Preview For Sunday’s Gander RV 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back to the Tricky Triangle this weekend for the annual return trip to the Pocono Raceway. It’s the final time that NASCAR will make two visits in a season to the 2.5-mile Pennsylvania race track.

Sunday’s Gander RV 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) should hopefully be a better show than what we saw back in June. With more at stake, we should see a ton of strategy calls.

Justin Haley smiles after rain started falling while he took the lead for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona


4 Straight 1st Time Winners On Season By 4 Different Teams, 7 Straight Different Winners On Season Overall

As we head into the 21st race of the season, we are starting to see more and more parity. Through the first 16 race of 2019, two organizations combined to win 15 of them. See, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing were the ones to beat week in and week out. If you go back to the end of the 2018 season, these teams won 17 of the last 18 Cup races and 18 of 20. The only two tracks that they didn’t win at was a superspeedway in April at Talladega (Hendrick Motorsports – Chase Elliott) and Texas last November (Stewart-Haas – Kevin Harvick). But, that race in Texas saw Harvick’s car fail inspection too.

But, over the last four races, we’ve seen four different race winners, all first time victors this season, all with four different teams. None of which belonged to Penske or JGR.

Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports) got it all started at the end of June at the Chicagoland Speedway. Then, Justin Haley (Spire Motorsports) stole a win in the rain shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 in Daytona. After that, Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi) beat his brother Kyle Busch in a thrilling finish at the Kentucky Speedway. Then, this past Sunday, Harvick (SHR) ended a 21 race winless drought at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Can we go five straight new winners from five different teams on Sunday?

If so, German Racing (Ty Dillon), JTG Daugherty Racing (Chris Buescher, Ryan Preece), Richard Childress Racing (Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric), Richard Petty Motorsports (Darrell Wallace Jr.), StarCom Racing (Landon Cassill), Front Row Motorsports (Michael McDowell, David Ragan, Matt Tifft), GoFas Racing (Corey LaJoie), Roush/Fenway Racing (Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) Wood Brothers (Paul Menard) or Leavine Family Racing (Michael McDowell) are up.

Out of that list, only Newman, Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Menard, DiBenedetto and Buescher have a realistic shot. Even that though, is a real long shot too.

Newman, has five top 10 finishes in his last six starts on the season in his No. 6 Ford. He finished eighth in this very race last year but that was his lone top 10 in his last nine Pocono starts.

His teammate Stenhouse Jr. has never scored a top 10 in Pocono before and has just one top 10 finish in his last 17 races on the year.

Dillon, also has never scored a top 10 before in Pocono with a best finish of 12th in June of last year. He finished 37th back in June and has three straight sub 30th place finishes on the season including seven finishes of 24th or worse in his last eight starts on the year.

Menard’s only win came on a 2.5-mile track at Indy several years ago, but he has just one top 10 finish in his career at Pocono as that came back in 2012. He has also failed to score a top 10 finish in the last 11 races on the season.

Buescher, stole this win in 2016 but has finished 19th, 28th, 17th, 37th and 14th respectively since. He does have nine straight top 20 results on the season though, so he can possibly luck out if he goes off strategy and gets some help in the end.

DiBenedetto, has never fared that well in Pocono but that’s because he never has been with a top team. But, Toyota has won four straight in Pocono and finished 1-3-6 back in June. Also, DiBenedetto has three top eight finishes in his last five starts on the year as well.

But, we can open this up for a new first time winner on the year though, not necessarily a new team.

Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez open that up.

Larson, has three top five finishes in his last five starts on the season to go along with a runner-up in June of 2018. But, he has three finishes of 23rd or worse in his last four starts on the season.

Almirola, finished seventh and 10th respectively in the last two June races but his best result prior to that was 18th. He hasn’t scored a top five finish in his last 17 races on the season either.

His teammates of Bowyer and Suarez may not fare much better.

Bowyer, has just one top 10 finish in his last six starts – 35th, 11th, 37th, 34th, 6th and 20th respectively on the season. He did finish fifth this past June but that his last top five on the year. He has two top 10 finishes in his last five Pocono starts.

Suarez, has been good at Pocono (second, eighth last two starts) but not so much on the season with finishes of 17th, 24th, 40th, 8th and 19th respectively over the last five races.

Johnson, has just one top five finish in Pocono since his win in June 2013. He also has just three top five finishes all season with his last two finishes being 30th in each race.

His teammate Byron though has four top 10 finishes since the Coke 600 but his last two finishes are 18th and 12th on the season. He was 18th and 6th in Pocono last year and ninth in June after starting from the pole. He may have one of the better chances.

So does Jones. He finished third in June and has came home third in each of the last two weeks of the season. Also, Jones has seven top eight finishes over the last 10 races in 2019.

To me, Jones, Byron and DiBenedetto are the best options to get it done.

If you count Joey Logano’s win in Michigan and Martin Truex Jr’s in Sonoma, we do have six straight different organizations to have won the last six Cup races.

