Column by: SHANE CARLSON / RPW – LONG POND, PA – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Pocono Raceway for the 14th race of the season and begins the second half of the regular season.
So far in 2018, there have been two drivers who have lit up the racetrack, them being Kevin Harvick with five wins plus an All-Star race victory and Kyle Busch close behind with four wins and the points lead.
Expect both to be fast again this weekend, if not favorites. It’s hard to bet against either one the way their respective seasons are playing out.
Pocono Raceway is a unique racetrack because it features three corners instead of four and the 2.5-mile track is the longest non-restrictor plate track on the circuit.
It also has a way of producing of variety of winners, including first-timers. Last year, Ryan Blaney scored his first Cup victory in this race. In the last 13 Pocono races, there have been 12 different winners. Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, William Byron and Alex Bowman are a few drivers who can walk into Pocono confident enough to win their first race at the Cup level.
Sunday, June 3
160 laps, 400 miles
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: Motor Racing Network
My Pick to Win is…
No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion
Kurt Busch has three top-eight finishes in the last five points races and with SHR teammates Kevin Harvick dominating the season up to this point and Clint Bowyer also reaching Victory Lane, Busch is ready for his season breakthrough moment. Historically, 71 percent of the winners have started within the top-10, and Busch will start sixth on Sunday. Pocono has been a good track for Busch over the course of his 33 career starts at the Tricky Triangle. He has 14 top-fives and three wins, his last coming in 2016. All indicators point to Kurt Busch having a strong run at Pocono on Sunday.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Power Rankings
- Kyle Busch: Coming off the Coke 600 victory last week, his fourth on the season, cemented him as one of the title favorites this year. The win at Charlotte was the final track on the circuit to knock off the list of places he hadn’t won at in a Cup car.
- Kevin Harvick: Even his last-place finish last week isn’t enough to keep Harvick worse than two on this list. A mere blip on the radar.
- Martin Truex Jr.: MTJ broke a long winless streak back in 2015 at Pocono Raceway so he knows how to tame the triangle. Eight top-fives through the season’s first 13 races has him in prime position.
- Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is visibly happier since his win and he’s running up front with regularity now. The next step is to regularly lead laps and be in position for the win.
- Joey Logano: Logano is having himself a great season statistically, with 10 top-10s in 13 races. At the same time, it has to be frustrating to be that good with no wins, especially with the SHR Fords carrying the banner for the Blue Ovals so far.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is yet to score a win, mainly because it’s been hard for anyone but Harvick or Kyle Busch to do so, but he’s poised to have a good run. He leads all active drivers with four wins. He qualified 10th, and should contend on Sunday.
- Kurt Busch: My pick to win, Busch has three wins at Pocono to his credit and would love to try and punch his ticket to the playoffs.
- Brad Keselowski: Like his Penske teammates, he has no wins but he’s running solid. I expect him to get a win or two before they hit the playoffs. He finished 11th or better in both Pocono races last season, with a win coming in 2016.
- Kyle Larson: It feels like Larson should already have a win to his credit but he’s still searching for it this year. In eight Pocono starts, Larson has just one top-five.
- Ryan Blaney: Blaney won this race last season, the first of his Cup career. If he were to win it again this weekend, it would be Penske’s first win as an organization in the Cup Series this year.