SERIES HEADS TO TRICKY TRIANGLE OF POCONO
ABOVE VIDEO: Fresh off a career day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, last week’s race winner Kyle Busch returns to Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 400 (on Sunday, June 3 at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) hoping to ride the wave of success.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – From time to time NASCAR tends to do things a little backward. Afterall, while every other sport ends the year with their biggest game, NASCAR starts their season with its biggest race in the Daytona 500.
Undoubtedly, the most grueling time of the NASCAR season is racing during the hot summer months. The race for the ‘playoff chase’ really heats up in June, July, and August and the action on the track isn’t the only place it gets hot. Temperatures inside the car can soar to 160-degrees during the July Daytona event.
So what does NASCAR do, they start this portion of the schedule with its longest, most grueling stop of the season, the 400-lap, 600-mile Coca-Cola sponsored event at Charlott Motor Speedway.
Luckily for many of the drivers this past Sunday afternoon and into the evening, all they had to do was sit back and turn left and watch as Kyle Busch made history in winning the 400-lap contest.
Busch’s dominating performance gave him his first ever career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which now makes him the only driver in NASCAR history who has won at every Cup track at which he has started a race.
Dominating may even be understating his performance. Behind the wheel of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Busch led 377 of the 400 laps and extended his series lead to 67 points over 22nd-place finisher Joey Logano.
Defending series champ Martin Truex Jr. rallied from two pit road penalties to finish second while Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate at JGR, finished third, 13.5 seconds behind the race winner.
Brad Keselowski ran fourth, followed by Jimmie Johnson, who collected his second top five of the season. Johnson, the seven-time series champ hasn’t led a lap this season and his winless streak reached 36 races after the 600.
Busch Looking for Another Win Streak
Fresh off a career day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, last week’s race winner Kyle Busch returns to Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 400 (on Sunday, June 3 at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) hoping to ride the wave of success.
As he did in Charlotte on Sunday night, Busch picked up his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the Pocono 2.5-miler last July – his only win in 26 starts at the track. It was a strong showing, however, with Busch winning from the Busch Pole position – a place he started at both Pocono races in 2017.
The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota has been finishing nearly as well as he starts at Pocono. He has three Busch pole awards (August 2015 was the other) and four top-10 finishes in the last six Pocono races, including the last three-straight. He led 100 laps in this race last year and finished ninth. He led 74 laps in the second Pocono race later in the summer en route to his first victory at the track.
Harvick Is Right Back At It
ABOVE VIDEO: Although Kevin Harvick’s two-race winning streak was rather abruptly halted Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a last-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, he can arrive at Pocono Raceway feeling hopeful.
Although Kevin Harvick’s two-race winning streak was rather abruptly halted Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a last-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, he can arrive at Pocono Raceway feeling hopeful.
Harvick has yet to visit Victory Lane at the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” and is 0-for-34 there. He has led laps in only five of the last 15 races (63 total laps). However, last season was a sign that his fortune may be changing.
He was runner-up in both races (to Ryan Blaney and to Kyle Busch) and has posted four second-place finishes among six top-10s in the last seven races at Pocono. His overall average finish since 2005 – despite not visiting Victory Lane – is 10.5, trailing only Erik Jones’ 5.5 average finish.
Quiet Success for Logano
Penske Racing’s Joey Logano is keeping a stealth eye on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. He is second to Charlotte winner Kyle Busch by 67 points, which isn’t too shabby considering Busch has four wins to Logano’s one. And Logano’s 10 top-10 finishes equals the outstanding top-10 production of both Busch and five-time season winner Kevin Harvick.
He has three top-five finishes in the last five races, including the Talladega victory, and he’s led laps in all but three of the season’s 13 races.
It all should make an encouraging outlook at Pocono for Logano, who won this race in 2012 from the Busch Pole position. But, he’ll have to turn around a recent string of poor finishes at Pocono to come out on top. Despite five top-10s in the last eight races there, his most recent three starts netted finishes of 37th, 23rd, and 27th.
Fond Memories for Hamlin
ABOVE VIDEO: A fresh-faced Denny Hamlin’s first two Monster Energy Series wins came six races apart, both at Pocono Raceway in 2006.
The “Tricky Triangle” as Pocono is lovingly known, has been one of the most productive venues for Denny Hamlin, who won the first two Pocono starts of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, sweeping the 2006 season races as a 25-year-old rookie. And of note – both of those wins came from the Busch Pole position.
He scored another set of back-to-back victories while winning the second Pocono race of 2009 and the first of 2010. More recently, he has five top-10s in his last eight starts at the track.
It bodes well for Hamlin, who is one of five drivers ranked among the top 10 in points without a victory in 2018. Third place is the best showing for Hamlin this season and he’s done it three times (Daytona, Richmond, and this past Sunday night at Charlotte).
He has four top-10 finishes in the last five races and has led laps in 10 of the season’s 13 races to date. His eight top-five finishes are second only to Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick who all have 10.
“We’re just third or fourth best every week,’’ the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota said Sunday night after his third-place finish at Charlotte. “That’s frustrating, but it could be 35 spots worse.”
“We’re either really good or we’re average at best. We need to get a little bit better. I think the 78 (Truex), the 4 (Harvick) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) are all a little bit faster than us and we’re just kind of right there next in line.’’
Kurt Busch is Heating Up
Pocono may just be the venue that Kurt Busch uses to automatically punch his ticket to NASCAR’s Playoffs. The former series champion has three wins and two Busch Pole Awards there. And he has three top-five finishes — including a 2016 victory – in his last six Pocono races.
Busch has looked impressive this year in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford and takes a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes into Pocono this weekend. He has seven top-10s through the season’s 13 races and is ranked sixth in the points standings – and his three Stewart-Haas teammates join him in the championship top-10. Kevin Harvick is third, Clint Bowyer is eighth and Aric Almirola in 10th.
Sunoco Rookie Runs
ABOVE VIDEO: Pocono Raceway is a significant venue for one of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ high-profile Sunoco rookies, Bubba Wallace. This is where Wallace made his series debut last year (finishing 26th)
Pocono Raceway is a significant venue for one of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ high-profile Sunoco rookies, Bubba Wallace.
This is where Wallace made his series debut last year (finishing 26th), filling in for the injured Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports car he now drives full-time.
Wallace is in a tight Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle with Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, whose tough-luck day at Charlotte (he finished 39th after being involved in an incident) helped significantly tighten the points standings between them.
Wallace, who finished 16th at Charlotte, has one top-five effort – a runner-up finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 – and is ranked 23rd in the standings.
Byron, who has one top-10 and three DNFs in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is ranked 22nd – a slim two points ahead of Wallace.
Pocono Could Be the One for Erik Jones
ABOVE VIDEO: NASCAR.com’s Jonathan Merryman and NASCAR on NBC’s Marty Snider preview the weekend ahead at Pocono Raceway.
Granted it’s based on only two starts, but second-year Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Erik Jones has already put up impressive numbers at Pocono Raceway – enough to statistically make him the top-rated driver in several key loop data categories (which includes races since 2005).
Jones finished third in his Monster Energy Series debut at this race last June – his first career Cup top five – and answered with an eighth-place finish later in the summer. So, his 5.5 average finish and 8.312 average running position help boost his driver rating to a 106.5, the series-best.
And while two races are not enough of a sample size to properly compare with those who have been racing at Pocono for a dozen years, it does provide plenty of optimism for his visit this weekend.
He ran 290 of the two races’ 320 laps in the top-15 and led laps in both races. His 20 laps out front in this race last year was his second-highest total of laps led his rookie season, second to an impressive 260 laps out front and a runner-up finish at Bristol in the fall.
Jones has five top 10s through the first 13 races of 2018 in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota and led a season-high 64 laps before posting a season-best finish of fourth at Texas Motor Speedway last month. He’s ranked 13th in the points standings – well within the early-look top-16 threshold for qualifying for the Playoffs.
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