The MENCS will race the 550 HP engines with the 2” splitter, 8” spoiler and aero ducts for the first time at Pocono. The Tricky Triangle has the longest straightaway in NASCAR so we can expect a lot of drafting this week. Most of the NASCAR teams are approaching this race like a Superspeedway race. It is likely to be a very competitive race with a lot of passing this week. The Pocono 400 can be seen Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Goodyear will use the same tire combination that they ran at Pocono last year. The MENCS and Xfinity Series will use the same tire compound. Austin Dillon and Ryan Preece are running both races so they should have an idea of how the tires will wear in the Pocono 400. Each team will receive 3 sets of tires for practice, 1 set for qualifying and 7 sets for the race.
* NASCAR will inspect the cars prior to qualifying Saturday so the results of qualifying will set the field for Sunday. No inspection on Sunday.
Chase Elliott: Elliott is on quite the hot streak right now. He has finished 1st, 5th, 4th and 4th since the Easter break. Elliott has also been hot at Pocono. He has finished 4 consecutive races at the Tricky Triangle in the top 10. Elliott also has the 3rd best Driver Rating on the tracks where the 550 HP, higher-downforce aero package was used. The No. 9 car had problems at the end of the first practice. The car had an oil leak. The team found that problem and fixed it. Elliott open final practice on a long run and posted the 2nd fastest speed on his first run.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is not the driver he once was but he is showing a lot of improvement. The No. 48 car finished 6th at Kansas and 8th last week at Charlotte. Pocono ranks as his 3rd-worst track so do not get too excited about Johnson this week. Johnson was saying his car was “pretty darty and it will not hold a straight line when I arc it into the corner.”
Alex Bowman: The were rumors before the season that this could be a make or break season for Bowman. He has really showed a lot of improvement over the last month. Bowman finished 2nd, 2nd, 2nd and 7th in his last 4 races. Bowman finished 3rd in his last race at Pocono so he has the ability to run well at the Tricky Triangle. Bowman made some long runs and he said, “I am a little tight but I think it has to do with me being too lazy on entry. I can correct it and make it better”
William Byron: Pocono ranked as the 2nd best track for Byron in his rookie season. He finished 18th in his first race and 10th in his second. Byron is a quick learner so he should continue to improve with each visit to a track. Byron was not happy with his car in the first practice. He said, “It is so loose I cannot even drive it.”
Kyle Larson: Larson’s good luck ran out at Charlotte with his 33rd-place finish. The No. 42 continues to have fast cars but fail to execute in the race. Larson finished second in the Pocono 400 last year so he has the ability to run up front if his car is fast. Larson said his car was terrible in the first practice. The team changed the shocks, and everything else they could between the two practice sessions. Larson made some long runs in final practice and said, “This is a totally different car. Nearly perfect.”
Kurt Busch: Busch has been the most consistent driver while using the 550 HP, high-downforce aero package this season. Busch finished 3rd at Atlanta, 5th at Las Vegas, 6th at Fontana, 9th at Texas, 6th at Talladega, 7th at Kansas and was running in the top 10 at the end of the race at Charlotte when he collided with his brother. He will likely run well again Sunday. Busch made some long runs and said, “The exit is way too tight but the rest of the track are near perfect…let me take that back…the bumps in turn 1 just suck. The adjustments are helping though.”
Kevin Harvick: The No. 4 team always shows up with the fastest car and they have nothing to show for it. Harvick has a 6.7 average running position this season and an 11th-place average finishing position. It is hard to believe that this team has not finished in the top 3 in 2019. Surprise, surprise… Harvick was fast in practice. The No. 4 team was working on their long run speed but were able to post top 10 speed in practice. At the end of practice crew chief Rodney Childers said, “The best car is the No. 18. We have about .3 of a second to pick up to compete with him.”
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been hit or miss this season while using the 550 HP, higher-downforce aero package. He finished 5th at Atlanta, 2nd at Texas and 5th at Kansas, but he also finished 38th at Fontana, 29th at Talladega and 24th at Charlotte. The car will likely be fast, but it will come down to execution on Sunday for Bowyer to finish up front. Bowyer made some long runs and he said, “It is hopping loose over those damn bumps. I try to miss them but it seems like they are everywhere this year.” The team worked on the shocks to keep it from bouncing so much.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez had one of the best races of his career at Pocono last year. He won the pole, led 29 laps and finished 2nd. Suarez has only been decent while using the 550 HP, higher-downforce aero package this season. His average finishing position in the 7 races where the package was used is 12.4. Suarez posted the fastest time in the first practice but he was one of the only cars in qualifying trim.
Aric Almirola: Almirola got off to a hot start in 2019 but he has cooled down since the beginning of April. His average finishing position in the last 6 races is 18th. He is a driver who is trending in the wrong direction. I did not get much information about the No. 10 car except that he was having problems getting the car to turn in the tunnel turn. Most of his laps were between 12th and 18th on the speed chart.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is a driver to keep your eye on Sunday. He does not need a fast car to win the races. The No. 2 team has won 3 races this season without the fastest car. There will be a lot of drafting at Pocono this week. That will play right into the hands of Keselowski. He is one of the best at using the draft to his advantage. Keselowski usually runs better in the race than he practices and today he was really good in practice. He said, “Paul it is 3/4 in (turn) 2 and (turn) 3 and about ½ in (turn) 1. (I am guessing he means the car is 3/4th of what he needs in 2 and 3 and about ½ in turn 1). The team liked their car so much that they spent final practice working on their qualifying speed. At the end of practice Keselowski said, “There is a problem with the steering linkage. I turn the wheel and it does not respond correctly.” The team was going to change the steering box and everything related to the steering before qualifying.
