Which Cup drivers can keep parity alive at Pocono?

0 Comments

Entering this weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the series has seen seven different winners over the last seven races.

The stretch began with the last visit to Pocono on June 2 when Kyle Busch claimed his most recent victory. The streak was continued last weekend by Kevin Harvick when he earned his first win of the season.

During that stretch:

  • Four drivers – Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, Kurt Busch and Harvick – earned their first wins of the season
  • Bowman and Haley earned their first career Cup wins.
  • The last six races were won by six different organizations

Which drivers are the best candidates to continue that streak of parity this weekend on the “Tricky Triangle”?

A look at the top-10 finishers from the June race provides plenty of candidates. Eight of the drivers in the top 10 have not been part of the seven-race stretch of winners.

Of those eight, only two – Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin – have previously won at Pocono.

Two of the eight – William Byron and Daniel Suarez – still seek their first Cup wins.

Here’s a closer look at the eight drivers.

Brad Keselowski (finished second in June)

The Team Penske driver already has three wins this year, but none since he claimed the May 11 race at Kansas Speedway.

Keselowski is prolific at Pocono despite only one win (2011) in 19 starts there. In the last eight Pocono races, Keselowski has finished outside the top five once, in last July’s race (38th, crash).

He enters Sunday’s race with one top five since the June visit to Pocono.

Erik Jones (finished third in June)

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is knocking on the door of earning his second career Cup win.

He enters this weekend with two straight third-place finishes and five top 10s dating back to the June race. In five career Pocono starts, Jones has three top fives and an eighth-place finish.

Also working in Jones’ favor: Toyota has won the last four Pocono races.

“Pocono has been good to us in the past. It’s not necessarily one of my favorite places, but we always seem to run well there and be in contention at the end,” Jones said in a media release. “Hopefully we can put it all together this weekend and get that first win of the year. We’ve had fast cars, just have to keep plugging along and have a mistake-free weekend.”

Chase Elliott (finished fourth in June)

The Hendrick Motorsports driver hasn’t had much to brag about since the last Pocono visit.

He’s failed to finish in the top 10 in the six races since, which included engine problems at Sonoma, a crash at Daytona and mechanical problems at New Hampshire.

In seven Pocono starts he’s finished outside the top 10 only once.

Clint Bowyer (finished fifth in June)

Like Keselowski and Elliott, Bowyer’s fortunes have been in a freefall since the last Pocono race.

Outside a sixth at Kentucky, he has finished 11th or worse in the other five races, including three DNFs for crashes. He was in a crash with Martin Truex Jr. at New Hampshire and finished a lap down in 20th.

His fifth-place finish in June was just his third Pocono top five in 27 starts.

“Pocono is a really tough track with three different turns,” Bowyer said in a media release. “I want to make sure we qualify well so we can get a good starting position and pit stall. As we saw in June, passing is pretty tough there, so track position is everything. We had a good car there last time and I expect we will again. Where we are in points (16th), we need to score as many bonus points as we can.”

Denny Hamlin (finished sixth in June)

A week after almost coming away with his fourth New Hampshire win, Hamlin will try to make up for it with his fifth career victory at Pocono.

Hamlin, the No. 1 driver in this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings, heads to Pocono with only one top five in his last 10 starts there. He has three top fives since the June race.

Daniel Suarez (finished eighth in June)

Suarez returns to the track where he came the closest to winning in the Cup Series. He led 29 laps and finished second in this race last year in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing.

His best finish since then was third earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway. His best result since the June Pocono race was a fourth the following race at Michigan.

Suarez will look to join Chris Buescher (2016), Ryan Blaney (2017) and Hamlin (2006) among the drivers who have earned their first Cup wins at Pocono.

William Byron (finished ninth in June)

The Hendrick Motorsports driver will seek to build on the good outing he had in June, where he led 25 laps and finished third in the second stage.

Since the June race he has one top five, a runner-up finish in the rain-shortened race at Daytona.

“We had a really good car at Pocono Raceway earlier this year and I felt like we were really close,” Byron said in a media release. “We just didn’t have the winning strategy; we went more for the stage points last race. I think this time, going back, we’ll be able to control our race a little bit differently. I was honestly a couple moves away from getting a better finish last time so I’m really optimistic for this weekend.”

Aric Almirola (finished 10th in June)

Before joining Stewart-Haas Racing last year, Almirola had never finished better than 18th at Pocono. His last two efforts have resulted in top 10s.

Almirola enters Pocono with one top five all season (Phoenix) and two top 10s since the June race at Pocono.

He claimed his first stage win of the year last weekend.

“They’re putting down some of the traction compound on all three corners and that’s going to change the racing, for sure,” Almirola said in a media release. “We’ve seen it change the dynamic at many of the other tracks. I think that will be interesting and it will put on a great race. The restarts are already wild and crazy and now, with the outer groove being more of an option, that is really going to open up a lot of opportunities on restarts and being able to run side by side.”