The Pocono 400 is another shortened schedule with two practices held on Friday and impound qualification on Saturday. In Practice 1, only three drivers posted 10 or more consecutive laps. Jimmie Johnson topped this small chart, followed by Clint Bowyer, and Austin Dillon.
That suggests that most of the drivers were working on qualification setups and the fastest single lap chart from that session is about as meaningful as it ever is during a race weekend. Of course, fantasy players want to keep in mind that this is a relatively slow 2.5-miler and it doesn’t always take the veteran teams very long to determine the long run feel. That can be accomplished in fewer than 10 laps.
By the time Happy Hour rolled around, 17 of the 37 drivers posted 10 or more consecutive laps, switching their focus from qualification to primarily race trim.
William Byron and crew chief Chad Knaus have really stepped up their effort in qualification. With a speed of 173.494 mph, he earned his second consecutive pole and fourth straight top-three start. Recently, those strong starts have turned into strong runs with an eighth-place finish from the outside pole at Dover International Speedway and a ninth last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Byron also had outside poles at Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway – earning one more top-10 in the Lone Star State. It’s certainly worth rolling the dice on Byron this week.
Kyle Busch had the second fastest time and lines up to the outside. Given his recent record at Pocono and during the season, plus the fact that he is much more experienced than the sophomore driver, Busch is more highly favored to win the Pocono 400. The downside to the No. 18 this week is that anything short of a victory is not going to support his salary cap in most games – or make him a good value in allocation management contests.
Bowyer is the fastest Ford driver, giving each manufacturer one make in the top three. That is the kind of parity NASCAR wants at the end of the race and we are starting to see it with increasing regularity as the new aero-package. Bowyer has been qualifying well lately with four consecutive top-10 starts prior to this weekend. Two of those races were marred by crash damage and the other two netted top-10s, so this week is going to be critical.
We waved a red flag over Joey Logano at the beginning of the week because of his four sub-20th-place finishes in the last five Pocono starts. Most of those poor runs came after he qualified among the top 10. Last summer he started deep in the pack in 30th and could muster only a four-position advance at the checkers. Starting 16th, we believe he will struggle for most of the race on Sunday.
Daniel Suarez had the fastest single lap in Practice 1. His top speed of 171.217 mph was .039 seconds faster than Ryan Blaney and .271 seconds ahead of Alex Bowman. Young Guns have the capacity to run well this week. Suarez finished second at Pocono last July, Blaney has a victory on this track from 2017, and Bowman is coming off a string of three runner-up finishes that was interrupted by a seventh last week at Charlotte.
With a lap of 172.712 mph, Kurt Busch topped the speed chart in Practice 2. Busch has always been a strong qualifier on this track. He’s started on the first five rows nine times in the past 11 races. One of these was a pole in 2015. He has another pole in 2011 and started on the outside of the front row five other times. All but one of these ended in a top-five finish. This week he missed the line completely and rolls off 21st – which is his worst start at Pocono since 2007.
Brad Keselowski (171.798 mph) posted the second-fastest lap in Practice 2. He is looking to restart a top-five streak at Pocono that ended with six consecutive last summer when he crashed on Lap 121. That also ended a perfect record in which he was running at the end of a race and is one of only two times he has failed to complete the full distance. More importantly, Kez had the second-quickest 10-lap average (169.548) in final practice and he qualified well in fifth.
Topping the 10-lap chart in final practice was Kyle Busch. He was nearly a half-mile an hour faster than Keselowski and even though he complained of the handling early in the session, he eventually found what he needed. Busch has won two of the last three races on this track and finished third in the other event, which makes him the closest thing to a must have that you will experience.