The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be back at the Tricky Triangle this week. It will be the second race at the track in the last 8 weeks. I guess that is better than having two races at Pocono in two days, like we will have next year. The first race was a snooze fest so NASCAR applied traction compound to the track to help promote passing. I hope it works. The Gander RV 400 can be seen Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
Goodyear will bring the same time to the track that was used in the June race at Pocono. Teams should have a lot of data to make pit strategy calls since they just used the tire two months ago and tracks conditions will be similar. Goodyear once again warned the teams to run at least 12 psi air pressure or risk having tire failure during the race. Each team will receive 3 sets of Goodyear’s for the two practices, one set for qualifying and 6 sets (plus one from practice) for the race.
The cars will be back to 550 HP engines with the higher down-force aero package. This package produced the fewest quality green flag passes in the last 12 seasons at Pocono. Actually, according at NASCAR analytics, 78% of the passes came within 4 laps of the restart. So once the race got into a long run it was time to take a nap. Track position will be very important this week.
NASCAR turned the Tricky Triangle into the Sticky Triangle this week. PJ1 traction compound was added to the track to help promote passing. Most of the drivers are optimistic that it will work.
* The MENCS will be back to the crazy inspection process. The cars will qualify Saturday and they will be inspected Sunday morning. All cars who fail the inspection Sunday morning will start from the back. Their official starting position will be from the back and they will be scored from the back in Fantasy NASCAR.
Chase Elliott: Pocono ranks as the 4th best track for Elliott and he had another solid race at the Tricky Triangle in June. Elliott qualified 12th and finished 4th. He has finished 6 of his 7 races at the track in the top 10. Elliott only has one finish in the top 15 and no finishes in the top 10 since the first race at Pocono. He is in a slump right now but a trip to Pocono should cure his woes. Elliott got loose and hit the wall. The No. 9 team will go to a backup car and Chase will start at the rear of the field Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson sounded deflated after the race at New Hampshire. He said, “It is as simple as our cars not having the speed to compete. We cannot just flip a switch and start winning races. We just need to forget about trying to win races, point race and hope to make the playoffs.” That does not sound very optimistic. Johnson said his biggest problem was the center of 2 and 3. He said, “I have to get out of the throttle way to enter to get it to rotate in 2 and 3.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman had a horrible weekend at New Hampshire. He went through 3 cars in order to finish the race. Bowman only has one finish inside the top 10 since the last race at Pocono. It was his win at Chicago, so that is good. Bowman qualified 15th, did not score any Stage points and finished 15th in the first race at Pocono. He needs more speed to finish in the top 10 Sunday. Bowman said, “On a 1-10 we are about an 8 loose. Need to tighten it up a lot.” After some adjustments Bowman said, “That helped a lot. Keep going in that direction.”
William Byron: Pocono is the 2nd-best track for Byron. He has 3 races at the Tricky Triangle on his MENCS resume. Byron finished 9th, 6th and 18th. Byron won the pole for the June race at Pocono. He also finished 2nd in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, led 25 laps and finished 9th. Byron made some long runs and said, “I was only wide-open for about 90% of the lap. Still need a little more turn.” He was P4 at the time. Byron said he had a problem with the power steering in final practice. After practice the No. 24 team said it was not an issue.
Kyle Larson: The No. 42 car has speed this year but Larson must learn to manage it. Last week the drivers he was competing with for a playoff spot all had problems. Instead of taking it easy to ensure he had a good point’s day, Larson went 3-wide into the corner and wrecked his car. Until he learns to manage his aggression, he will be a risky Fantasy NASCAR pick. Larson crashed his car in the morning practice. The No. 42 team will go to a backup car and start in the rear of the field Sunday.
Kurt Busch: Busch has 3 trips to Victory Lane at the Tricky Triangle on his resume. He has been running well this summer so he should be good Sunday. Busch qualified 21st and finished 11th in the June race at Pocono. His average running position was 8th though. Kurt was not happy with his car in the morning practice. He said, “It is bogging out in the center of the corner and slides all the way through the exit. It is like the car is on ice.” He was P23 at the time.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick finally got the monkey off his back with a win last week. Now he will compete at track where he has the 2nd-best average finishing position (6.8), second-best Driver Rating (116.1) and led the second-most laps (119) over the last 5 races at Pocono. The No. 4 team brought the car that won the pole at Las Vegas and finished 4th to the track this week. Just like always… The No. 4 team was trying to work on their long runs speed and finding the perfect line for Harvick to make fast laps. They were not very concerned with their single-lap speed.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been a hard driver to trust this season. The No. 14 car has had speed but they keep finding trouble. The good news is that Bowyer had one of his best races of the season in June at Pocono. Bowyer qualified 3rd and finished 5th. He spent most of the day running in the top 10. The No. 14 brought one of their best hotrods to the track this week. Bowyer is in the same car he finished 2nd at Texas with. After some long runs, Bowyer said, “Not bad… A little snug on entry but we really won’t know what we got until we mix it up in that sticky stuff.” He was P2 at the time.
