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NASCAR viewer’s guide: Pocono Raceway

Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty recap New Hampshire and talk about how Christopher Bell is making his way up the Cup Series learning curve.

With playoffs just around the corner, all three of NASCAR’s major series will be in action this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

The Pocono weekend will include Saturday races for the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series and Sunday’s feature for Cup drivers.

USA Network will broadcast the Xfinity and Cup races.

Six Weeks To Go

Pocono begins a six-race stretch that will close the Cup Series regular season with a wildly different set of venues.

After the 2.5-mile, three-turn test that is Pocono, drivers will race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 2-mile oval at Michigan Speedway, the Richmond short track, Watkins Glen International’s 2.45-mile road course and Daytona International Speedway, where the season started back in February.

With a half-dozen events left, the playoff picture is taking shape, and it’s taking shape potentially without some significant names.

Drivers currently outside the playoff structure include Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Fourteen drivers have qualified for the playoffs with wins. Christopher Bell became the latest Sunday by finishing first at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Sixteen drivers will compete in the playoffs. If there are no new winners in the last six races of the regular season, the final two spots will be filled via points. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. currently hold those positions. Truex is 68 points in front of Harvick, the first driver below the cutoff line.

Chasing Chase

Although much of the attention over the coming weeks will be concentrated on the race for the playoffs, the excellent seasonal resume Chase Elliott is building should not be overlooked.

The only Cup driver with three wins this year, Elliott has led the regular-season point standings for the past 13 weeks and has a whopping 67-point lead over Ross Chastain.

In the past four races, Elliott has finished one-two-one-two, and he has won three of the past 10.

He has stacked 20 playoff points, seven more than any other driver, and he has led 658 laps, No. 1 on the list.

Elliott has led 12 of the 20 races to date.

Elliott has not done well at Pocono, this week’s stop. If he finishes top five there, his seasonal worksheet will have an even better shine.

Blarney for Blaney?

Ryan Blaney’s statistical sheet for this season is quite impressive.

The Team Penske driver has led 16 of the 20 races. He is No. 2 in laps run in the top five and also in the top 10. His average finish (12.2) ranks third, and he is tied for third in top-five finishes with seven.

Yet this is the Blaney headline: He might miss the playoffs.

Blaney remains winless this year and is the first non-winner currently eligible for the playoffs. He is 15th in the playoff standings based on points. Martin Truex Jr. is 16th and, with the standings as they are, would make the playoffs along with Blaney.

But there are six races remaining in the regular season, and stumbles by Blaney and/or wins by drivers who have not won could boot him out of the playoffs.

Blaney could quickly change his standing by winning, of course. He has one career victory at Pocono Raceway.

Entry lists

The Pocono Cup entry list totals 36 drivers, including non-regulars J.J. Yeley, Noah Gragson and Josh Bilicki.

Pocono Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list contains 39 drivers for 38 spots. Among the non-regulars entered are Sage Karam, Stefan Parsons, Rajah Caruth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Cole Custer.

Pocono Xfinity entry list

The Pocono Camping World Truck Series race is the regular season finale. Zane Smith leads the point standings by 58 entering the race.

The field has room for 36 trucks. Thirty-eight drivers are entered. The list includes Norm Benning, Austin Hill, Todd Bodine and Kaz Grala.

Pocono Truck entry list

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, July 22

Forecast: Mostly sunny. High of 86 degrees.

  • 4:30 - 5 p.m. -- Camping World Truck practice (FS1)
  • 5 - 6 p.m. -- Camping World Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, July 23

Forecast: Mostly sunny. High of 88 degrees.

  • 9:35 - 10:05 a.m. -- Xfinity practice (USA Network)
  • 10:05 - 11 a.m. -- Xfinity qualifying (USA Network)
  • Noon -- Camping World Truck race (60 laps, 150 miles; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)
  • 2:35-3:20 p.m. -- Cup practice (USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)
  • 3:20-4:30 p.m. -- Cup qualifying (USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)
  • 5 p.m. -- Xfinity race (90 laps, 225 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Sunday, July 24

Forecast: Partly cloudy early. Scattered showers and thunderstorms in afternoon. High of 87 degrees. 50 percent chance of rain.

  • 3 p.m. -- Cup race (160 laps, 400 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)