The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Pocono Raceway Sunday afternoon. NASCAR will have a reduced practice schedule this week. There was a practice Friday morning followed by qualifying on Friday evening. The final practice took place Saturday morning. Teams only have 2 hours dial in their cars for the Pocono 400.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Pocono…
The weather during final practice was cloudy and 72 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is cloudy and 63 degrees. Right now there is only a 20% chance of rain. Hopefully it stays that way. The race conditions should be similar as the practice conditions this week so the practice speeds should translate into race speed this week.
The teams will run the same tires compound that they used at Pocono last year. The Xfinity Series and the MENCS will run the same tire setup this week. Each team received three sets of tires for the 2 practice sessions, 1 set for qualifying and 7 sets for the race.
The practice Friday was reduced by 15 minutes so almost all of the cars were in race trim.
Chase Elliott: Elliott has the talent but not the speed to run up front. He said after the race at Charlotte his team is getting closer to finding the package that works with the new Camaro ZL1 car. Elliott has not finished inside the top 10 on any of the 1.5-mile or 2-mile tracks this season. After his first run Elliott said the car was too tight in turn 3. They made a long run and Elliott said, “I would not worry too much about where we are on the speed chart. It doesn’t feel like it falls off much.”
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson enters the race at Pocono after his first top-five finish of the season. Pocono ranks as his 2nd-worst track (behind Kentucky) so do not expect another top-five finish this week. Johnson made a lot of shot runs in final practice. Chad Knaus asked Johnson what adjustments he needed and Johnson said, “I just need speed. It rotates well but it is just way too slow.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman has never finished inside the top 25 at Pocono but he has never driven a Hendrick Motorsports car at the track either. The No. 88 teams needs to find some horsepower to run up front this week. Bowman said, “It is tight in and off of the corners.” He made another run and told MRN, “It is really good. The balance is probably the best I have ever had here. It actually ran well in traffic.”
William Byron: Byron has never competed in a MENCS race at Pocono but he has 1 race in the Xfinity Series one Truck Series race on his resume. He won the Truck Series Race and finished 12th in the Xfinity Series race. Byron was fairly happy with the car. He told MRN, “I am not sure what I am looking for here since I do not have the experience the others have but the car drives well. I could use a little help through the tunnel turn but I think it has good speed.” They made some changes and Byron said, “That really helped. We need to keep going in this direction.”
Kyle Larson: Larson has been good but not great at Pocono in his career. He only has one finish in the top 5 in his eight career starts. His driver rating in his last three races is 100.01 so he has been showing some improvement. Larson wanted his car to be freed up in Friday’s practice. He was 2nd-fastet at the time. Larson likes a loose racecar. He told Fox, “Usually I really overdrive the car at Pocono but I worked on it and today went really well for us. I feel we have the 2nd-best car behind Kevin Harvick.”
Jamie McMurray: McMurray had one of his best races of the season at Charlotte. He qualified 7th and finished 6th. This team has had a lot of bad luck this season so maybe their strong performance last week will give them some momentum in the race at Pocono. McMurray said in an interview Friday, “The car is good… We found something that worked at Charlotte and it is working again this week. The car has good balance and good speed. I think we will be very competitive this week.” McMurray qualified 4th for the race Sunday. At the end of practice McMurray missed a shift and grinded the gears. Matt McCall checked out the transmition and engine and said it “should” be ok.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick told PRN Radio after his wreck last week, “You have to take the good with the bad and we had a lot of good this season. We will work hard so we can spank the field at Pocono.” He said the same thing after his window penalty at Las Vegas and he showed up next week and whipped the field at Phoenix. Harvick looks fast again this week. He qualified 2nd and had one of the fastest cars on the long run. He has never won at Pocono in his 34 tries. He finished 2nd in both races last year. Harvick made 2 runs of 10-laps or more and they were the 2 fastest 10-lap runs of the day.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been pretty consistent this season. His average finishing position is 10th. Bowyer finished 6th and led 5 laps in this race last year. His team should have some notes to work from this week. Bowyer had the same paint scheme and the same setup as the No. 4 car. Bowyer almost had the same speed too. The No. 14 should be up front this week.