Daniel Suarez: Pocono ranks as the 2nd-best track for Suarez. He has finished 3 of the last 4 races at the Tricky Triangle in the top 8. Suarez qualified 9th, scored Stage points in both Stages, led 9 laps and finished 8th. The No. 41 team decided to bring the car that finished 3rd at Texas to the track this week. It has a lot of speed. Suarez went straight to the top of the speed chart in the first practice.
Aric Almirola: The No. 10 team is sitting pretty good in points so crew chief Johnny Klausmier said, “We just need to keep gathering up points. If there is an opportunity to win a race, we will go for it, but it is more important for us to get as much as we can from every race.” It sounds like Almirola will use pit strategy to gain Stage points Sunday. Almirola said he liked the “consistency of the car.” Meaning the car was the same at the start of the run as it was at the end of the run. The No. 10 team brought the car that they finished 7th in at Las Vegas. Almirola made some long runs and he said, “I am almost wide up for the first 5 laps and then it starts to build tight.”
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski had a good race in June at Pocono. He qualified 5th, scored 13 Stage points, led 4 laps and finished 2nd. Keselowski has been very consistent at the Tricky Triangle. The No. 2 car has finished 7 of the last 8 races in the top 5. If you take away his finish last year when he was taken out while battling for the lead, Keselowski has a 3.1 average finishing position since 2014 at Pocono. Crew Chief Paul Wolfe told Keselowski, “You need to try and perfect the line the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) is running. He is on the bottom in the corner and arching it to the wall on exit. He has really consistent laps.” Keselowski said, “I will study his line of the computer when I come in.” Keselowski went back out and tried to run Kyle Busch’s line and he said, “Yeah Paul… I cannot run that line. It is snappy loose when I try that.”
Joey Logano: Crew Chief Todd Gordan said before the New Hampshire race, “We are just going to experiment until the playoffs. We need to find the set-ups that work for us like we did last year in the playoffs.” This information makes Logano a risky pick. Logano made some long runs and said, “I have to feather the throttle too much through the corners. The tunnel turn is the worst.” Crew chief Todd Gordan told him, “Bring it in. I was to try something different.” Logano went back out and said, “Whatever you did… that help a lot.”
Ryan Blaney: . Blaney only finished 12th in the June race but I expect the No. 12 car to have more speed Sunday. Blaney has scored Stage points in 5 of the last 6 Stages at Pocono so he is good at running up front. Blaney made some long runs and said, “All of the speed is lost in the tunnel turn. I am sure that is common. If we can fix that, we should be good.” He was P4 at the time.
Paul Menard: First off… The way Menard treated Harrison Burton last week after he wrecked him in the Xfinity Race was chicken shit. The bottom line is that Menard is a mediocre driver. He finishes between 15th and 20th each week. (He finished 18th in the June race at Pocono). There are drivers in the Xfinity Series who deserve a seat in the Cup Series a lot more than Menard, but money talks.
Kyle Busch: Busch dominates every statistical category at Pocono and he won 3 of the last 4 races at the Tricky Triangle. Busch has a series-best 133.9 Driver Rating, series-high 2.8 average finishing position and led a series-best 318 laps in the last 5 races at the Tricky Triangle. Busch qualified 2nd, led 79 of the 160 laps and won the race at Pocono in June. Crew chief Adam Stevens told Kyle, “No one runs the bottom as fast as you.” Midway through practice Kyle asked, “What’s the deal with the No. 11 and No. 22? Those are the only 2 cars I cannot catch.” Team replied, “They are on the same tires as you.”
