By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After hosting two races annually since the early 1980’s, Pocono Raceway downsized to just one race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule this season – Sunday’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 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.
Whether that remains with the Next Gen car is still to be determined, given that the car has been a game changer at other tracks on the circuit in 2022.
By the Numbers
What: M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 21 of 36
Where: Pocono Raceway – Long Pond, Pennsylvania (First race: 1974)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90 (Second race: 3:30 pm ET Sunday on NBCSN)
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: 30 laps, 65 laps, 65 laps
2021 Doubleheader Race 1 Winner: Alex Bowman – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 13th, 16 laps led)
2021 Doubleheader Race 2 Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 19th, 30 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kyle Larson – 8/3/2014 – 49.063 seconds, 183.438 mph
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Pocono:
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 107.1
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 99.7
- Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 98.8
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 97.2
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 96.5
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 95.8
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 94.4
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 92.7
- Erik Jones – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet – 90.6
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 88.8
From the Driver’s Seat
“Every time you go there, it’s a bit different,” said Kyle Busch. “The bumps change, the characteristics change, where the bumps are. Are they getting bigger? Are they getting worse? Are there more? That turn-two tunnel turn is always a culprit for the bumps, and the harsh winters up there really change the racetrack.
“Then, what happens in turn three, where the wind is blowing and stuff like that, is always kind of a convoluted piece to Pocono, and how you get through turn three versus turn one versus two. There are three distinctly different corners, there’s definitely going to be compromise.”
Last Time at Pocono
Pocono hosted a doubleheader weekend for its two races last season, running a 325-mile event on Saturday, followed by a 350-mile race on Sunday.
Kyle Larson looked to be well on his way to a fourth straight Cup Series win on Saturday, holding a solid lead of more than 20 car lengths over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, but as the old saying goes, ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’
On the final lap with the checkered flag in sight, smoke began emanating from the front end of Larson’s car as he headed into Turn 3, with a flat tire sending him straight into the outside wall, allowing Bowman to blast by for the win, while Larson limped across the line in ninth-place.
“I hate to win one that way, but hell yeah, I’ll take it,” Bowman said.
“Super proud of this Ally 48 team. Man, we kind of gave the lead away. Were on two tires, just got super tight. Tried to hold him off as long as I could. Can’t say enough about everybody at Team Hendrick right now, body shop, engine shop, chassis shop. Top to bottom, everybody is putting race cars on the racetrack.”
“Disbelief still,” Larson said afterwards. “I don’t know, a little bit laughable just because I can’t believe it.
“Hate that we didn’t get another win. Would have been cool to win five in a row. Just wasn’t meant to be I guess today. Yeah, I felt something like right in the middle of the tunnel. Wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. It finally kind of shredded halfway through the short chute there. Couldn’t turn.”
In the second race of the doubleheader, fuel mileage was the name of the game as the checkered flag closed in, as William Byron and Denny Hamlin fell by the wayside, paving the way for Kyle Busch to take over the lead with two laps to go and score the win.
Pitting a lap later than Byron and Hamlin, Busch had to not only save fuel, but also did so while nursing his No. 18 Toyota around the track with an ailing transmission that was stuck in high gear.
“Stuck in fourth gear. About out of gas. Just saving, just riding, playing the strategy the best, we could with what was given to us,” Busch said. “Just can’t say enough about everybody on my team, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, TRD, all the work they’re putting in. Sometimes these races aren’t always won by the fastest car, but I felt we had the fastest car.
“Even though we were in the back and behind and having to come through and persevere through being stuck in fourth gear, no clutch, all that stuff. It’s all burned out. Nothing left in this M&M’s Minis Camry. It was awesome today.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern
Saturday, July 23
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (2:35 pm – USA Network)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (3:20 pm – USA Network)
Sunday, July 24
- M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono (3:00 pm – 160 laps, 400 miles – USA Network)