LONG POND — Kyle Busch’s drought ended. Kevin Harvick’s continued.
Two of the sport’s most successful drivers had managed to conquer nearly all of the tracks in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Except Pocono.
When Busch finally got his first victory at Pocono Raceway in Sunday’s Overton’s 400, it was — once again — Harvick finishing second.
The veteran driver of the No. 4 car for Stewart-Haas Racing had also taken second in the June race this year, watching Ryan Blaney edge him for his first Cup victory at any venue.
As it happens, Harvick has now finished in second place in four of his last seven trips to the Tricky Triangle.
All of those near-misses could easily cause some consternation for a driver. For his part, Busch called his own experience “frustrating, aggravating and disheartening” that he could win anywhere but Pocono.
But if Harvick feels the same way, he isn’t letting on.
“I came here for 15 years and I don’t think I had a top 10,” Harvick said with a smile shortly after Sunday’s race. “I learned a long time ago not to complain when you finish in second or third. It’s hard to do, and sometimes you can’t do it. I’ve been on the side where you can’t do it.
“It’s fun to win races and it’s fun to be competitive. I’m never going to sit up here and ever complain about finishing second.”
Debuting at Pocono back in 2001, Harvick did manage one top-10 finish early in his career, taking sixth in the July 2002 race. Clustered around that, however, were finishes of 15th, 20th, 39th, 25th, 12th, 20th and 32nd.
Starting with his Cup championship season of 2014, however, Harvick has only finished outside of the top 10 once at Pocono when an engine problem parked him early in the August 2015 race.
Thanks in part to his strong showing at the track this year, Harvick is sitting comfortably in third place in the points standings and sixth in the playoff pecking order with one victory under his belt this season.
“Finishing second is a good accomplishment,” Harvick said. “The team has been through a lot since switching over to Ford, and as competitive as we’ve been, it’s been a huge credit to some great people we have.”
A welcome change?
Many drivers came into the weekend taking a wait-and-see approach to NASCAR’s schedule tinkering that saw qualifying taking place on Sunday morning before an afternoon race. Qualifying at Pocono typically runs on Friday afternoons.
“I haven’t formed much of an opinion yet,” Brad Keselowski said on Saturday. “But me personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I’ve done it before in (the Xfinity series) qualifying in the morning and I didn’t think it was a game-changer.”
Naturally, the race winner thought it worked out
“I thought today was great,” Busch said. “I didn’t have any qualms about it whatsoever. I’m up at 8 or 9 a.m. anyway, so I might as well be doing something. It was not that big a deal.
“If a driver has a lot of (sponsors to deal with), that’s difficult to balance that on some weekends. But for me today, it was pretty easy.”
Busch wondered if the condensed schedule might be tougher on team members, but other drivers said they had heard that having an extra Friday or two off during the season allows them to spend more time with their families.
“That’s definitely a big deal,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “It’s definitely worth the time at home for them.”
“Guys appreciate being able to stay home,” Harvick said. “Everyone’s gone so much, it’s harder and harder to hire people because it’s just such a grind. So I thought this went well.”
Another early exit
Seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson has had plenty of success this season, winning three races. But Pocono has not been kind to him this summer.
Johnson was knocked out after just 57 laps on Sunday after making contact with Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne and spinning out, crumpling his back end after hitting the wall. He finished 35th.
A bit earlier, Johnson had gotten a bump from Blaney, throwing him off kilter.
“Just hard racing,” Johnson said. “I was in the outside lane and losing some spots. I think (Kahne) washed up into me and kind of finished me off over there in Turn 3. It’s definitely not the day we wanted to have, but I don’t think either one of those situations were intentional by any stretch.”
It still beats Johnson’s Pocono experience from June. Though he lasted 95 laps in that one, he suffered what he called one of the hardest crashes of his career and finished 36th.