Upon Further Review: Pocono


Is a revolution about to take place in the Sprint Cup Series?

As young drivers excel, it becomes more likely there could be multiple first-time winners this season — something that hasn’t happened since 2014 when A.J. Allmendinger and Aric Almirola each scored their first series victory.

Chase Elliott’s fourth-place finish Monday at Pocono marked the eighth time in the past 10 Cup races that a winless driver placed in the top five.

Elliott is one of five drivers seeking their first series win to score a top-five finish this season. The others are Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. They are a part of a youthful rise as the series transitions from an era dominated by Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and others.

“There is a lot of competition out there right now between the group of young guys, who is going to win the first race, and you want to be a part of that and … prove yourself,’’ Dillon said.

Many will view Elliott as the favorite to score his first series win this year. His five top-five finishes is the most among drivers seeking their first Cup win and tied for most by a rookie after 14 races with Dale Earnhardt’s start in 1979. Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports car has been strong at a variety of tracks from Pocono (fourth) and Texas (fifth) to Dover (third) and Bristol (fourth). With return trips to each this year, Elliott could be in position to win at any of those tracks, if not somewhere else.

Larson also has shown he’s close to winning in the last month. He teased fans with three runner-up finishes as rookie in 2014 but had struggled until earlier this year. He placed third at Martinsville and in the last month finished second at Dover and challenged for the win in the Sprint All-Star Race.

“We started the year off not great, but everybody stayed positive and kept digging,’’ Larson said recently. “Lately, we have been bringing really good stuff to the track. It’s been really cool just to see how hard work has been paying off and how we have been close.’’

Dillon has had his ups and downs this season but was third at Talladega, fourth at Martinsville and fifth Las Vegas, showing that he and his Richard Childress Racing team are moving closer to scoring a win.

“Hopefully I can keep proving myself on the track each and every weekend,’’ he told NBC Sports.

Blaney’s Wood Brothers Racing team benefits from its alliance with Team Penske. Blaney was fifth at Kansas. The Penske cars have shown more speed lately. Brad Keselowski won at Talladega and Logano won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“The Penske organization has always been one of the best, I think, at being ahead of the game as far as rules changes and being prepared for it,’’ Blaney said last month. “That’s a great part about being kind of a satellite team to the Penske group. We get a lot of info from them and, hopefully, (can) be ahead of the ball with these new rules changes.”

Stenhouse has shown progress as the Roush Fenway Racing cars improved. He had a season-best finish of fifth at Auto Club Speedway.

While they will still have to beat Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and others to win this year, should more than two first-timers do it, it would make the most prolific year for new winners since 2011 when five made their first trip to victory lane in the Cup series.

That year featured new winners Trevor Bayne (Daytona 500), Regan Smith (Southern 500), Paul Menard (Brickyard 400), David Ragan (July Daytona) and Marcos Ambrose (Watkins Glen).

When does the revolution begin? Will it be this week at Michigan International Speedway, later in the summer or further away? And who will lead it?


After finishing sixth Monday at Pocono Raceway, a question for Kasey Kahne and his team is if they can score back-to-back top-10 finishes this week at Michigan.

It seems like an easy question. Why wouldn’t a Hendrick Motorsports car have consecutive top 10s? Especially at Pocono and Michigan where horsepower and aerodynamics mean so much and Hendrick cars often are good in both categories. Also, with a rule change this weekend that will reduce downforce and sideforce, shouldn’t that play to the top teams, including Hendrick, and be good for Kahne?

Maybe it will. Maybe for only the second time in the last 65 races — going back to Aug. 2014 — Kahne will score two top-10 finishes in a row this coming week.

Monday was a positive sign for Kahne despite a pit road speeding penalty. He radioed his team early in the race: “Car feels really good. Like really good.’’

Although the penalty during the competition caution dropped Kahne briefly to 37th, he worked his way into the top 10 before halfway in the 160-lap race. He bounced outside the top 10 for a spell before running the final 20 laps in sixth.

It’s these types of performances — and better — car owner Rick Hendrick had in mind when he signed Kahne to a contract in Aug. 2010, more than a year before Kahne would drive for the team, replacing Mark Martin in 2012.

Kahne finished fourth in the points in his first year for Hendrick. He made the Chase each of his first three years with the team. The performance earned Kahne a contract extension through the 2018 campaign.

Yet, there have been struggles. Kahne and his team have searched for better performances. Crew chief Keith Rodden replaced Kenny Francis before the 2015 season.

Since joining Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne has won five times in 158 races. Jimmie Johnson has 22 wins during that time, Dale Earnhardt Jr.  has eight and Jeff Gordon had eight before retiring last year.

Progress won’t come in giant steps but several small ones. A key for Kahne and his team will be to follow the Pocono performance with a top-10 result at Michigan.


Only two drivers have each scored three top-five finishes in the past five races: Former champion Brad Keselowski and rookie Chase Elliott.

Keselowski won at Talladega, finished fifth in the Coca-Cola 600 and was third Monday at Pocono.

“It was a pretty strong weekend,’’ Keselowski said. “The last four or five weeks have been strong runs.’’

Elliott was fifth at Talladega, third at Dover and fourth at Pocono.

“We certainly had, I feel like, one of our best days of the year,’’ said Elliott, who led a career-high 51 laps Monday. “I thought for us to be able to contend and lead laps all day and have a car that could fight for the lead the majority of the day was great.’’


Kyle Busch’s 31st-place finish marked his third consecutive finish of 30th or worse.

He had not gone three consecutive races without a top-five finish in the last 24 races — the equivalent of two-thirds of a season.

Busch’s chances of winning ended when he was mired in traffic and clipped by Ryan Newman, who had moved up the track after Kasey Kahne went under him.

