished 23rd in each race last season.

Danica Patrick -
At a track Patrick should probably have been able to turn in a top-15 finish, she found herself with a cut tire and in the wall late last week. She was nowhere to be found throughout practice and qualifying for Pocono's race, but she confidently worked her way into position to score a respectable finish. That wasn't to be, though. A cut tire on a late restart sent her spinning into the wall. A second spin later put the final nail in her coffin. Patrick's best Michigan finish was in her first try, which was 13th. She hasn't been able to bag a top-15 there since, and expectations should be low this coming week given her sub-par outing last week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Jamie McMurray - Expectations for McMurray at Pocono were low despite being a regular contender for selection in fantasy rosters almost every other week. He hasn't been great at the track, but came up with one of the top races of his career there on Sunday. He finished seventh on Sunday at a track he has never scored a top-10 on. That seventh-place finish marked his third consecutive top-10 there, though. Michigan may be similar for him. He hasn't finished in the top-10 at that track since 2008, but streaks are made to be broken. Watch McMurray through practice and qualifying next week, but be sure not to ignore him. Expectations will be low again, but his capacity to outperform remains.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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