Four playoff spots up for grabs as NASCAR heads to Tricky Triangle

Who thought Kasey Kahne was going to emerge from the Brickyard with a trophy in his hand after a kiss on the bricks? *raises hand* yup, me neither. That’s the beauty of NASCAR racing nowadays, people! You never know what’s going to happen, regardless of where you are.

The same can be said this weekend at Pocono Raceway. Ryan Blaney won at the Tricky Triangle earlier this season for his first career win, and after 400 miles from the 2.5-mile track in Long Pond, PA., we might have another surprise winner—and another playoff driver.

WHAT: Overton’s 400. 400 miles, 160 laps (stages of 50, 50 and 60 laps, respectively)

WHEN: Sunday, July 30, 2017. Green flag scheduled to fly at approximately 3:35 p.m. ET

WHERE: Pocono Raceway, 2.5-mile asphalt triangle located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania

FAVORITES: Kyle Busch (7-2), Martin Truex Jr. (4-1) and Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson (7-1)


LAST YEAR’S WINNER

Chris Buescher earned his first and only win to date in this event one year ago, winning in the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports in the event that might be better known as “the fog race.” Fog came over Pocono, ending the event before its scheduled distance. Since then, Front Row Motorsports hasn’t won a race and Buescher has moved onto JTG Daugherty Racing.


THE LINEUP

For the first time in 45 years, qualifying for the Overton’s 400 took place the morning of the actual event. When it was all said and done, Kyle Busch won the pole for the event with a fast lap of 50.175 seconds (179.372 mph). The pole is his fifth of the season, second in a row, 23rd of his career and fourth at Pocono. He won the pole at Pocono earlier this summer, too.

Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five starters, with Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Joey Logano rounding out the top 10. Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne will start 11th and 12th.

Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 15 starters when qualifying concluded from the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle. Some other notable starters include Kyle Larson in 16th, Kurt Busch in 18th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 23rd and Ty Dillon in 30th.


IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, SUSPEND ‘EM?

Earlier this week, a video surfaced of Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens getting into a verbal (and a tiny bit physical) altercation with a pit crew member of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. Joe Gibbs Racing ended up suspending Chris Taylor and Lee Cunningham. They are both members of the No. 78 team. So … wait how can JGR suspend FRR team members?

Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Well, part of the FRR/JGR alliance includes pit crews, among other things such as chassis, engines, bodies, etc. So technically, Taylor and Cunningham are JGR employees. And Stevens is pretty high up in the organization, so yelling at a superior is a no-no. The two were suspended for three races and will be replaced by Kip Wolfmeier and Jon Royer on the No. 78 Toyota.

This brings up an interesting topic of conversation. There’s no doubt Martin Truex Jr. has been outperforming the No. 18 team, and Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole. What JGR essentially did was take away ammo from a team that they own that is outperforming them in the form of a pit crew. Make sense? Kind of? Well, just know that the “feud” that was sparked last weekend at IMS when the two crashed after dominating might have just gotten a bit more intense.


SWEEP FOR BLANEY?

Photo: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Ryan Blaney’s first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory came at Pocono about a month ago, and he’ll try to complete the 2017 sweep of the Tricky Triangle this Sunday. But since that victory, he only has earned two top 10 finishes. He sits sixth in the points standings.

The last Cup driver to sweep the races at Pocono in a season was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014, who could also use a victory to vault himself into the postseason. Before that, it was Denny Hamlin back in 2006, which was his second full-time season in the sport just like Blaney.


HENDRICK LOOKING FOR CONSISTENCY

Jimmie Johnson has a couple wins and Kahne got one in a surprising race last weekend. But Chase Elliott and Earnhardt Jr. have yet to find victory lane this season. And to be honest, they haven’t really been close to grabbing a checkered flag, either.

Johnson and Kahne have wins at Pocono in the past, as does Earnhardt Jr. But Elliott doesn’t. He’d love to grab his first career victory at the Tricky Triangle and punch his preverbal playoff ticket in the process. It looks like three HMS drivers will be participating in the postseason. But the No.’s 48, 5 and 24 haven’t been running with the consistency that Hendrick is used to.


PLAYOFF SPOTS STILL OPEN

Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Elliott, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth. What do those four drivers have in common? They occupy the final four spots and have yet to win a race this season.

Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. What do those four drivers have in common? They are on the outside looking in and have also yet to win a race this season. Well, kind of. Logano’s Richmond win is “encumbered,” meaning it doesn’t count when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs. So for all intents and purposes, he’s winless.

Kyle Busch is a favorite to win this weekend for a reason—he’s fast and way overdue. McMurray’s teammate, Kyle Larson, has been one of the fastest cars every week, and with the No. 1 Chevrolet coming out of the same stable, he could win any week. Elliott has shown some form of promise and Kenseth is the model of consistency, and has been for 15+ years.


PREDICTION

As stated this week on Victory Lane, I’m not really sure who’s going to grab the checkered flag after 400 miles from Pocono. But I went with Denny Hamlin just because he has a great track record and will get me some points. So when The Deliverimanator wins, I told you so.