Photo: Stephen A. 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 325 on Saturday afternoon, followed by the Pocono 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.

The Cup Series ran two back-to-back races at the same track at Darlington and Charlotte earlier this season, but those races had a couple of days in between for the teams and drivers to recover. This weekend’s races will be more like the Xfinity doubleheader weekend run at Homestead a few weeks ago.

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 Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney 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 325 and Pocono 350, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 14/15 of 36

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

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90 (Second race: 4:00 pm ET Sunday on FOX Sports 1)

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

June 2019 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started second, 79 laps led)

July 2019 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started ninth, 32 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 – 105.1
  2. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 103.6
  3. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 100.7
  4. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 99.1
  5. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 98.6
  6. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 98.2
  7. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 95.4
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 94.7
  9. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 89.3
  10. William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet – 89.0

From the Driver’s Seat

“I think with these doubleheaders, especially at Pocono, I kind of in a way I look at Darlington earlier when we came back from our little break is almost a doubleheader because we raced and then a couple days later we come back, and it was a completely different race,” said Joey Logano.

“Yes, the length and the stages and all that were different as well, but if you looked at who the dominant car was that no one can keep up with, and then we come back there a few days later and everyone has changed their cars and that car that was the dominant car was still good, but nowhere near as strong as he was, so I would expect the same thing at Pocono without practice, and that’s what we’ve seen all year long so far since we’ve come back without practices.  Some teams hit it and some teams completely miss it and you can’t really fix your car the way you want to until the race is over, and you can’t really do much about it once the race is over.

“Well, this is our opportunity to work on our car and get better the next day.  So, it’s gonna be a lot of work, I think, overnight.  When we’re done racing Saturday, we’ll be far from done for that day.  We’re gonna be continuing to try to find our weaknesses, look at areas to improve our car and give it another shot the next day.

“So. it’s just gonna be a hectic couple days for sure with a lot on the line, but I will say this – I’ve said it 100 times since we announced the doubleheader at Pocono.  I know after every race I always say, ‘Dang it, I wish I could do that again.  I would do this and this and this different.’  And every time, every race I always say that.  Well, this time I get the chance to actually do it again and hopefully be better.”

Last Time at Pocono

Pocono Raceway is a special place for Denny Hamlin, with his first two Cup Series wins at the track coming back in 2006. Hamlin also won in 2009 and 2010, but had been on a long drought at the track since then.

Until last July’s Gander RV 400, when he made a triumphant return to victory lane at Pocono, leading a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Making his last pit stop on lap 115, Hamlin and the rest of the JGR cars were going to be close on fuel to be able to make it to the end of regulation, not to mention overtime.

Biding his time behind his teammates, Hamlin made a move for the lead on lap 144, utilizing the PJ1 strip in Turn 3 to dart around Erik Jones and take over the lead. It looked like smooth sailing for Hamlin to the finish, minus the fuel mileage concerns, until a caution for a stranded car with six laps remaining and a three-car crash with two laps to go pushed the race into overtime.

Those caution laps made all the difference in the fuel mileage game as Hamlin was able to hold on during the tense final restart to bring home a Pocono win for the fifth time.

“He said we were good to the checkered (flag), but not the green-white checkered, so he said we were going to have to have a different conversation if it went into overtime, but I knew with all those caution laps with about six or seven to go, it helped us out,” Hamlin said of having enough fuel to the finish.

“I knew that – honestly, I knew that I did everything I could to save fuel there once I got out front. If it was going to be not enough, it was going to be not enough, so proud of the whole team for putting me on a great strategy there, pit stops, everything. This was a perfect team effort this weekend. We really identified our weaknesses from the first race, and we went to work as a driver and a team and I think we’re better for it.

“The lapped traffic was really a benefit for me. It kind of slowed up the 20 (Erik Jones) there. I saw he was letting off early on entries and that allowed me to kind of dive bomb into the outside into the PJ1 in Turn 1. With the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.), he had to go low to pass a lapped car. I decided to just take the middle lane there in (Turns) 3 and 4. Once again, I had an extra lane that wasn’t there in the past and was able to get around him. Once you get behind, it’s so hard to pass and get around guys, but we were able to get it done.”

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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.