Fuel Mileage, Weather, Risk Management Among Factors to Effect Pocono

Kyle Busch dominated last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning everything in sight, culminating in another Brickyard 400 victory. In this weekend’s race last season, the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 1:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN), he was one lap short on fuel of winning.

Ultimately, his teammate Matt Kenseth, saved enough fuel to pass the No. 18 on the final lap and find victory lane. Earlier this season, Kurt Busch saved enough fuel to grab his first, and only, checkered flag of the season at the Tricky Triangle so far. Both Busch’s, Kenseth, as well as the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing will be among the favorites heading into this weekend’s 100-mile, 160-lap race.

Leading the field to the green flag will be a former Pocono winner, Martin Truex Jr. His lap of 179.244 MPH (50.211 seconds) was good enough to claim the pole position, his third of the season and 10th of his career.

“It’s exciting. We had a bad race here the first time around,” Truex Jr. told NBCSN. “That first pit box, I’m sure we’ll choose that one, is a huge advantage for us.”

When asked if his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota felt as good as it did in 2015 when he won at Pocono, he didn’t shy away.

“It’s better. It’s a lot better,” he told NBCSN with a smile. “There’s something about it, it just feels right to me.”

If those words are facts come Sunday, the rest of the field is in trouble.

Paul Menard will find himself inside the top five with his best start since Talladega in 2014, with new crew chief Danny Stockman calling the shots. Rounding out the top five will be Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman.

Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kenseth, and Joey Logano close out the top ten starting positions.

Some other notable drivers include Kyle Larson in 11th, Austin Dillon in 12th, Kurt and Kyle Busch in 15th and 16th, respectively, Ryan Blaney in 18th, Jimmie Johnson in 21st, Jeff Gordon in 24th, and Danica Patrick in 26th.

However, my pick to win on Sunday is Kevin Harvick. You may be thinking to yourself, why is he picking the No. 4 car when they don’t even have their championship crew chief on top of the pit box, and he’s starting back in 17th position?

Rodney Childers was suspended for one race following the conclusion of the Brickyard 400 due to a lug nut violation on the No. 4 car. The left front tire had four of the five lug nuts tight, warranting a P3 penalty, which includes a suspension for the crew chief along with a $20,000 fine. No. 4 team engineer, Dax Gerringer, will call the shots for Harvick and company on Sunday afternoon from Long Pond, Pa.

As I said in this week’s episode of Victory Lane, I can’t quite put into words why I think Harvick will win this weekend. But after following his whole career, this would be a “Classic Kevin” weekend to do so. I may be correct; I may be incorrect. But hey, I picked the No. 20 car to correctly win two weeks ago!

The last four races at Pocono have come down to fuel mileage at the end. Plus, with the weather for Sunday looking less than stellar, drivers may be racing only until the race is deemed official by NASCAR. This will surely put more pressure on the “bubble” drivers, who sit near the edge of the Chase cut line, to perform at their best and grab a victory or a solid finish.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pocono Mountains 150 will take place on Saturday afternoon (FS1) and the NASCAR XFINITY Series US Cellular 250 from Iowa Speedway will take place on Saturday evening (NBCSN). Enjoy the races everybody!