Erik Jones practices his No. 20 Toyota last weekend in New Hampshire


Jones Has Made Up 41 Points In 2 Weeks

Heading into the race two weeks ago in Kentucky, Erik Jones was in 17th, 13 points out of the playoff standings. But, as we head into Sunday’s Gander RV 400 at the Pocono Raceway, Jones is now 28 points to the good. He’s made up 41 points in two weeks as he went from a driver worrying about not just making the playoffs in 2019, but his future too, to now being solidly into the field.

Jones, now makes a lot of sense to win this weekend’s race at the Tricky Triangle. We’ve had seven straight different winners on the season. The last four of those seven winners have been first time winners in 2019. Jones, can push it to five straight. Here’s why.

Jones, is arguably one of the hottest drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series right now. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has two straight third place finishes and was third in the June race at Pocono. Furthermore, Jones has five top eight finishes in his last seven starts on the season and four in five career tries on the Tricky Triangle as well.

That makes him a prime candidate to reach victory lane on Sunday afternoon.

Also, just look at those around him. Even if he doesn’t win, as long as he finishes strong like he’s been, he should pull further ahead.

Kyle Larson (+31) has three top five finishes in his last five starts on the season to go along with a runner-up in June of 2018. But, he has three finishes of 23rd or worse in his last four starts on the season.

Ryan Newman (+21) has five top 10 finishes in his last six starts on the season in his No. 6 Ford. He finished eighth in this very race last year but that was his lone top 10 in his last nine Pocono starts. 

Clint Bowyer (+17) has just one top 10 finish in his last six starts – 35th, 11th, 37th, 34th, 6th and 20th respectively on the season. He did finish fifth this past June but that his last top five on the year. He has two top 10 finishes in his last five Pocono starts.

Daniel Suarez (-17) has been good at Pocono (second, eighth last two starts) but not so much on the season with finishes of 17th, 24th, 40th, 8th and 19th respectively over the last five races.

Jimmie Johnson (-17) has just one top five finish in Pocono since his win in June 2013. He also has just three top five finishes all season with his last two finishes being 30th in each race.

Paul Menard’s (-60) only win came on a 2.5-mile track at Indy several years ago, but he has just one top 10 finish in his career at Pocono as that came back in 2012. He has also failed to score a top 10 finish in the last 11 races on the season. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon have both struggled with no top 10 finishes in their careers in Pocono and both having not been top 10 contenders for much of the season.

So, Pocono is a place where Jones could make up even more points.

Brad Keselowski won the pole for last weekend’s Cup Series race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway


Can Penske Get Going?

Through the first 15 races, Team Penske had won five times in 2019. But, over the last five, they’ve been shut out. The team that carried over a strong ending to 2018 has done the opposite of what they did last year and have seemed to peaked.

Joey Logano has just two wins all season but since his win in Michigan, his finishes are – 23rd, 3rd, 25th, 7th and 9th respectively. He doesn’t look as strong as he used to in race pace. Furthermore, Pocono may not be the place where his slump ends either. Logano’s last four July finishes there are 20th, 37th, 27th and 26th respectively.

Brad Keselowski is struggling too. He has one top five in his last six starts on the season. But, maybe Pocono is what he needed. He finished runner-up in June for his fourth consecutive top five finish in the spring race. In the summer race, Keselowski has three top five finishes in his last four tries including two runner-ups.

Then there’s Ryan Blaney who won the June race in 2017 to go along with a top 12 finish in all but one Pocono start. On the season, Blaney is starting to surge with four top 10 finishes in his last six starts too.

Logano, may struggle but Keselowski and Blaney should get Penske going again.

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 02: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Hazelnut Toyota, celebrates winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 02, 2019 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)


Kyle Busch’s Pocono Dominance May Give Him Leg Up On Logano For Points Lead

The wildcard standings get a ton of attention this time of year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Rightfully so too. The drivers at the top of the standings have already won. It’s the bottom drivers fighting for the last few playoff spots that is fun.

But, this year we have an intense fight up top as well. Heading into Sunday’s Gander RV 400, Joey Logano leads Kyle Busch by just a single point in the overall points standings. Where this is important is, the leader after the Brickyard in September to close out the regular season gets 15 additional playoff points. Those are absolutely huge.

Logano, at one point looked to be well in control of those 15 playoff points. But, he’s let Busch back in lately. Since his win in Michigan, his finishes are – 23rd, 3rd, 25th, 7th and 9th respectively. He doesn’t look as strong as he used to in race pace. Furthermore, Pocono may not be the place where his slump ends either. Logano’s last four July finishes there are 20th, 37th, 27th and 26th respectively. 

Busch meanwhile, has a lot of speed as he nearly won in Kentucky and probably had the most speed in his car last week in New Hampshire. He has six top eight finishes over his last eight starts on the season.

Also, in Pocono, Busch has won the last two trips the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has taken there including two straight late July wins too.

We could have a new points leader when the checkered flag falls on Sunday.

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 02: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 02, 2019 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)


Can Truex/Elliott Get Going?