Joey Logano: Logano has not had a lot of success at Pocono but that could change Sunday. He is the best driver in the sport at using the draft and the 550 HP cars will provide for a lot of drafting in the race Sunday. Logano could be a good sleeper pick in DFS because most people will stay away from him based on his track history. Logano liked his car. He said, “The car has more speed then I am willing to handle right now. I just need to get used to holding it wide open through these corners.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney won at Pocono in 2016 and he backed it up with a 6th-place finish last year. The No. 12 team is in a slump right now (20.1 average finishing position in their last 7 races) but this is a track where Blaney could turn his season around. The No. 12 car had the same setup as Joey Logano and he liked his car. Blaney said, “The car has speed. The back slides out in turn 3 and 1 and 2 are a bit tight. Overall, not bad.”
Paul Menard: Menard has been pretty consistent this season. He usually qualified between 15th and 20th place and he usually finishes between 15th and 20th place. His average finishing position in the last 4 races at Pocono is 17.5. At least we know what we are getting with Menard this season.
Kyle Busch: Busch has been really good at Pocono over the last two seasons. He finished 1st, 3rd, 1st and 9th in his last for races at the Tricky Triangle. The new aero package will not slow him down. Busch ranks No. 1 in Driver Ranking and Average Finishing Position in the 550 HP, higher-downforce package. Busch made some long runs and complained a lot about his car… go figure. He said, “It is plowing tight and has not stability over the bumps.” Of course he had the fastest car on the track so it could not have been too bad. Busch slide up the track in turn 2 and almost got into the wall.
Erik Jones: Jones has been consistent at Pocono. He has 4 starts at the track and he finished 3rd, 8th, 29th and 5th. He was running 11th when he got a tire rub last year and finished 29th. The No. 20 team started the first practice with the same setup at Kyle Busch. Jones said his car was, “Just a tick too loose.” He was P2 behind Kyle Busch who was P1 at the time.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has a series-high 4 wins at Pocono but his last win was in 2010. The 550 HP, higher-downforce package should race closer to the cars Hamlin had so much success in at the Tricky Triangle. Hamlin has the 5th best Driver Ranking in the races this season where this package was used. Hamlin had a power steering issue in the first practice. The team changed everything that had to do with the steering and the problem was fixed.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has been on fire for the last two months. The No. 19 car has won 3 of the last 5 races this season and he is the defending race winner of the Pocono 400. Ttuex has not been very good at qualifying but his cars have been blazing fast in race trim.
Matt DiBenedetto: DiBenedetto has not lived up to expectations this season. His average starting position is 22.7 and his average finishing position is 25.4. Not very good for a team with an alliance with the top team in the sport (Joe Gibbs Racing). DiBenedetto had engine problems in the first practice. The team had to change the engine so they missed final practice. DiBendetto will start at the back Sunday.
Daniel Hemric: Hemric will be making his first career start at Pocono in the MENCS. He does have 2 races at the Tricky Triangle on his Xfinity Series resume. Hemric finished 3rd and 9th in the lower series at the track. Hamric made some long runs and he said, “I can hold it wide open all the way around the track except in turn 3. That is where we need to tighten it up.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon has been really good in qualifying trim but not so good in race trim this season. Dillon has 10 starts at Pocono in MENCS and he has never finished in the top 10. He will be racing in the Xfinity Series Saturday so maybe that will help him on Sunday. Dillon made some long runs and he said, “Turn 1 is my biggest problem. If we can correct that corner without ruining 2 and 3 I will have what I need.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon has been a lot better on the short tracks than he has been on the larger ovals this season. Dillon has not finished any of the races using the 550 HP, higher-downforce aero package in the top 20. Dillon was fighting a loose racecar in practice. The team made some adjustments and Dillon said, “That helped. I can hold it wide open through the tunnel turn now.”
Ryan Preece: Preece will be making his first start at Pocono in the MENCS. He only has one start in the Xfinity Series at the Tricky Triangle. Preece finished 17th in 2016 in the lower level series at the track. He will be driving the Junior Motorsports car in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. Preece will need all the experience he can get this weekend.
Chris Buescher: Buescher has run really well this season in the races where the 550 HP, higher-downforce aero package was used. Buescher also carries a hot streak in the race at Pocono. He finished 10th at Kansas and 6th last week at Charlotte. Buescher won the 2016 MENCS race at Pocono and he should have a lot of confidence heading into the race Sunday. Buescher made some long runs and his car was not too bad. He was P14 after his 2nd long run.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has competed in 12 MENCS at Pocono and he has never finished in the top 10. That could change this week. Stenhouse is really good at the tracks where drivers must use the draft to gain track position. The Pocono 400 should race like a Superspeedway and that will favor Stenhouse this week. Stenhouse did not like his car in practice. He said, “Deadly loose….deadly loose!”
Ryan Newman: Newman has not qualified well this season and he has not run up front much, but he has had a habit of finding his way to the top 10 near the end of the race. Last year Newman finished 9th at Pocono and that should be his ceiling this week. Newman some long runs and he said, “Way too tight in 1, 2 and 3… I would be tight in turn 4 too if the track had another corner.”
David Ragan: Ragan showed some surprising speed last week at Charlotte. No one expected the No. 38 car to be leading the race on the last restart. Now Ragan will compete at one of his best tracks. Ragan finished 16th and 19th in his 2 races at the Tricky Triangle last year. Ragan made some long runs and said, “I felt like the balance was just a little free. I’m still just a little too insecure of the rear. The changes are not helping me much.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick
Good Sleeper Picks: Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Chris Buescher and Daniel Hemric
MENCSl Final Practice Speeds
Best 10-Lap Avg. Speed
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