Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Gander RV 400 at Pocono Preview

By David Morgan, Associate 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 RV 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, many drivers consider Pocono a mix between a road course and an oval, setup-wise.

Sunday’s race marks the second time the 2019 aero package is used at the track, but this time, drivers and teams will have another factor to deal with as the track has elected to put down PJ1 traction compound in all three turns for the first time in the track’s history in an effort to create multi-groove racing.

“Pocono Raceway will always do everything we can to put our fans first,” said Pocono Raceway CEO, Nick Igdalsky. “The addition of the traction compound in all three Turns should allow for more side-by-side racing in the corners with more lane choice for drivers. In the end, we want fans attending and watching on NBCSN to see a competitive and enjoyable race.”

By the Numbers

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

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

When: Sunday, July 28

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 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 2019 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started second, 79 laps led)

July 2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 28th, 52 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 – 104.1
  2. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 103.0
  3. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 102.1
  4. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 101.5
  5. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 99.7
  6. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 97.5
  7. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 95.2
  8. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 94.6
  9. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 94.3
  10. Ryan Newman – No. 6 Ford – 88.8

From the Driver’s Seat

“Pocono in June was a very track position dependent race,” said Matt DiBenedetto. “This year’s race at Pocono that we had back in June was completely different from the type of racing we’ve seen at Pocono in the past. We weren’t shifting as much there as we have in the past and there’s a lot more on-throttle time. Because of those two elements of what we experienced in the June race, everyone is running a very similar speed around the racetrack and there’s less discrepancy in speeds since there’s not as much off-throttle time.

“We found ourselves having to time our runs and planned for dirty air while waiting for other people around you to make mistakes. Qualifying well and then being able to use some varied pit strategy to stay out will be ways that we can help make sure that we’re closer to clean air up at the front of the field. For the June race, we didn’t see as much tire wear as we had in years prior, so we anticipate similar results this coming weekend.

“Restarts with Turn 1, you want to be coming out of there hopefully on the high side because that’s really the only area where you have the opportunity to pass. Last year, we approached Pocono like a short track because you were shifting, out of the gas a lot, you used a ton of brakes, and tires fell off, but now it’s the complete opposite style of racing where you barely let off the gas, we don’t see much tire falloff, and we can run intermediate brake packages there.”

Last Time at Pocono

For the third time in the last four races at the “Tricky Triangle,” June’s running of the Pocono 400 was once again the Kyle Busch Show.

Leading a race-high 79 laps, Busch’s 55th win in the Cup Series, which tied him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, was never in doubt as he took over the lead for the final time with 21 laps to go and held on through to the finish to take home the checkered flag.

Runner-up Brad Keselowski crossed the line with a 2.224 second deficit to Busch, while Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five.

“I mean it was a great race for us,” Busch said. “We had a really, really fast car. I mean this M&M’s Hazelnut Spread Camry was flawless. Overall, a huge thanks to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. Everybody has done a phenomenal job building us some fast Toyota Camrys.

“It’s cool – this place was a real struggle for me early on, but here the last two years it’s been pretty good for me, so pretty pumped about that.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, July 27

  • MENCS Practice (9:05 am to 9:55 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (4:05 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, July 28

  • MENCS Gander RV 400 (3:00 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.