The Pocono 400 weekend at Pocono Raceway started Friday with one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice before the drivers attacked Cup qualifying Friday evening.
Lovingly referred to as the Tricky Triangle, Pocono is unique on the NASCAR circuit as drivers only have to navigate three corners each lap. Each corner is designed differently and modeled after another corner from a speedway that either is or was raced on by the NASCAR cup series. While Friday’s practice was utilized by drivers to find speed and prepare for qualification ,Saturday saw more drivers experimenting with race packages for Sunday.
There’s not a current NASCAR driver that is known to dominate at Pocono, in fact the last 11 races have seen 11 different winners. Most recently Kyle Busch who had his first win at the track last July and Ryan Blaney who picked up his first career MENCS win in this race last year.
Blaney captured the pole for the second time this season at Pocono. Last year, he took advantage of a top-five qualification spot and went on to win his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Blaney was eighth fastest in Friday’s pre-qualifying practice before recording his qualification winning lap of 176.897 mph in the final stage of qualification. Blaney will be an island at the start of the 400 on Sunday as his teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski start seventh and seventeenth.
Kevin Harvick topped the first two stages of qualification and was on the mark to set the best lap and claim the pole in the final stage before he slipped in turn three and lost his edge. Harvick ended up with a top speed of 176.807 mph, 0.090 seconds behind the leader. The driver of the No. 4 Ford will start on the outside of the front row as he chases his sixth win of the season.
Jamie McMurray's Chevrolet was the fastest Chevy in qualification and he will start Sunday from the second row alongside Last year’s MENCS Champion Martin Truex Jr. After dominating Friday practice, Kyle Busch was the favorite to take the pole for this Sunday’s Pocono 400 but fell short qualifying fifth. Kyle will start on the third row next to his brother Kurt in sixth. Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, and Denny Hamlin round out the top 10.
Kyle Busch swept both practices with a fastest lap of 176.939 mph on Friday and 174.588 mph on Saturday. With four wins so far this season including his historic win last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway; Busch became the first driver to win on every current track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, it’s a fool’s errand to bet against the Toyota driver. As current points leader in the series Busch was most challenged by Harvick during Saturday’s practice as he was closest to knocking Busch off his pedestal. While Harvick’s fastest lap time was .410 slower than Busch he had the best 10-lap average in Saturday’s practice (172.693 mph). The 10-lap average statistic was not collected during Friday’s practice due to fewer laps run and a 15-minute rain delay. Busch recorded his practice topping lap on his first try and did not stay out for a long enough period to capture a 10-lap average.
Harvick’s Stewart Haas Racing teammates joined him in the the top ten speed charts for both single lap and consecutive lap averages on Saturday with Aric Almirola finishing fifth and seventh and Bowyer finishing eighth and third in the two prctices respectively.
Alex Bowman was the second best between both practices, finishing second (175.490) on Friday and fourth overall on Saturday (173.658). Bowman also recorded a 10th-best top-10 average in Saturday practice. This will be Bowman’s fifth cup start at Pocono and first won driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. His best finish at the track was 25th back in August of 2015, but with three top-10s so far this year, better equipment, and a well-funded team behind him Pocono is as good a place as any for Bowman to break out.
Pole-sitter Blaney was seventh fastest overall on Saturday and had the sixth best consecutive 10-lap average leaving the Penske No. 22 team confident going into race day. While one of Blaney’s Penske teammates Logano also napped a top-10 in practice, the second Keselowski struggled for 20th.