Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Seven weeks after their first trip to the “Tricky Triangle,” the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes their second visit of the season to Pocono Raceway for Sunday’s running of the Gander Outdoors 400.

With only three turns, instead of the four turns at all other ovals on the circuit, Pocono is definitely one of the most unique tracks on the schedule. The three turns all have differing banking with Turn 1 and its 14-degree banking modeled after the now-defunct Trenton Speedway, Turn 2 and its nine-degree banking modeled after Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Turn 3 and its six degree banking modeled after The Milwaukee Mile.

While Pocono has been chastised over the years for boring racing, these unique characteristics allow for speeds near 200 mph down each of the three straightaways and the wide frontstretch allows drivers to fan out four and even five-wide as they barrel towards Turn 1. With all these factors, in addition to the drivers shifting throughout each lap, many drivers consider Pocono a mix between a road course and an oval, setup-wise.

The track has also been one of the more unpredictable when it comes to repeat winners in recent years as the track has seen 12 different winners in the last 14 races. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch have won the last 14 races with Earnhardt and Truex the only repeat winners.

By the Numbers

What: Gander Outdoors 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 21 of 36

Where: Pocono Raceway – Long Pond, Pennsylvania (First race: 1974)

When: Sunday, July 29

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 2:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 2.5-mile tri-oval

Banking: 14 degrees (Turn 1), 9 degrees (Turn 2), 6 degrees (Turn 3)

Race Length: 160 laps, 400 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages: 50 laps each; Final stage: 60 laps

June 2018 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started fourth, 31 laps led)

July 2017 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started on pole, 74 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 8/3/2014 – 49.063 seconds, 183.438 mph

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Pocono:

  1. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 104.0
  2. Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 103.3
  3. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 101.3
  4. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 99.7
  5. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 97.0
  6. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 96.3
  7. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 95.1
  8. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 95.0
  9. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 91.4
  10. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 91.1

From the Driver’s Seat

“There are a lot of things you need to get right at Pocono,” said Kyle Busch. “The biggest thing is just being good in all three corners. It always seems like you have to give up something in one of the turns to get something back in another turn. The bumps in turn two are certainly a challenge. Making sure you can get your car pointed off of turn three to get momentum down that big front straightway. There are a lot of things at Pocono that can lead to a lot of time gain on a lap there.”

Last Time at Pocono

Back in June, Kevin Harvick was well on his way to knocking Pocono off his list of tracks that he has not won at, leading 89 of the first 126 laps, but when a late caution fell, everything changed.

Kyle Busch would take the lead off of pit road and stay out front until the next caution at lap 139, when pit strategy played right into the hands of Martin Truex, Jr. and the No. 78 team.

Electing to stay out under caution, Truex held off Kyle Larson and the handful of others that also stayed out, pulling away down the stretch to score his second win of the season with a 2.496 margin of victory.

Following Truex and Larson was Busch, Harvick, and Brad Keselowski.

“It’s always fun to win,” said Truex. “But especially when you beat the best guys out there. These two guys (Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick) were so fast today. Honestly, we were all really equal. It was a matter of who could get out front. The 4 and I stayed on tires. We felt like in practice we were really fast on scuffs. Cole made a good call to stay out and once I got in clean air, this thing was a rocket ship.

“Getting a good restart overall was good. Once we could get clear in Turn 1, we had a fast enough car in clean air that we could hold them off. Those restarts are always nerve-wracking. You never know who can get a push from behind and get a run on you. We were close to Larson on that last one and that could have made it a lot more difficult. Luckily, had great horsepower from TRD and I was able to get out front and make it happen.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, July 28

  • MENCS Practice (9:00 am to 9:50 am – CNBC)
  • MENCS Final Practice (11:40 am to 12:30 pm – CNBC)
  • MENCS Qualifying (4:10 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, July 29

  • MENCS Gander Outdoors 400 (2:30 pm – 160 laps, 400 miles – NBC Sports Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.