The contact sent Busch into the wall.


Josh Wise finished a season-high 27th at Pocono.

— Regan Smith’s 22nd-place finish was his best finish of the year in a non-restrictor-plate race (he was a season-best eighth in the Daytona 500).

— In the last five races, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has finished 16th (Talladega), 13th (Kansas), 14th (Dover), 15th (Coca-Cola 600) and 15th (Pocono).

—  After scoring one top-10 finish in the first eight races, Matt Kenseth has had five top-10 results in the last six races.

Kevin Harvick’s average finish on tracks 1.5 miles or larger (not including the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega) is 5.4.

— Tony Stewart lost 11 points on 30th in the points standings Monday after his crash at Pocono left him with a 34th-place finish. He’s 71 points out of 30th in the standings with 12 races to go. He needs to be in the top 30 in points should he win to be eligible for a Chase spot.

Dr. Diandra: How level is the playing field after 50 Next Gen races?


Last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 marks 50 Next Gen races. The 2022 season produced 19 different winners, including a few first-career wins. Let’s see what the data say about how level the playing field is now.

I’m comparing the first 50 Next Gen races (the 2022 season plus the first 14 races of 2023) to the 2020 season and the first 14 races of 2021. I selected those two sets of races to produce roughly the same types of tracks. I focus on top-10 finishes as a metric for performance. Below, I show the top-10 finishes for the 13 drivers who ran for the same team over the periods in question.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars, limited to drivers who ran for the same team the entire time.

Because some drivers missed races, I compare top-10 rates: the number of top-10 finishes divided by the number of races run. The graph below shows changes in top-10 rates for the drivers who fared the worst with the Next Gen car.

A graph showing drivers who have done better in the next-gen car than the Gen-6 car.

Six drivers had double-digit losses in their top-10 rates. Kevin Harvick had the largest drop, with 74% top-10 finishes in the Gen-6 sample but only 46% top-10 finishes in the first 50 Next Gen races.

Kyle Larson didn’t qualify for the graph because he ran only four races in 2020. I thought it notable, however, that despite moving from the now-defunct Chip Ganassi NASCAR team to Hendrick Motorsports, Larson’s top-10 rate fell from 66.7% to 48.0%.

The next graph shows the corresponding data for drivers who improved their finishes in the Next Gen car. This graph again includes only drivers who stayed with the same team.

A graph showing the drivers who have fewer top-10 finishes in the Next Gen car than the Gen-6 car

Alex Bowman had a marginal gain, but he missed six races this year. Therefore, his percent change value is less robust than other drivers’ numbers.

Expanding the field

I added drivers who changed teams to the dataset and highlighted them in gray.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

A couple notes on the new additions:

  • Brad Keselowski had the largest loss in top-10 rate of any driver, but that may be more attributable to his move from Team Penske to RFK Motorsports rather than to the Next Gen car.
  • Christopher Bell moved from Leavine Family Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. His improvement is likely overestimated due to equipment quality differences.
  • Erik Jones stayed even, but that’s after moving from JGR (13 top-10 finishes in 2020) to Richard Petty Motorsports (six top 10s in 2021.) I view that change as a net positive.

At the end of last season, I presented the tentative hypothesis that older drivers had a harder time adapting to the Next Gen car. Less practice time mitigated their experience dialing in a car so that it was to their liking given specific track conditions.

But something else leaps out from this analysis.

Is the playing field tilting again?

Michael McDowell is not Harvick-level old, but he will turn 39 this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 35. Both have improved with the Next Gen Car. Chase Elliott (27 years old) and William Byron (25) aren’t old, either, but their top-10 rates have gone down.

Drivers running for the best-funded teams earned fewer top-10 finishes while drivers from less-funded teams (mostly) gained those finishes.

Trackhouse Racing and 23XI — two of the newest teams — account for much of the gains in top-10 finishes. Ross Chastain isn’t listed in the table because he didn’t have full-time Cup Series rides in 2020 or 2021. His 9.1% top-10 rate in that period is with lower-level equipment. He earned 27 top-10 finishes in the first 50 races (54%) with the Next Gen car.

This analysis suggests that age isn’t the only relevant variable. One interpretation of the data thus far is that the Next Gen (and its associated rules changes) eliminated the advantage well-funded teams built up over years of racing the Gen-5 and Gen-6 cars.

The question now is whether that leveling effect is wearing off. Even though parts are the same, more money means being able to hire the best people and buying more expensive computers for engineering simulations.

Compare the first 14 races of 2022 to the first 14 of 2023.

  • Last year at this time, 23XI and Trackhouse Racing had each won two races. This year, they combine for one win.
  • It took Byron eight races to win his second race of the year in 2022. This year, he won the third and fourth races of the year. Plus, he’s already won his third race this year.
  • Aside from Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win, this year’s surprise winners — Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney — are both from major teams.

We’re only 14 races into the 2023 season. There’s not enough data to determine the relative importance of age versus building a notebook for predicting success in the Next Gen car.

But this is perhaps the most important question. The Next Gen car leveled the playing field last year.

Will it stay level?

NASCAR weekend schedule at World Wide Technology Raceway, Portland


NASCAR’s top three series are racing this weekend in two different locations. Cup and Craftsman Truck teams will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Xfinity Series will compete at Portland International Raceway.

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)

Weekend weather

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees during Truck qualifying.

Saturday: Sunny. Temperatures will be around 80 degrees for the start of Cup practice and climb to 88 degrees by the end of Cup qualifying. Forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees around the start of the Truck race.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 92 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:45 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (160 laps, 200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 4

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (240 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high of 73 degrees and no chance of rain around the start of the Xfinity race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 10 a.m.  — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (75 laps, 147.75 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.