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Mash The Gas: NASCAR Pocono Preview

[Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers head to the Pocono Raceway for the Overton’s 400 on Sunday afternoon.

Overton’s 400
Pocono Raceway
400 miles (160 laps)
Sunday, July 30
3 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 50)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 100)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 160)
Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit in that its shape is similar to a triangle with three distinct turns connected by long straightaways. Each turn has its own set of characteristics making it nearly impossible to set up a car to handle well all around the speedway. Turn One is based on the now defunct Trenton Speedway and Turn Two, “the tunnel turn” is configured similar to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while Turn Three is shaped similar to turns at the Milwaukee Mile. Fuel strategy also comes into play more at the Pocono Raceway as there is little banking to use to coast and save fuel.

Pocono also is unique in that this is the first weekend where the Cup cars will qualify and race on the same day. Many of the drivers that raced well last week at Indianapolis should also have success at Pocono as both tracks are fast and relatively flat.

Here are some of the drivers to watch on Sunday at Pocono Raceway…

Kyle Busch (Dan Margetta)
Kyle Busch was well on his way to his third straight Brickyard 400 victory last year until a wreck with Martin Truex Jr ended his day just past the end of the second stage. Busch has been fast every week this year but still is winless, mainly due to unexplainable bad luck. He should be good again this week as well and Pocono is one of few tracks Busch has yet to win at. The black cloud over Kyle Busch’s head can’t last all season and this could very well be the week he finally breaks into the win column.

Ryan Blaney (John Wiedemann)
It will be interesting to see how Ryan Blaney performs this weekend as he returns to the track where he grabbed his first and only Cup Series win. Blaney out raced Kyle Busch to capture the victory and should be in the mix again this weekend. These longer tracks seem to suit Blaney and the Wood Brothers Team well. As Blaney gets ready to participate in the NASCAR playoffs, another race win or at least some stage wins would help him move forward throughout the playoff season. As we have said before Blaney has been up and down in his results this season, but he was running well at Indianapolis when he got caught up in someone elses mess. Expect Blaney to continue running strong this weekend and another finish up front, maybe a Pocono sweep.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
Kevin Harvick finished a strong second to Ryan Blaney at Pocono earlier this year and was strong at Indianapolis last week as well. Harvick should be strong at Pocono this week again and this time around the pressure to win isn’t as great as he has already picked up his win at Dover to qualify for the playoffs. Harvick’s first season with Ford hasn’t produced the multiple victories he’s accustomed to but as the playoff stretch kicks in, this team has gained some steam and they should be one to watch on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr. (JW)
With three wins this season plus 29 playoff points, Martin Truex Jr and the #78 team can just coast into the playoffs. But that is not their style. Still wanting to shed the “mile and a half winner” moniker, Truex and the team want to prove they can win anywhere. And, they can. More than anything they want to put last week and turn one at Indy behind them. One thing that can’t be ignored from last week is that they were one of the two fastest cars on the track and very much in contention to win. Expect this week to be the same and Truex will be one to beat in the Overton’s 400 on Sunday. Look for another battle between Truex and Busch for both stage wins as well as the race win.

Matt Kenseth (DM)
The Brickyard 400 was playing directly into Matt Kenseth’s hands last week until the late race crashing derailed his plans. Still Kenseth avoided the carnage to finish fifth. Kenseth is still auditioning for a ride next season and much like Kasey Kahne’s winning performance last week, a victory at Pocono would go a long way towards finding a ride next year as well as qualifying for a playoff spot. Expect Kenseth to be smart all day and to be there at the end.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (JW)
As the playoffs get closer, about the only way for Dale Earnhardt Jr to participate in the run to the championship is to get a win in the next six races. Fortunately for Junior, he has a win at three of those next six tracks on the schedule and one of those is Pocono where he has won twice. In the last eight races at Pocono, Earnhardt has finished in the top five six times. To go along with those two wins, Junior has eleven top five and fifteen top ten runs with a career average finish of 15.1. This is a good track for Earnhardt and he ran well last weekend at Indianapolis. Sunday just might be Earnhardt’s best chance to get a playoff berth.

Chase Elliott (DM)
Has anybody seen Chase Elliott lately? After challenging for wins earlier in the year, Elliott has disappeared lately and his early exit from Indianapolis last week didn’t help matters. Teammate Kasey Kahne’s win will also ramp up the pressure to perform as the Hendrick Motorsports teams aren’t used to being winless this deep in the season. Kahne’s victory also could jump start the whole organization and Chase Elliott could be someone to watch this weekend.

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta