Ryan: Three thoughts on Sunday’s race at Pocono

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1 — Pocono’s pit problem: After Kasey Kahne eerily mimicked Jeb Burton’s practice crash Saturday – sliding precisely through the same tire tracks off Turn 3 – it readily became apparent there were multiple issues in need of addressing.

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The first was the sturdiness of a pit wall that needed repair after heavy impacts on consecutive days (the latter necessitating a 15-minute red flag Sunday). The second was the placement of helmets on pit wall that went flying 25 feet (but thankfully didn’t hit anything) after Kahne’s impact. The third was the positioning of three spectators standing in front of A.J. Allmendinger’s pit box and a few feet from where the wall was struck. The fourth was whether this season’s reduction in horsepower and the subsequent increase in corner speeds might be contributing to a more dangerous trajectory for cars losing control off Turn 3.

That’s a lot for NASCAR and the track to digest and dissect, but it’s essential given that all of it involves safety.

2 — The results belied the takeaways: Sometimes it’s hard to glean much from a race in which contenders’ fuel cells run dry en masse in the closing laps, and Pocono was no exception.

If you were looking for evidence of Martin Truex Jr.’s team finding its groove, Brad Keselowski continuing to make unusual mistakes with a fast car, and Hendrick Motorsports still seeming to be in a minor slump, the box score wasn’t much help. Truex (19th) ran extremely well before being one of several contenders to miscalculate on mileage, Keselowski took advantage of others’ misfortune to grind out a runner-up finish after hitting a few of his team members on an errant pit stop, and Jeff Gordon (third) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) both salvaged solid finishes for Hendrick during a race in which the team weathered a crash with major Chase implications for Kasey Kahne and an engine failure for Kevin Harvick.

There won’t be as much dwelling on Sunday’s finishing order because it fell far short of telling the full story of 400 miles.

3 — The race to the Chase is emerging as a thriller: Kyle Busch’s dramatic swing in fortunes – from inside the top 30 requirement to be eligible for the Chase to still 13 points short – might have been the least significant among those trying to sew up championship bids. Busch still seems a foregone conclusion to surpass Cole Whitt and David Gilliland over the next five races and break into the top 30 in points. For winless drivers trying to point their way into the championship playoff, Sunday’s results could have much larger implications.

Gordon, who was reeling from a 42nd at Indianapolis last week, seemed headed for a midpack finish at Pocono before strategies unfolded perfectly and put him nearly two full races’ worth of points ahead of the cutoff. After a tumultuous week at Michael Waltrip Racing, Clint Bowyer (eighth) rebounded with his second straight top 10 and improved a spot in the standings to 15th. Bowyer now clings to what is expected to be the last provisional berth on the Chase grid (provided Busch makes the top 30, and there isn’t another new winner) because of Kahne dropping two spots in the standings because of a last-place finish Sunday.

There still are five races remaining in the regular season – which could allows for more major shifts in momentum – but the way Pocono ended had the feel of a turning point.

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole

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AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole

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Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA

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Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.

 

Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.