Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the Pocono 400

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After two weeks at home in Charlotte, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back on the road this weekend as Pocono Raceway and the Pocono 400 are calling.

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. Many drivers consider Pocono a mix between a road course and an oval, or a “roval” as some call it.

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 13 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 13 races with Earnhardt the only repeat winner with his 2014 season sweep.

By the Numbers

What: Pocono 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 14 of 36

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

When: Sunday, June 3

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 2:00 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 2017 Race Winner: Ryan Blaney – No. 21 Ford (Started fourth, 10 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. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 106.5
  2. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 105.0
  3. Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 104.5
  4. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 101.6
  5. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 99.3
  6. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 95.3
  7. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 94.8
  8. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 94.7
  9. Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 91.1
  10. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 90.3

From the Driver’s Seat

“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest – turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down,” said Kyle Busch. “We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.

“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, and if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch, getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140 mph). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the Tunnel Turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”

Last Time at Pocono

With four wins this season, Kyle Busch is looking to be a championship favorite down the road, but just last year, Busch carried a year-long winless streak into Pocono that he looked to vanquish by the time the checkered flag flew.

Courtesy of a pit strategy call by crew chief Adam Stevens down the stretch, Busch was able to hold onto the lead late in the race and cross Pocono off the list of tracks he had never won at, leading 74 laps on the day.

“It’s been a frustrating year and this certainly relieves a little bit of that – I wouldn’t say all of it,” said Busch. “Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and these guys did an awesome job today. I can’t say enough about this M&M’s Caramel Camry – Toyota, this is their 100th Monster Energy Cup Series win. I can’t say enough about all of our partners and everyone on this team. All these guys, the pit crew – they do a great job each and every week. We had to rely on them on that final stop so we didn’t lose too much time to those guys because we had so much distance that we were letting them have it on us with those fresher tires that they had. It’s been a frustrating year, but an awesome day today.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, June 1

  • MENCS Practice (11:35 am to 12:25 pm – FOX Sports 2)
  • MENCS Qualifying (4:15 pm – FOX Sports 2)

Saturday, June 2

  • MENCS Final Practice (11:00 am to 12:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, June 3

  • MENCS Pocono 400 (2:00 pm – 160 laps, 400 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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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.