Kurt Busch: Busch enters the race at Pocono with a four race streak of top 10 finishes. He ranks 3rd in average finishing position this season and he won at Pocono two years ago. His car has very good speed this week. Busch told MRN radio that he has been working to use the same driving techniques that Kevin Harvick does. He said watching the No. 4 car has allowed their team to pick up a lot of speed. Busch qualified 6th for the race Sunday. He really liked the changes the team made between the practice Friday and the practice Saturday.
Aric Almirola: Crew Chief John Klausmeier has never lost a race at Pocono. He was the interim crew chief for Kurt Busch when he won at the Tricky Triangle in 2016, so he is 1 for 1 at the track. Almirola told his team that the balance is really close to what he needs for the weekend. The No. 10 car had problems in qualifying. He said the team had mismatched tires on the car and it made it undividable. Almirola will start 34th as a result. He is the best option in games which award place differential points.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has a series-high 3.75 average finishing position and the fourth-best driver rating in the last four races at Pocono. He has not finished outside the top 5 at Pocono since the spring race of 2015 (6 races ago). Qualifying did not go well for Keselowski. He said the team simply missed the setup (They did not practice a qualifying setup on Friday). The team really struggled in final practice. I am sure they will get it fixed up in the race Sunday, but there is some concern with the No. 2 car this week.
Joey Logano: Logano has been one of the most consistent drivers this season with seven finishes in the top-10 but Pocono is his worst track. Logano has only finished one of his last five races at the track in the top 20. Maybe this week will be different. Logano qualified 7th and he seems to be very happy with the car. The team said they got a lot of information about their setup from Ryan Blaney’s team.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney won this race last year and the No. 12 team has had the horsepower to run up front on the downforce tracks. Blaney won the pole for the race Sunday and looks like a great dominator pick for the race.
Paul Menard: Menard will be driving the car that won this race last year. He has not had much success at Pocono (2 top-10 finishes in 22 races) but he has never driven a car as fast as what he will have this weekend.
Kyle Busch: Busch won the pole for both races at Pocono last year and he led the most laps in both of them. Busch also won the last race at the Tricky Triangle last July. He will have a lot of momentum after his dominating performance at Charlotte. Busch got loose in turn 3 in qualifying so he will start 5th. The No. 18 car looks like one of the top 3 cars for the race Sunday.
Erik Jones: Pocono ranks as the best track for Jones. He finished 3rd and 8th in the two races last year. The No. 20 car was really fast last week but the team had problems in the pits. The problems continued for Jones in qualifying. He said the car was crashing loose. Jones will start 25th but his car will be fast enough to move up in the race. Jones is a great pick in game which award points for place differential.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin leads all active drivers with four wins at Pocono. His last win was in 2010 and he has not been to Victory Lane at the Tricky Triangle since it was resurfaced. He did qualify 4th, led 18 laps and finished 4th in the last race at Pocono. Hamlin liked his car in Friday’s practice but he said, “Looks like we still are not as good as the 18. I just do not know what to work on. It feels really good.”
Daniel Suarez: Suarez is just another Joe Gibbs Racing driver who performs well at Pocono. He finished 7th in his last race at the Tricky Triangle and the No. 19 car should have the horsepower to outrun most of the competition this week.
Martin Truex Jr.: Pocono ranks as the 18th-best track for Truex Jr. but the No. 78 team seemed to figure it out last year. Truex finished 3rd and 6th in the two races and led laps in both of them. Truex spent Friday’s practice in qualifying trim and it paid off. The No. 78 car will start 4th Sunday and Truex thinks the car will have the speed to stay up front. Although this is not his best track, Truex is a good pick to be a dominator Sunday. He told MRN on Saturday, “We made a 20-lap run and we really like where we are at. We just need to connect the dots on the corners and we will be perfect.”
