Column: Previewing Pocono’s First Cup Doubleheader; Xfinity And Truck Series Regulars Hope To Take Advantage

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – As the NASCAR Cup Series heads for an unprecedented weekend at Pocono Raceway, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have a significant streak on the line.

The current JGR drivers have won the last five races at the Tricky Triangle, with Kyle Busch accounting for three of those victories and Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. one each – though Truex’s win was with Furniture Row Racing.

A Saturday/Sunday doubleheader at Pocono presents a unique opportunity to add two wins to the streak. For the first time in NASCAR history, the Cup series will contest back-to-back events at the same track and on the same weekend.

In Saturday’s Pocono Organics 325 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and Sunday’s Pocono 350 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), drivers will race for a combined 675 miles using the same cars and same engines. For Sunday’s race, the starting order will be fixed by inverting the top 20 finishers from Saturday’s event.

With the Cup Series having reached the midpoint of its 26-race regular season last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Busch, the reigning champion, is winless this year. Hamlin, on the other hand, has posted a series-best three victories, and Truex has a short-track triumph at Martinsville.

Busch sees the historic doubleheader weekend at Pocono as a chance to break into the win column. He has been especially good at the 2.5-mile triangular track since his pairing with crew chief Adam Stevens in 2015. Busch has notched a victory at Pocono in each of the last three years.

“We’ve run really well there,” Busch said. “It’s a good track for us. I’ve learned a lot from my teammate, Denny Hamlin, who’s won there, and certainly working with Martin (Truex Jr.) and his guys has also brought on some new, fresh ideas, which help.

“It’s been a good track for us, and hopefully we can carry our M&M’s Minis colors to Victory Lane there this weekend.”

Standing in Busch’s way will be his teammates, particularly Hamlin, who won both Pocono races from the pole during his 2006 rookie season. Hamlin also went back-to-back in the second race of 2009 and the first race of 2010. Hamlin is the most recent victor at Pocono, and he’d love to preserve his streak of winning in pairs.

Should he do so, Hamlin would tie six-time Pocono winner Jeff Gordon for most victories at the track.

Ryan Blaney, last Sunday’s winner at Talladega, is the last driver to have taken a checkered flag at Pocono in something other than a Toyota. He and Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have combined for five victories in 13 races this season, and each has won one race at the Tricky Triangle.



“GRADUATION” GUARANTEES FIRST-TIME POCONO XFINITY WINNER

The short history of the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Pocono Raceway features four winners, none of whom will be racing in Sunday’s Pocono Green 225 (12:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The top two finishers from last year’s race—Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick—have graduated to the NASCAR Cup Series. That, coupled with the event’s status as the final race of the year in the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash program, guarantees a fresh face in Victory Lane on Sunday.

Three-time 2020 winner Chase Briscoe, who finished third last year, is a leading candidate, but he’ll have to slow the Kaulig Racing express. Kaulig drivers have enjoyed an eminently successful and lucrative three-week period, starting with part-time driver AJ Allmendinger’s June 6 victory at Atlanta.

Allmendinger subsequently added the June 14 Dash 4 Cash race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to his schedule and collected the $100,000 bonus as the highest finisher among four eligible drivers there. Ross Chastain qualified for the Dash 4 Cash payday at Homestead and pocketed another $100,000 with a second-place run at Talladega—behind Kaulig teammate Justin Haley.

Both Chastain and Haley are eligible for the bonus at Pocono (along with Austin Cindric and Alex Labbe), giving Kaulig a 50-50 chance to add another $100,000 to its bankroll.

“It’s a really tough race track,” says Haley, who now has won races in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series, as well as in the ARCA Menards Series. “Having no practice is going to be difficult at a track that is so different from the others. I can’t wait to get there, though.

“We’re coming off some momentum at Talladega, and hopefully we will have some speed and get that 100 grand at the end of the weekend.”



GRANT ENFINGER LOOKS TO EXTEND MONOPOLY AMONG TRUCK SERIES REGULARS

Five races into the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Grant Enfinger is the only series regular to have visited Victory Lane.

Enfinger took the checkered flag in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and earned his second victory June 6 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers won the other three races: Chase Elliott in the much-ballyhooed bounty race at Charlotte and Kyle Busch at Las Vegas (before the pandemic hiatus) and at Homestead-Miami (June 13).

Remarkably, Enfinger is the only full-time driver in the series who has accumulated Playoff points. The driver of the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford has 11—five each for the two victories and one for a stage win. No other driver eligible for the series title has scored a single Playoff point.

Interestingly, however, Enfinger is third in the series standings, 48 points behind leader Austin Hill and four behind second-place Christian Eckes. Those two drivers have accumulated more stage points—as opposed to Playoff points—in the first five races.

The Playoff point picture is likely to change with no full-time Cup drivers in the field for Saturday’s Pocono Organics 150 (12:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Ross Chastain, a full-time NASCAR Xfinity driver this season, is the defending winner, and he’ll be racing in the Pocono Organics 150.

  •  
  •