Mash The Gas: Pocono Preview

The green flag flies to start the race at the Pocono Raceway. [Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images]


The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers head to the Pocono Raceway for the AXALTA presents the Pocono 400 on Sunday afternoon.

AXALTA presents the Pocono 400
Pocono Raceway
400 miles (160 laps)
Sunday, June 11
3 p.m. ET
FS1, 1:30 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.

Half way through the regular season, there are now thirteen races until the start of the Playoffs. Nine drivers have won this season, currently leaving seven positions available. With drivers like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and technically Joey Logano yet to get a playoff eligible victory, those Playoff spots are looking to be hard to come by. Include more drivers that have good shots at a victory this season like Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez and the math shows that points are going to come into play along with wins. The frenzy to get in the playoffs starts now.

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

Kyle Busch
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas are returning to form of running up front, but now they need to return to victory lane. The team driver that may lead them there is Kyle Busch. One of two tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that Busch has yet to win, Pocono must be a target on the Toyota drivers mind. Busch had a shot at crossing Charlotte off the winless list and everyone saw how unhappy he was following that race. You can bet Busch will be ramped up to win this weekend, not that he isn’t always. Busch is my pick to find victory lane, leaving only Charlotte left on his winless list.

Joey Logano
Joey Logano needs something good to happen and happen soon. Following his “encumbered” win at Richmond, if it wasn’t for bad luck Logano would have no luck at all. Logano has won in the past at Pocono and needs to turn his season around now. I’m sure he will return to his winning ways as you can’t keep a good driver down, but his slide has been going on for a while not with no signs of letting up. Since that Richmond race, Logano has finishes of 32nd, 37th, 21st and 25th. That streak can’t continue and even Logano’s average finish of 11th would be a great result this weekend. I predict he will finish much better than his average.

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson just may be heating up as the summer starts and that could be bad news for the rest of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Capturing his 83rd victory last weekend to tie Cale Yarborough is just a continuation of climbing to the top rungs of the stats in the series. This weekend is another good track for Johnson as he has amassed three wins, eleven top five finishes, leads current drivers with nineteen top tens and owns an average finish of 10.6 in thirty starts. With last week’s win, Johnson now leads the series with three victories. Expect another typical race for Johnson. He may not be leading the race at the end of stage one or two, but when the checkers are ready to wave expect the #48 to be in contention.

Chase Elliott
Last year at this race Chase Elliott led the most laps (51) and finished a very strong fourth. This season started off well for Elliott but then had faded recently. A strong fifth place run last week at Dover could be the spark to return to early season form. Add Elliott’s success at Pocono and this should be a solid weekend for the young driver. Actually this just might be a solid race for the entire Hendrick Motorsports team as Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Kasey Kahne have run well at Pocono and the past success of his teammates will also help out Elliott. Elliott is eighth in the point standings but four amongst drivers with no wins yet this season. With the possibility of the Playoffs being filled by drivers with wins, Elliott needs to get back to running up front to get back in contention.

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