Photo: NASCAR Media Group

Throwback Thursday Theater – Photo Finish in the Fog at Pocono

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Last July at Pocono, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race that was postponed to Monday wound up getting shortened by fog, leading to Chris Buescher scoring his first career win in NASCAR’s premier division. Turns out that wasn’t the first time a race at Pocono has been shortened by fog and visibility issues.

The first race shortened by fog came 31 years ago in the 1986 Summer 500 at Pocono, leading to not only a shortened race, but one of the closest finishes ever at the 2.5 mile triangle-shaped track.

Fog would delay the start of the race for more than an hour and visibility finally cleared enough to get the race underway, with Harry Gant leading the field to green and Geoff Bodine alongside. Gant would lead the first lap, but Bodine took over on the next circuit.

As the race progressed, two drivers emerged as the drivers to beat, with Bodine and Tim Richmond, who started fifth and had won two of the last three races before Pocono, as well as the first Pocono race in 1986, led the lion’s share of the race. Richmond led 47 of the first 121 laps, while Bodine would lead 38 laps.

After a caution on lap 115, Bodine, Richmond, and Neil Bonnett were all fighting for the lead on the ensuing restart, when things went awry for Richmond. He made a bold three-wide move in Turn 2 on lap 122, but washed up the track and eventually lost control of his No. 25 Chevrolet before getting collected by Richard Petty and spinning down into the infield grass.

Richmond was able to get out of the wet grass by backing out and instead of turning around and driving to pit road like normal, he drove the entire way in reverse, righting his car once he got to pit road. Remember the scene in “Days of Thunder” when Cole Trickle drove in reverse all the way to pit road after spinning? Well, that scene was derived from what Richmond did that day at Pocono.

Though it looked like Richmond’s chances of a Pocono sweep were gone after his crash, things took a turn in the right direction for the No. 25 team just a few laps later. However, Richmond’s gain was a loss for five other drivers.

On lap 127, Turn 2 was calamity corner as Bobby Hillin, Jr., Bonnett, Gant, Morgan Shepherd, and Benny Parsons all got together and spun down into the infield grass. Bonnett got the worst of the crash as he made a heavy impact with Pocono’s notorious dirt embankments that used to line the inside of the track in places without walls or guardrails, sending his car up on two wheels before settling back down on all four. Bonnett was slow to get out of his car, collapsing to the ground once he did before safety crews arrived on scene.

As a result of the crash, Richmond was able to get in front of the leaders as the last car on the lead lap and held steady before caution flew for Dale Earnhardt, allowing Richmond to get his lap back and have a fighting chance at the win.

With Geoff Bodine in the lead, NASCAR announced that the race would end at lap 150 due to fog rolling back in over the track and visibility decreasing with each passing lap, meaning Richmond would have his work cut out for him to be able to get back to the lead before the race reached its end.

By the time the race reached three laps to go, Richmond had driven like a man possessed, powering his way up to second place and setting his sights on his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Bodine in the lead.

On the penultimate lap, it was a dead heat between the two teammates as they reached the start/finish line, with Bodine edging out Richmond ever so slightly.

The white flag lap was more of the same as Richmond was able to pull ahead in Turn 1, but Bodine took the lead right back off of Turn 2, setting up a side-by-side duel through Turn 3 and down to the finish line.

With Richmond and Bodine running alongside each other off Turn 3, they both got slowed up a bit, allowing Ricky Rudd, who was running third to join the fight for the lead in a three-wide drag race down the frontstretch.

Richmond was able to put the nose of his Chevrolet out in front of Rudd’s Ford at the finish, beating him by a margin of 0.05 seconds, which to this date is the closest finish ever at Pocono.

Bodine would finish third, with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison rounding out the top-five.

For Richmond, the win was his seventh career trip to victory lane and his third at Pocono. It also gave him the season sweep and wins in three of the past four races at that point in the 1986 season.

“It was a barnburner, I’ll tell you,” said Richmond. “I just came out on the lucky end of the stick. We got by Geoff on the front straightaway and went down into (Turn) 1 and had him covered. I went into the Tunnel Turn too hard and the car slipped up and started to spin out and he slipped under me. We both went down into (Turn) 3 side-by-side and we kind of touched and bobbled like I guess you’re supposed to in the Winston Cup Series. I just got to the throttle a little bit quicker than he did coming off of (Turn) 3 there and then all of a sudden Ricky came out of nowhere because of Geoff and I dogging for it there. Ricky came out of nowhere and snuck in there for I thought the win almost, but luckily the photo finish showed it was us.”

“On a 1 to 10, I was on a 1, a 1 or 2 on the sure side that we had won it. Ricky and I really didn’t know. We went down into Turn 1 and kind of looked like ‘Did you win or did I win?’ and he did the same thing. I’ll tell you what, that’s fun winning them like that. That’s a NASCAR finish.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.