At one point, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott looked like legit championship contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season. Between April to late June, the duo had won five of eight races in NASCAR’s premiere series.

From Richmond to Sonoma, Truex Jr. had four wins and a third place effort in eight tries.

In the same time frame, Elliott had five top five finishes, all consecutively. But, over the last four races, these two have struggled.

Truex, has finished ninth, 22nd, 19th and sixth respectively.

Elliott, brought his No. 9 Chevrolet home 11th, 35th, 15th and 29th respectively. If you go back to Michigan for him, he’s also finished 20th and 37th too.

While Pocono has been kind to this duo in the past, do you trust it will on Sunday?

Truex, finished 15th in this race last year and 35th in June.

Elliott, does have five consecutive top 10 finishes and six in seven tries, but can he turn things around.

Sunday, will tell us a lot.

Strategy Will Be Key

One big thing to watch on Sunday too is stage points. The bubble is getting wider with 17 points separating 16th to 17th, but stage points on Sunday could play a role of that either tightening up or getting even wider.

See, Pocono is a place where you can pit and not lose a lap. In doing so, you can pit at the end of a stage and put yourself with track position in the lead to start the second stage as well as the final stage too. But, that’s risky as you won’t likely score any stage points if doing so.

If it doesn’t pay off in a win later, it’s a missed opportunity.

William Byron only finished 19th in Sonoma back in June but he scored the fifth most points overall for the day since he scored a ton of stage points. Do the playoff bubble drivers do that?

I think Byron (+61) can gamble and go for the win and forego stage points. But, everyone behind him, they should go for points instead. With how they’ve struggled on the season, you can’t guarantee you’ll get more points later. Take them while you can get them.

But, I do think 19th on back in the standings though should actually not go for points anymore but rather the win instead. Paul Menard is 60 points out in 19th. He’s realistically too far back to make up that ground on points alone. He’s just not that consistent and why will that change now? Stage points aren’t going to do him, nor anyone behind him, any good.

So, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Daniel Suarez should think about points and points only. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch up top belong in that category too. Everyone else, position yourself for the win.

Playoff Gap Getting Wider As Newman, Jones Thrive – Suarez Johnson Struggle

We’re to the point of the year where talking playoff bubble in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series moves the needle more than anything else. Heading into Sunday’s Gander RV 400 at the Pocono Raceway, we have just six more races remaining in the regular season. Currently, we have nine different winners, meaning we have seven wildcard slots open.

But, with Aric Almirola (+98) and Ryan Blaney (+84) holding onto a good standing, I think they’re realistically good. Even William Byron (+61) is sitting pretty but still not quite there yet to sleep comfortably.

Everyone else is uneasy. Despite that, I do feel like the playoff picture is getting clearer.

Jimmie Johnson and Daniel Suarez’ struggles have opened up a 17 point gap between them and Clint Bowyer in 16th.

Johnson’s last two finishes on the season resulted in 30th place runs. He also has just one top five finish in Pocono since his win in June 2013. On top of that, the seven time series champion has just three top five finishes all season long.

Paul Menard’s (-60) only win came on a 2.5-mile track at Indy several years ago, but he has just one top 10 finish in his career at Pocono as that came back in 2012. He has also failed to score a top 10 finish in the last 11 races on the season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon have both struggled with no top 10 finishes in their careers in Pocono and both having not been top 10 contenders for much of the season

Suarez, has been good at Pocono (second, eighth last two starts) but not so much on the season with finishes of 17th, 24th, 40th, 8th and 19th respectively over the last five races. That combined with how well Erik Jones and Ryan Newman are running and you get a playoff bubble that really isn’t much of a bubble despite only 17 points separating it.

Heading into the race two weeks ago in Kentucky, Erik Jones was in 17th, 13 points out of the playoff standings. But, as we head into Sunday’s race at the Tricky Triangle, Jones is now 28 points to the good. He’s made up 41 points in two weeks as he went from a driver worrying about not just making the playoffs in 2019, but his future too, to now being solidly into the field.

Jones, now makes a lot of sense to win this weekend’s race at the Tricky Triangle. We’ve had seven straight different winners on the season. The last four of those seven winners have been first time winners in 2019. Jones, can push it to five straight. Here’s why.

Jones, is arguably one of the hottest drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series right now. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has two straight third place finishes and was third in the June race at Pocono. Furthermore, Jones has five top eight finishes in his last seven starts on the season and four in five career tries on the Tricky Triangle as well.

That makes him a prime candidate to reach victory lane on Sunday afternoon.

Newman (+21) has been great lately too. He has five top 10 finishes in his last six starts on the season in his No. 6 Ford. He finished eighth in this very race last year as well.

Clint Bowyer (+17) has just one top 10 finish in his last six starts – 35th, 11th, 37th, 34th, 6th and 20th respectively on the season. He did finish fifth this past June but that his last top five on the year. He has two top 10 finishes in his last five Pocono starts, so he can be up front in his No. 14 Ford.

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