The first half of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season has been like none other in recent years.
It all started with a harrowing last lap accident in this year’s Daytona 500 that left Ryan Newman injured, but still standing on his feet. Not long after came the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that paused the on-track racing for nearly three months and shifted the racing attention from the track to online/virtual reality. Then came the suspension of prominent star Kyle Larson for his live use of a racial slur followed by his replacement, the return of former Cup champion Matt Kenseth. A month later, the racing resumed and expanded into midweek racing and quadruple-header weekends to make up for the loss time. Most recently, the sport paused for a moment of solidarity with Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s lone full-time African-American competitor, in the wake of a racist incident at Talladega and took a stance against racial inequality and anything representing it.
Through all of the listed events above, there were also some thrilling moments that have occurred on the track. From the veterans dominating in recent weeks to the youngsters flexing their muscles and intimidating the sport’s elite to the drop of the checkered flag with tempers flaring and the competition brewing into late chaos.
Thus far, eight competitors have guaranteed themselves a spot in the Playoffs with a win. That leaves eight more positions in the standings vacant for more competitors to win or point their way into the top 16 in the regular-season standings through Daytona International Speedway on August 29, which will determine the 2020 Cup Playoff field.
With 13 of the 26 regular-season scheduled races in the record books, the NASCAR Cup Series competitors set their sights towards the remaining 13 races of the 2020 season while continuing to push towards making the Playoffs and gain as much valuable points possible to elevate their stats and chances of contending for the title. If there is a race weekend for any competitor to gain a pair of advantages towards the Playoffs and desire a will to take risks against all odds, it is this weekend for the Pocono Raceway doubleheader that will commence the second half of the Cup’s regular season.
For the second time in NASCAR’s modern era, one of NASCAR’s three major division series will compete in back-to-back races at the exact venue on the same weekend. This will, however, mark the first time where the Cup Series will compete in two consecutive races at the same track, this weekend being at Pocono dubbed the Tricky Triangle in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, a track that has hosted NASCAR since 1971.
The first race of the weekend at Pocono will occur on Saturday, June 27, for the Pocono Organics 325 spanning 130 laps. Based on a random draw, Aric Almirola will lead the field for the start on pole position. Once the race and the post-race inspection are complete, the competitors and the teams will duke it out in the second Pocono event on Sunday, June 28, spanning 140 laps, (350 miles). Sunday’s lineup will be based on the results from Saturday, where the top-20 finishers will be inverted and the remaining 20 will remain as finished for the start. All told, 40 competitors will run a combined 270 laps, (675 miles), with the exact car and engine.
The two Cup races are part of an eventful race weekend at the Tricky Triangle, which starts with the ARCA Menards Series racing on Friday, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series returning for a 150-mile event on Saturday and the NASCAR Xfinity Series to race for 225 miles on Sunday. The Truck and Xfinity races will each occur prior to the Cup Series events on their respective dates.
Heading into the Pocono doubleheader weekend, drivers that have won this season, (Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman), will utilize this weekend to earn more victories or bonus points and pad themselves with momentum for the Playoffs. This weekend presents a striking opportunity for drivers like Hamlin, Truex, Blaney, Keselowski and Logano to extend the recent dominance of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske this season at a track where both teams have delivered success in past/recent years. For those like Harvick and Elliott, both of whom have never won at Pocono before, this weekend comes with a pair of opportunities to check off another track with a win column.
For drivers like Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, William Byron and rookie Tyler Reddick, this weekend presents a pair of opportunities for them to break through their winless start to this season and receive an early ticket to the Playoffs with a win. For others like Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace, rookie John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth, this weekend presents a pair of opportunities for them to gain ground on their deficits and spoil the competition by winning and leapfrogging their way to contend for this year’s title.
For seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, this weekend presents a pair of opportunities for him, crew chief Cliff Daniels and the No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team to release the floodgates by returning to Victory Lane for the first time in over 100 races and gaining momentum towards making the Playoffs in Johnson’s swan song season as a full-time competitor.
This weekend’s doubleheader at Pocono, aside from the battle to the Playoffs, also initiates NASCAR’s third installment of the 2020 race schedule announced on June 4 and spanning through August 2 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as the sport proceeds to salvage and complete the season as scheduled through November while ensuring the safety measures for all competitors and team members on the track. An announcement regarding the remainder of this year’s schedule is yet to be determined.
The first NASCAR Cup Series Pocono race will run on June 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX while the second will run on June 28 at 4 p.m. ET on FS1. The Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will also cover the scheduled events at the scheduled times.