Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway for the Gander Outdoors 400.
The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Pocono Raceway for the second and final trip to the Tricky Triangle this season.
three of the five drivers from the last edition of who to watch finished inside the top-8 at Chicagoland Speedway. Chase Elliott and Aric Almriola were the two drivers who failed to live up to pre-race expectations. Almriola led 70 laps during the race but ended up finishing a lap down in 25th.
Will Pocono Raceway provide a winner other than the “Big Three” of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr.? Will a driver outside of the bubble, such as Jamie McMurray or Ryan Newman surprise and pick up a win to make the playoffs?
Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Pocono Raceway.
Kevin Harvick is coming off his sixth win this season, his career best season high. There are still 18 races left in the season for Harvick to add to that total.
Now the focus is on Pocono, a track where Harvick has the best average finish in the last three races but has failed to score a victory in those races.
The other Big Three drivers each have a win in the last three races at Pocono.
“As we go to Pocono, we obviously want to win there, especially since its one of the two tracks we haven’t won at,” said Harvick in his pre-race report.
“I know that Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and the organization itself has put a lot of effort into this particular weekend trying to get to victory lane and take that race off the list.
Continuing the Big Three trend, Kyle Busch currently has the third best average finish, 4.3, in the last three races at Pocono Raceway.
Busch’s numbers at Pocono Raceway during that stretch are impressive. He has the most laps led, 187, which is 98 laps more than the next closest driver. He’s one of only five drivers to finish inside the top-5 in all three races.
Busch also has the best average starting position, 2.3, of all drivers over the last three races. Busch should be a challenger for the race win as soon as the green flag drops.
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. enters Pocono Raceway as the tracks most recent winner. Truex Jr. led 31 laps en route to picking up the victory at Pocono in June.
Truex is one of the “Big Three” this season and knows the focus is always on him, Harvick and Busch each weekend.
“It’s been a big topic of conversation, but for me I’m just honestly living in the moment, trying to enjoy myself, but also staying focused and not taking it for granted,” said Truex in his pre-race report.
“It’s really hard to continue what we’ve done and I realize how much work it takes and how many people I owe it to, so, you know, for me just trying to stay focused, kind of block all that out and keep getting the job done is what’s most important.
“You’ve got to have every piece of the puzzle and everybody’s got to be working hard and working together.”
Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are the only two drivers to score a top-5 finish in the last three races at Pocono Raceway.
Keselowski is a past winner at Pocono and during that three race stretch led 27 laps in total. It’s almost August and Keselowski is still in search of his first win of the season. A trip to Pocono could change that.
“If we get it all perfect, we’ll have a shot to be in victory lane with our Smithfield Ford Fusion. At each of the last three tracks, I’ve had the best finishes of my Cup career, so I’m really on a roll and I have a strong team behind me.”
When mentioning the Big Three this season it would be foolish to not at least mention Kyle Larson.
No, Larson hasn’t won this season or consistently challenged Harvick, Busch or Truex week-to-week. But, Larson has proven on multiple occasion he’s had a race-winning car.
If not for a bump with under ten laps to go at Bristol from Kyle Busch, Larson would have at least one win this season.
Larson finished second at Pocono Raceway in June and seventh in the race last June. As the NASCAR schedule now visits different tracks over the course of the next month, not visiting an intermediate 1.5-mile speedway, Larson should find himself at the front in each.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.