Erik Jones: Jones has been one of the best picks at Pocono. He has 5 races on his MENCS resume. He finished 3rd, 5th, 29th (transmission failure), 8th and 3rd. Joe Gibbs Racing cars are usually pretty reliable so if his car does not have mechanical problems, Jones should finish in the top 5. The No. 20 car qualified 4th and finished 3rd in June. Jones made some long runs and his car was too tight. He studied his teammate’s lines and went out for another run. He went to P1 on the speed chart.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been very good on the flat tracks this season. He had a good chance to win last week at New Hampshire. The No. 11 car will have another good chance to get to Victory Lane Sunday. Hamlin qualified 6th and finished 6th in the first race at Pocono. Hamlin was complaining his car was on the splitter in the morning practice. It was the same problem the No. 19 car had. They changed shocks between the two practice sessions and Hamlin said, “It really came to life now. Much better.” Hamlin was P3 at the time.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. had one of the fastest cars in the first race at Pocono. He was battling Kyle Busch for the lead when his engine exploded. It is rare for Joe Gibbs Racing to have engine failure and I do not expect it to happen again. Truex was having a hard time getting over the bumps. The team made a shock change between practices and Truex said, “It is still lacking rear lateral grip but it is getting over the bumps well now.” He was P7 at the time.
Matt DiBenedetto: DiBenedetto has horrible stats at Pocono but he only has one race at the track in a decent car. In June he started his first race at the Tricky Triangle with some horsepower under the hood. DiBenedetto quailed 22nd, had a 19th place average running position and finished 17th. DiBenedetto loved the way his car unloaded Saturday morning. He said, “We have a good piece this week. A touch free on entry but oval it feels pretty good.” DiBenedetto was P2 at the time. DiBenedetto said, “The Q-Setup is junk…but I like the race trim.”
Daniel Hemric: Hemric has not been very good since his 13th place finish in the June race at Pocono. The No. 8 team has a 21st place average finishing position in his last 5 races. After his first run in the Saturday morning practice Hemric said, “It is a lot better than what we had here in June.” He was P3 at the time.
Austin Dillon: Dillon has been absolutely horrible this summer. He has a 29th average finishing position in the last 8 races on the schedule. That is Ross Chastain and Landon Cassill territory. To say 2019 has been a disappointment for the No. 3 team is an understatement. Dillon made a short run and said, “It is crashing loose. I am bringing it to you.”
Ty Dillon: Ty Dillon has not been much better than his brother on the large tracks this season. Dillon has a 29th place average finishing position on the tracks 1.5-miles and larger in length (not including the superspeedways). That is not very good. Dillon made some long runs and said “Track feels pretty free. There is not a lot of grip out here.” Ty was P20 at the time.
Ryan Preece: Preece only has one finish inside the top 20 this season (Martinsville) on a non-Superspeedway track. I would not expect a top 20 finish from him Sunday. Preece qualified 29th and finished 23rd in the first race at Pocono. The No. 47 was too tight and the team kept working on it. Preece said after his final run, “really decent that run. Felt like the rear was out of the track, but it is an improvement.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 season. He has a 14th place average finishing position in his last 10 races. Now he heads to a track where he has been to Victory Lane at in the MENCS. That has to give him confidence this week. Buescher was fighting a loose racecar. At the end of practice he said, “That is the best we have been all day. Keep going in that direction.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse crashed last week so now he essentially has to win a race to make the playoffs. That means the No. 17 team will gamble on fuel and pit strategy to try and steal a win. He will likely be a boom or bust pick in Fantasy NASCAR. Stenhouse was not happy with his car. He said, “Plowing tight….absolutely plowing!” He was P26 at the time.
Ryan Newman: No driver in the MENCS can points race as well as Newman. His chances of winning the race are slim, but his chances of finishing in the top 10 are high. Newman has finished 5 of the last 6 races in the top 10. The No. 6 car usually does not qualify well so Newman has been one of the best drivers at scoring place differential points this season. Newman said, “Too tight in 1 and 3… lacking grip in 2.” He was P17 at the time.
Corey Lajoie: LaJoie hit the wall in the morning practice. The No. 32 team will try to fix the damage because their backup car is a short track car.
Bubba Wallace: The No. 43 team changed engines between the two practice sessions. Bubba will start from the rear Sunday and be scored from his qualifying position Saturday. They did not make any runs in final practice.
Favorites to win Sunday: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.
Good Sleeper Picks: Eric Jones, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto
MENCS Final Practice Speeds
Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed
Best 5-Lap Average
- Denny Hamlin 170.115
- William Byron 169.844
- Kyle Busch 169.751
- Ryan Blaney 169.747
- Kevin Harvick 169.697
- Martin Truex Jr. 169.584
- Erik Jones 169.531
- Clint Bowyer 169.414
- Matt DiBenedetto 168.914
- Joey Logano 168.876
- Daniel Suarez 168.837
- Daniel Hemric 168.760
- Kurt Busch 168.669
- Paul Manard 168.582
- Ryan Preece 168.040
- David Ragan 167.391
- Michael McDowell 167.361
- Jimmie Johnson 165.687
- Alex Bowman 164.407
- Aric Almirola 164.010
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