Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the Cup Series Doubleheader at Pocono

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Two races in two days. Double the fun.

Pocono Raceway will host a doubleheader weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend, with the running of the Pocono Organics CBD 325 on Saturday afternoon, followed by the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 a day later on Sunday afternoon.

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.

Doubleheaders were the name of the game last year in the midst of trying to play catch-up as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Pocono doubleheader is the only one originally scheduled in 2020 that carries over to the 2021 season.

Teams will have to use the same car for both races, totaling 675 miles, with the only exception being unrepairable damage that forces the use of a backup car for the second race.

The lineup for Saturday’s race was set by random draw, with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron leading the field to green. Sunday’s starting grid will be set by an invert of the top 20 finishers from Saturday, with the 20th place finisher starting on pole and Saturday’s winner starting 20th. The remainder of the field will start Sunday where they finish on Saturday.

By the Numbers

What: Pocono Organics CBD 325/Explore the Pocono Mountains 350, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 18/19 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: 130 laps, 325 miles/140 laps, 350 miles

Stage Lengths: First race: 25 laps, 52 laps, 53 laps/Second race: 30 laps, 55 laps, 55 laps

2020 Doubleheader Race 1 Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started ninth, 17 laps led)

2020 Doubleheader Race 2 Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started 19th, 49 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 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 107.1
  2. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 100.1
  3. Erik Jones – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet – 100.0
  4. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 99.3
  5. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 95.3
  6. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 95.3
  7. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 95.0
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 95.0
  9. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 88.4
  10. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 88.1

From the Driver’s Seat

“I think with modern-day NASCAR, you have to be good in all three corners now,” said William Byron. “Before, it was always you had to pick and choose which corner to be good in and give up in the others. With the engineering we have now, it kind of throws that old thought process out the window. For us, we’re trying to focus on being really good in turn three and then carry that consistency through the other two corners. The hope is to be consistently balanced throughout all three, but I know I want my drive off of turn three to really carry me down the front straightaway and set me up for turn one with momentum into turn two.”

Last Time at Pocono

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin were the dominant drivers through the regular season last year, so it was no surprise when the two stole the show during the 2020 Pocono doubleheader weekend.

Harvick was first out of the gate with a win, holding off Hamlin down the stretch and finally marking Pocono off the list of tracks he has yet to win at.

“Everybody from Stewart-Haas Racing has done a great job,” Harvick said afterwards. “We’ve had really fast cars every time we’ve come to Pocono, just hadn’t got to Victory Lane.  It was definitely awesome to get to Victory Lane today with our Busch Beer Ford.  Proud of all the men and women at Stewart-Haas Racing for everything they’re doing right now.  We’re bringing really fast racecars to the racetrack under really tough circumstances.  The best part is we’re capitalizing on them, getting to Victory Lane.  So definitely proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas.”

 The following day was a reversal of Saturday’s results, with Hamlin coming out on top this time.

Harvick looked to be in the catbird seat as the final round of green flag pit stops were playing out, but Hamlin one-upped him by staying out on track much longer before making his final stop, building an insurmountable advantage that Harvick couldn’t overcome with the laps winding down and daylight fading.

In the end, Hamlin would cross the line 3.068 seconds ahead of Harvick to score yet another Pocono win.

“It’s awesome,” Hamlin said. “I think that’s the most wins I’ve got at any track now.  It’s hard to believe because we went through such a dry spell there kind of the middle of my career.  Yeah, we’ve just been on a run here lately.  Our cars have been really good.  Chris has been doing a phenomenal job on his side of things.  I feel like I’ve been doing okay on my side.  Any time you have something like that happen, you’re going to have great success.”

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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.