The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Pocono Raceway this week in the Gander Outdoors 400. NASCAR is using their condensed schedule this weekend to give the drivers an extra day with their families. There were two practices Saturday morning. The teams will qualify Saturday evening. The race will be Sunday at 2:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Pocono…
The weather for practice was partly cloudy and 73 degrees. The forecast for the race is about the same as it was in practice. The practice speeds should translate into race speed Sunday so the drivers who posted the fastest laps in practice will be the ones you will want on your team at the Tricky Triangle.
Teams received three sets of tires for the two practice sessions, 1 set of tires for qualifying and 6 sets of tires for the race. The tire compound used is the race this week will be the same tire used at the track in June. The MENCS and Camping World Truck Series will use the same type of tires this weekend. Kyle Busch and (reportedly) Erik Jones will be the only drivers competing in both races. They should get some information about tire falloff that could help them in the race Sunday.
* I was able to get a Chassis Sheet from the Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske Racing teams. This information tells what cars each team will be using in the race this week. NASCAR used to mandate that teams make this information public but they stop doing it two years ago. Sometimes the teams release the information and when they do I will pass it along to you.
Chase Elliott: Elliott has finished 4/5 races at Pocono in the top 10. In June he qualified 11th and finished 10th. He will have some momentum after his 5th-place finish at New Hampshire. The No. 9 team was working on their long-run speed in practice. Elliott made a lot of long runs and he ran mostly in the top 10. The team was working on getting Elliott through the tunnel turn a little better but overall they liked their car.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson ran well in the first race at Pocono. He qualified 15th, led 2 laps and finished 8th. The No. 48 team is starting to gain some momentum. Johnson has an 11.2 average finishing position in the last 7 non-plate races. Johnson made some long runs and said, “It is too tight into 1 but when I get off the throttle in the other turns it is too loose.” Chad Knaus made some adjustments and Jimmie said, “It rolls over the bumps a lot better. The tunnel turn is our biggest issue now. Just a little to loose still. But overall it has a lot of drivability.” He was 3rd fastest at the time.
Alex Bowman: Pocono ranks as the worst track for Bowman. He has never finished inside the top 25 at the Tricky Triangle. In June he qualified 14th and finished 27th. Bowman made some long runs and said, “It is too free off each corner.” He made some more runs and said, “I am just having a hard time holding onto it. It is way too loose.” The No. 88 team made some adjustments and Bowman said, “That helped but we are still on the loose side.”
William Byron: Byron was decent in his first race at Pocono. He qualified 16th and finished 18th. Byron has finished 14th, 20th, 20th, 13th and 18th in the 5 oval track races. He has been pretty good at keeping the car between 15th– 20th-place on the track. Byron liked his car. He said, “It is a little tighter than it needs to be but not bad. I would not over-adjust on it.” Byron was studying the data of Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott in practice. He wanted to see how they were getting through turn 3. That was the biggest issue for the No. 24 car.
Kyle Larson: Larson made a late race charge to the front in the June race at Pocono. He qualified 13th and finished 2nd. Larson has finished 3 of his last 4 races at the Tricky Triangle in the top 7. Larson made some long runs and he said, “It is OK…stable…free a bit in the corner but that should not be an issue. Just need to loosen it up in 1 and 2.” His race speed is usually a lot better than his practice speed. Larson spun out with 2 minutes left in practice. It looked like only cosmetic damage to the car.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray qualified well (3rd) but did not race very well in the last race at Pocono. He had 14.43 average running position and finished 15th. McMurray has a 14.4 average finishing position on the last 5 oval track race (New Hampshire, Kentucky, Chicago, Michigan and Pocono). I did not get much data from the No. 1 team. McMurray spent both practices running between the 13th – 16th spots and that should be about where they run Sunday.
Kevin Harvick: The No. 4 team brought back the car that lead 214 of 267 laps on its way to Victory Lane at Las Vegas and finished 4th at Pocono in June. The team has used this car 5 times and it has an average finishing position of 2.8. It sounds like they brought the best car they have this week. The No. 4 team liked the speed in their car in the morning practice. Harvick went to the top of the speed chart and the team worked to perfect the car in the final practice. Many of the teams were comparing their car to the No. 4 because they felt Harvick is the driver to beat this week. Harvick dominated practice like we have not seen this season. He was almost 1 second faster they everyone else on all speed charts. It will be interesting to see if the No. 4 car passes inspection today.
Clint Bowyer: The No. 14 team brought the car they raced in June at Pocono. Bowyer qualified 9th and scored points in both Stages. Pit problems caused him to finish 20th. The car was also used at Atlanta where it finished 3rd. Bowyer was fighting a vibration problem in the morning practice. The team thought they got a bad batch of tires. Bowyer said the vibration went away in the final practice. His car looked really fast.
Kurt Busch: Busch will be driving the car he used at Texas and he used 3 times last year. The car won the pole at Texas and led 40 laps on its way to a 7th-place finish. This chassis finished all 3 races in the top 10 last year (Pocono, Kansas and Texas). Kurt made a lot of long runs. He said, “We were able to help the entry as far as turning off the wall but man, it is tight–rolling in the center, partial throttle–all three corners,” They worked to get the car better and Kurt said they were heading in the right direction. Jeff Burton said in final practice, “Kurt Busch looks like one of the most stable cars on the racetrack.”
Aric Almirola: Almirola will be using the same car he drove in the June race at Pocono. He missed qualifying so he had to start 34th. Almirola quickly drove through the field and finished 7th. This is a brand new car for the 2018 season. After his first run Almirola said, “A little tight in turn 1 and a little free off of 3. Overall not bad though.” Almirola made some more long runs and said, “It gets better with each change so we are heading in the right direction.”
Brad Keselowski: The No. 2 team is bringing back the same car they used in the first race at Pocono. Keselowski qualified 17th, led 10 laps and finished 5th. The car was also used twice last year and finished in the top 5 in both races. Keselowski was having electrical issues in his car in the morning practice. “I went to one battery and it seems to be trying to work here,” Keselowsil said. “It shut back off. I have power but it last for three seconds tops.” The No. 2 team missed a lot of time in the first practice and it set them back for the final practice too. The electrical issues were fixed in final practice and Keselowski went to 2nd-fastest on the speed chart after his qualifying run. Brad told MRN radio…”The car will be fine.”
Joey Logano: Logano will be using the car he drove at Kansas this year and used twice in 2017. The car finished 3rd at Kansas this year, 3rd at Michigan last year and 4th at Indianapolis. The No. 22 car looked really low on air pressure to start the runs in the first practice. The tires on the No. 22 car looked almost flat. But when the car came up to speed, Logano climbed to the top 10 on the speed chart. This car probably will not be very good early in the run but Logano should be good on the long runs Sunday. The No. 22 car looked like one of the fastest cars in qualifying trim. Logano posted the fastest time in final practice.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney will be using the same car he used at Pocono in the June race. The car won the pole, led 11 laps and finished 6th. It was a brand new car for the 2018 season so this will be the 2nd time the team has used it. Once again Blaney looked like he had the best Team Penske driver. He was 3rd fast in the morning practice and 18th fastest in final practice. Blaney looked good though on the long runs.The No. 12 car will be one of the cars to keep an eye on this week.
Paul Menard: Menard is becoming one of the best sleeper pick in Fantasy NASCAR. He finished 6th at Kansas, 14th at Charlotte, 11th at Pocono, 5th at Michigan, 13th at Chicago, 11th at Kentucky and 17th at New Hampshire. That is an 11th-place average finishing position in the last 7 oval track races. The No. 21 car was fighting the balance of their car. Menard said, “We are way too loose in turn 3 and way too tight in 1 and 2.” The team made some major adjustments on the car to get Menard dialed in for Sunday.
Kyle Busch: Busch ran well in the first race at Pocono but he has run well in every race this season. The No. 18car qualified 5, led 13 laps and finished 3rd. He said he “could have won if it wasn’t for a debris caution for a shoe bootie.” Hopefully a “shoe bootie” does not slow him down this week. Typical Kyle Busch told his team, “It is too bouncy over the bumps into 3 and too free out of the tunnel turn. Getting into 1 and 2 is pretty snug but we need to rotate better.” He is a perfectionist and knows exactly what he wants from his car. The No. 18 car will be one of the best this week.
Erik Jones: Jones had a rough day in the first race at Pocono. He qualified 25th, had 15.92 average running position and finished 29th. Jones did run well at the track in 2017. He finished 3rd and 8th in his two races at the Tricky Triangle. Jones liked his car in the morning practice. He made a lot of long runs and ran mostly in the top 8. The team put on sticker tires at the end of practice and Jones went to 2nd-fastest on the speed chart. Jones was 15th fastest in final practice.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has a series-high 4 wins at Pocono but his last win was in 2010 before the track was repaved. Hamlin qualified 10th and was caught up in an accident in the June race at Pocono. He finished 35th. The No. 11 team only has 1 finish inside the top 10 in their last 7 races. Hamlin needs things to turn around quickly. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “When I watch the cars go through the tunnel turn, Hamlin is by far the best.” Hamlin’s 11th lap in practice was as fast as most cars’ first lap. The No. 11 car looks very sporty this week.
Daniel Suarez: Since Suarez guaranteed his team would make the playoffs (3 weeks ago), he has a 24th-place average finish. I do not think he needed to put more pressure on himself, but he did. Suarez qualified 18th and finished 24th in the June race at Pocono. Once again the No. 19 car worked with the No. 11 team for the setup in their car. Both cars were fast. Suarez was working on his long-run speed and hitting his marks in practice.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex won the last race at Pocono because crew chief Cole Pearn was able to keep up with track conditions better than the other teams. Truex qualified 4th, had a 4.2 average running position and led 31 laps on his way to Victory Lane. Truex has finished 5 of the last 8 races in either 1st or 2nd place. Truex looked really good in final practice. All of his laps were in the top 10 but not at the top of the speed chart. This is about how the No. 78 car looked in the practices in the June race at Pocono and he won that race.
Ryan Newman: Newman currently sits 18th in the point standings. This team likely needs a win to make the playoffs. Pit strategy often comes into play at Pocono so do not be surprised to see the No. 31 team gamble this week. Newman finished 28th in the June race at the Tricky Triangle. Newman told his team, “Loose in turn 1 and tight in 2 and 3. The stability is a little off.” Newman was 15th fastest at the time. After his final run Newman said, “I do not feel competitive at all in this car.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon had a decent day in the first race at Pocono. He qualified 12th, had a 15.58 average running position and finished 12th. Dillon is locked into the Playoffs because of his win in the Daytona 500 so I expect this team to use pit strategy to earn playoff points. Dillon made some long runs and told his team, “It is not too bad. We need help in the tunnel turn though. It is way too free.” Dillon was 14th fastest at the time.
Ty Dillon: Dillon has not been very good this season but one of his better races in DraftKings and SlingShot Auto Racing came at Pocono. He qualified 29th and finished 23rd, scoring 6 place differential points during the race. Dillon had only finished inside the top 20 once this season on a non-plate track. That is not very good. I did not get a lot of information about Dillon in practice. Most of his lap times where just inside the top 30.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne qualified 22nd and was running inside the top 20 in the first race at Pocono before he blew a transmission and finished 36th. This team has been good at running between 18th – 22nd this season. They just need to keep their car in one piece Sunday. Kahne told his team, “The front is really solid. Loose through the majority of the corner in the rear. It has a really good attitude around the whole track though.”
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger did not have the horsepower to run in the top 20 in the June race at Pocono. He qualified 24th, had a 20.26 average running position and finished 22nd. This team is probably thinking more about the race next week at Watkins Glen than they are about winning at Pocono. Allmendinger was trying to drive the track like a road-course. He told his team, “I like to be able to shift deeper in the corner than I am able to now. I really need to out brake these guys and get back to the throttle sooner if we want to make up speed.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher scored his only win in the MENCS at Pocono in 2016 (race was shortened because of fog). He has run well in his 5 races at the track. Buescher has finished 3 of his 5 races inside the top 20 at Pocono. Buescher was not very fast on the speed chart but he said, “Not too bad. Just a little free in 3 but 1 and 2 feel pretty good.” He was only 27th fastest at the time.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace qualified 19th and blew an engine in the first race at Pocono. He said after the race that his missed a shift, causing the car to blow up. I do not trust him not to do it again Sunday. Drew Blinkensderfer told Wallace to, “Work on hitting your marks and shifting. We will dial in the speed in the final practice, but we just need you to work on your shifting.” He was 29th on the speed chart at the time.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse needs points. The No. 17 team currently sits 16th in the point standings. I expect this team to gamble on pit strategy if the opportunity presents itself. Stenhouse finished 14th in the first race at Pocono and he needs some top 10 finishes to secure a spot in the playoffs. The No. 17 team was fighting a tight racecar. Stenhouse usually likes his car on the loose side. They made a lot of major adjustments in final practice and Stenhouse made some short runs. It seemed like they were still searching for the speed they need.
Matt Kenseth: It was reported before the race last week that the No. 6 car would be a test car for Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth would try multiple setups to try and find speed for the organization. They must have found something last week because Kenseth finished 15th. Kenseth finished 13th in the first race at Pocono. It will be interesting to see if the team makes any improvements this week. Kenseth made two short runs in the first practice with 2 completely different setups. Their best run was 23rd quickest. The team was fighting a tight race car.
David Ragan: Ragan had one of his best races of the season in the June race at Pocono. He qualified 21st, had a 20.88 average running position and finished 16th. Ragan made some long runs and said, “Little free in turn 3. But need to get a little tighter in turn 1. The ride quality is really good though.”
Michael McDowell: McDowell had a decent race in Fantasy NASCAR games which award place differential points in the first race at Pocono. He started 30th and finished 21st. McDowell has a 21st-place average finishing position in his last 4 races at the Tricky Triangle. McDowell told his team, “It has a lot of stability (the laps feel the same to him in the car) but I need more grip out of turn 3.” McDowell brought the car back to the garage and the team changed their setup to David Ragan’s setup. McDowell said, “That feels a lot better.”
Matt DiBenedetto: The No. 32 team had a rough day in the first race at Pocono. Dibendetto qualified 32nd, had a 31.63 average running position and finished 37th because the brakes failed. This team has not finished inside the top 28 at a non-plate, non-road course track since the race at Kansas. After a decent start to the season, they are heading in the wrong direction. Dibenedetto was complaining that the car was digging the splitter into the track in turns 2 and 3. The team changed the shocks and Dibendetto said, “Yah, that did not work.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Clint bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones
Good Sleeper Picks: Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, William Byron, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher
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