Ryan Newman: Newman could be an interesting pick this week. He ran inside the top 10 for most of the race at Charlotte but ran into some more bad luck. Newman has a streak of four consecutive finishes inside the top 15 at Pocono but no finishes inside the top 10. Newman liked the balance of his car in Friday’s practice. Newman will start 8th in the race Sunday. On his final log run Newman said, “The tires really fall off after 12 laps.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon simply has not had the horsepower to run in the top 10 at Pocono. The track ranks as his 3rd-worst track. His average finishing position at the Tricky Triangle is 19.9. Dillon said his car was way too loose in the corners. They were able to fix the car and get some speed in qualifying. Dillon made it to the final round and will start 12th this week.
Ty Dillon: Dillon was a good DFS pick when he qualified outside the top 20 and was able to race his way inside the top 20. That has not been the case this season. Dillon has an average finishing position of 24th in 2018. Dillon qualified 29th and he should be able to move up in the race. He will be a decent pick in DFS games this week.
Kasey Kahne: The No. 95 team keeps getting a little better each week. Kahne has an average starting position of 28th and an average finishing position of 18th in his last four races. That makes him one of the best cheap picks in games which award points for position differential. Kahne was fighting a loose racecar in Friday’s practice. At the end of practice the No. 95 team made a shock adjustment. It is not a good sign when teams make a major adjustment after practice.
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger has been a lot like Kasey Kahne, he qualifies in the back and races his way inside the top 20. Allmending has an average starting position of 26th and an average finishing position of 19.5 in his last four races. Allmendinger said, “It is loose in but I worked the trackbar and it seemed to help. We are pretty close.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in 2016 but he has not been very good at the track since. Buescher finished 19th and 28th in his two races at the track last year. Buescher said, “It is free on exit and I have a hard time getting back to the throttle.”
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Bubba drove the No. 43 car for Aric Almirola last year at Pocono. He qualified 26th and finished 16th. This week Wallace qualified 19th ad he said he is a lot more confident this week than he was in this race last year.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has been one of the best drivers at Pocono but he does not have the equipment to get to the front this week. The team made some improvements between Kansas and Charlotte, but not enough to make Kenseth a top-10 pick this week. Kenseth will start 26th so he will be a good pick in games which award position dieferential points. He said the car was hitting the splitter on the track so the team spent a lot of time making shock changes in practice.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has been a decent driver at Pocono. His average finishing position in the last four races is 15th and he was able to lead laps in both races last season. Stenhouse said his car was too tight and he had a hard time getting back to the throttle on exits of turns 1 and 3. Stenhouse qualified 23rd and the car was horrible in practice. Stenhouse spun out in the first part of practice. This team has a lot of work to do this weekend.
David Ragan: Ragan has been running well recently. His average finishing position in the last four races is 18th, but the problem is he has been qualifying up front too. That hurts his value in the games which award position differential points. Ragan was complaining the car was hitting the splitter on the track in Friday’s practice. They made a shock change and Ragan went out for another long run. He said, “The car is pretty balanced. I do not feel anything really bad. Maybe just work on the front turn off of 3 but that really is not too bad either.” He seems pretty happy with his car.
Michael McDowell: McDowell only has two finishes inside the top 20 this season (Texas and Charlotte). His average finishing position at Pocono is 32nd so he has a lot of work to do if he wants to finish inside the top 20 this week. McDowell made a long run and said, “It builds loose on every lap.” He had a hard time holding onto the car.
Matt Dibenedetto: Dibenedetto was running well in March and April but the No. 32 team has lost some speed after the Easter break. Dibendetto has an average finishing position of 27th in his last four races. Dibenedetto said the car was, “Loose in and tight on center off. It just does not have the grip I need.” After his last run Dibendetto said, “I really thought we went too far with these changes but after getting it on the track I think we really hit on something. The front end turns a lot better now.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney
Good Sleeper Picks: Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Paul Menard and Matt Dibendetto (My favorite cheap driver for DFS)
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