Joe Gibbs Racing struggles to find the handle on Pocono’s new pavement


When it comes to Toyota’s success at Pocono Raceway, Joe Gibbs Racing is the only game in town at the 2.5-mile track.

In 111 starts by 16 drivers at Pocono, the manufacturer has won only three times. Denny Hamlin won in 2009 and ’10 with Toyota (and swept the 2006 races with Chevrolet) while former JGR team member Joey Logano won in 2012.

But since Logano’s win, the races have been dominated by five consecutive victories by the Chevrolets of Hendrick Motorsports.

JGR’s current lineup of drivers — Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards — have combined for six wins at the three-turn track. Hamlin has four, and Edwards won twice with Roush Fenway Racing in 2005 and 2008.

All of those wins came before the track was repaved after the 2011 season.

“It’s one of the most challenging and really the hardest racetrack on our schedule before they paved it because of how bumpy it was … and every corner was different,” Hamlin said in a release. “Now it’s just become one of those new-asphalt, hard-tire racetracks where track position is total key, and you have to have the fastest car. Once you get out front there, you can really do some work.”

While Hamlin knows his way around Pocono with an average finish of 11.9 in 18 starts, the results haven’t been as sterling for Busch (18.8 average finish) and Kenseth (16.0).

“Pocono used to be a place I didn’t look forward to going to, but lately I’ve been looking forward to it more than I used to,” said Busch, whose best finishes since the repave are sixth and eighth in 2013. “(Crew chief) Adam (Stevens) seems to be able to catch on to places pretty quickly, but we also have our teammates to lean on with Denny (Hamlin) being so good there.”

Sunday’s race will mark the third Cup start with Stevens as the crew chief of the No. 18 Toyota and Busch behind the wheel. Busch, who missed the first 11 points races this season because of injuries suffered in a crash during the Xfinity season opener at Daytona, has finished in the top five at Pocono four times (once with Chevrolet) but not since a second and a third in 2011.

“I think the repave set us back a bit – even Denny – but we had two top-10s there a few years ago and would like to turn those into top-fives and maybe have a shot at a win there,” said Busch, who started on the pole position at Pocono in 2010. “So far since I’ve been back this year, Adam, along with everyone on the M&M’s Crispy team and JGR have done a good job of giving me solid race cars, and it has given me plenty of confidence, even though the finishes haven’t been as good as how we’ve run.”

Before Kenseth joined JGR in 2013, his best Pocono results were three top-five finishes between 2000-06. He has 10 top-10 finishes but none since his final year with Roush Fenway Racing in 2012. Since joining JGR, he has failed to finish better than 22nd in his last five Pocono races, including a DNF for a crash in the second 2014 race.

“Pocono has always been one of the most challenging race tracks on the circuit for me,” Kenseth said. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever really gotten a great handle on that track yet, but I have some teammates that have run really well there in the past since I believe that both Denny and Carl have won races. Those guys have run well there, so I try to lean on my teammates as much as possible as we prepare for this weekend in order to constantly improve at Pocono.”

This will be Edwards’ first race at Pocono with JGR and Toyota power. He and his No. 19 broke through with a win two weeks ago in the Coca-Cola 600. Edwards is seeking his first top 10 at Pocono since 2012 and first top five since 2010.

“We want to try some new things and we want to swing for the fences and have some fun,” Edwards said. “It’s a good track and has been good to me. (I) have had some wins there and have run really well at the track a number of times. With my win a couple weeks ago, I can enjoy the restarts a little more. They are crazy. We are going to have four- or five-wide down in Turn 1 and Turn 2 on those restarts. It will be fun to be aggressive and not worry as much.”

COTA Xfinity Series results

COTA Xfinity results
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger led 28 of 46 laps Saturday to win the Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

Allmendinger held off William Byron to score his first victory of the year and 16th in the Xfinity Series.

MORE: COTA Xfinity results

Ty Gibbs placed third and was followed by rookie Sammy Smith and Justin Allgaier.

Smith, Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, who placed sixth, and Sam Mayer, who finished seventh, will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash next weeked at Richmond after being the top four full-time Xfinity finishers Saturday.



AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at COTA

AJ Allmendinger Xfinity COTA
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger overcame damage from a restart to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

This is the second year in a row he has won this race. It is Allmendinger’s first victory of the season and 16th career Xfinity win.

MORE: COTA race results 

William Byron, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, finished second. Ty Gibbs placed third, Sammy Smith fourth and Justin Allgaier fifth.

Smith, Allgaier, sixth-place finisher Daniel Hemric and seventh-place finisher Sam Mayer — the top four full-time Xfinity drivers — will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus next week at Richmond Raceway.

Allmendinger won the first stage and then pitted. When a caution came out shortly, it put him 21st in the field. On the Lap 20 restart, his car suffered damage when he was hit going into Turn 1.

Allmendinger worked his way through the field and took the lead from Sheldon Creed on Lap 33 when they made contact and Creed spun. Creed fell back to 23rd and finished the 46-lap race in ninth.

Stage 1 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Stage 2 winner: Sheldon Creed

Who had a bad race: Austin Hill, who had won three of the first five races this season, had mechanical issues early and finished 37th in the 38-car field.

Next: The series races April 1 at Richmond Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1)

COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins


Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

MORE: Truck points after COTA

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.