The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Pocono Raceway this Sunday for the Gander RV 400. With only six races remaining in the regular season the competition will intensify as the drivers compete for a spot in the Playoffs.
Kyle Busch has been impressive at “The Tricky Triangle” and returns Sunday as the defending race winner. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has won three of the last four races at the 2.5-mile track and will be looking to add one more. Another victory would put him in an elite group that includes Hall of Famer Bobby Allison (1982-83) and Tim Richmond (1986-87), the only drivers to win three consecutive races at Pocono.
Busch is only three points behind leader Joey Logano in the standings. Another victory could give him the edge for the regular season championship which would mean extra bonus points heading into the Playoffs. Get your bonus points at Online betting offers.
But he may have some competition from his teammate, Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin has two wins this year, and is currently fourth in the standings with the series-best driver rating at Pocono of 104.1. He has claimed the checkered flag four times, the most of any active driver, and seems to have an affinity for the track. Hamlin won the first two Cup Series races he competed in at Pocono in 2006, both from the pole position. He won back to back again with victories in fall of 2009 and spring of 2010.
Although his last Pocono triumph was in 2010, you can’t discount Hamlin’s efforts this season. They include a Daytona 500 victory, his second, plus a win at Texas. He also has nine top five and 12 top-10 finishes this season. With all these factors working to his advantage, expect him to be up front challenging for another win.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had success in the past at Pocono and it’s a track where I’m always hopeful I can get a win for our team,’’ Hamlin said.”Our team is currently on a streak of some solid performances and I’m looking forward to continuing that this weekend.’’
Team Penske driver Joey Logano is the current points leader with two wins this year. He has one win at Pocono with four top fives, eight top 10s and two poles. Logano has been consistently competitive this season and finished seventh at the track in June.
His teammate Brad Keselowski has three wins this year with four runner-up finishes including a second place finish in June at Pocono. He has one win, 10 top fives, 11 top 10s and one pole at the track.
The most dramatic competition, however, may be between the drivers who remain winless this year and are hoping to race their way into victory lane and the Playoffs.
Ryan Blaney is currently 11th in the standings but needs a win to secure a spot in the top-16. The 25-year-old Team Penske driver finished fourth at New Hampshire last week giving him six top five and eight top-10 finishes this season. He has led 362 laps, the most of any other driver who is winless this year.
Pocono has been a special place for Blaney who won his first career Cup Series race at the track in 2017 and won the pole in 2018. He finished in 12th place in the last two races.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Blaney said. “I thought our car at the first Pocono race was really good. Obviously, we’d like to get in Victory Lane before the playoffs, get some cushion and get locked in. We have a good points cushion, but you can have two or three really bad races and be biting your nails.”
Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron is in 12th place and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson is 13th in the standings. Larson has only a 31 point cushion over Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Daniel Suarez (18th) who have 488 points each and are outside the cutoff for the Playoffs. Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer round out the top-16 contenders heading into Pocono.
Johnson is hopeful that he can turn his luck around this Sunday. He has three wins at Pocono but he hasn’t been to victory lane at the track since June 2013.His performance in the following years has been lackluster. However, he has the fifth-best driver rating at the track with 20 top-10 and 11 top-five finishes in 35 starts. Johnson’s last Cup Series win was at Dover in 2017 and he will need to break that winless streak if he hopes to make it into the Playoffs.
There are a lot of reasons I really like going up to the Pocono, for a few reasons people may not think about,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed three wins there; I like the outdoors and the area. The racing there is very challenging. I think with the traction compound this weekend it’s going to make it even more interesting, and I think if the stars align, we can put on a heck of a show.”
Tune into the Gander RV 400 Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads into the final six races of the regular season at Pocono Raceway.