Five drivers to watch heading into the Pocono 400

With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season halfway through, the drivers who are making an impact on the way to the Playoffs have either emerged or are about to. With Chevy drivers finally starting to hit their strides such as Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, it’s a safe bet to go with the Bowtie Brigade heading into Sunday.

1. Alex Bowman

Bowman is easily the hottest commodity in the Cup Series right now. With four consecutive top-10s including three straight runner-up finishes, he finally seems to be knocking on the door to Victory Lane. He came close at Kansas, leading 63 laps before losing the lead to Brad Keselowski, but with the series heading into Pocono, this may be the weekend for Bowman. He finished third there in last year’s Gander Outdoors 400, and with Chevy teams starting to show up at the front more often this season, the odds are in Bowman’s, Crew Chief Greg Ives’ and the No. 88 team’s favor.

2. Kurt Busch

Busch is obviously having fun in 2019, and it’s easy to tell. He wrapped up final practice for Sunday’s race with a 172.712 lap, which was the quickest of the session. The three-time Pocono winner is making his first trip to the Tricky Triangle with his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team, for which he has already scored three top-fives and eight top-10s and sits eighth in the points heading into Sunday. What plays into Busch’s favor is that for the most part, despite his troubles (however few they have been this season), he has been at or near the front in almost every race in 2019.

Busch and Matt McCall have melded quite well and it shows, with runs such as a fifth at Las Vegas and a third at Atlanta, that the team isn’t lacking in speed, and considering that Pocono is a big, fast, 2.5-mile racetrack, Busch is a strong bet to be in contention on Sunday.

3. Daniel Suarez

Although the Stewart-Haas Racing Fords haven’t had a victory yet in 2019, they’ve been consistent finishers who have been at or near the front, including Suarez. And with Pocono being one of Suarez’s strongest tracks, he could be a safe bet to be a contender on Sunday. Suarez, the 2018 Gander Outdoors 400 pole-sitter and runner-up, topped Friday morning’s first practice with a 171.798 lap. He also has an average start of 10.2 and an average finish of 12.0 in four starts, which although isn’t impressive, it is solid.

The SHR Fords aren’t without speed, and with Billy Scott on top of the pit box, Suarez is sure to have another solid day at Pocono.

4. Martin Truex Jr.

There is hardly a place where Truex won’t contend or win at, and that includes Pocono, where he won in 2015 and 2018. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has won three times with Crew Chief Cole Pearn this season, including the most recent event at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600. The No. 19 Toyota has won early and often in 2019, with the team really hitting its stride in April and showing no signs of slowing.

Truex holds five top-fives and 10 top-10s in 26 starts, including those two wins, and considering he’s at the beginning of a hot streak it’d be foolish not to bet on the No. 19 JGR Toyota to be at the front at some point during Sunday’s race.

5. Chase Elliott

Once again, with Chevy performance on the rise it’d only make sense to also bet on the one Chevy driver to win so far in 2019. Elliott has been quietly consistent in six Pocono starts, having earned five top-10s including a fourth in his first start there in 2016. The one race where he finished outside of the top-10 was later that year, where he crashed while battling Joey Logano for the lead. He finished 33rd that day, and although his average finish there is 12.0, had it not been for that crash it would have been much higher.

Elliott has made it a point to master almost every type of track, and he has managed to put himself in contention almost everywhere. His relationship with Crew Chief Alan Gustafson has finally yielded the expected results, and with the confidence that this No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports crew has week in and week out, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Elliott continues to build on his winning ways Sunday in the Pocono 400.

The Pocono 400 is Sunday on FS1, starting at 2 p.m. ET.

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