Pocono gives Kyle Busch two chances to end winless streak

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When one thinks of race tracks that Kyle Busch is exceptional at, names like Bristol, Phoenix and Richmond are at the top of the list.

But only in recent years has Pocono Raceway, where the Cup Series will hold two races this weekend, emerged as one of his better tracks.

In his first 25 starts on the 2.5-mile triangle speedway, Busch went winless and led just 186 laps. But in his last five starts, beginning with the June 2017 race, he has three wins and has led 274 laps. In the last seven Pocono races he’s earned top-10 finishes, which is the longest active streak in Cup. Denny Hamlin is next with three in a row.

So with two Pocono races set for this weekend, it’s a good opportunity for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to snap the 13 race winless streak that’s plagued the start of his season. His last trip to Victory Lane came in the 2019 season finale at Miami, when he clinched his second Cup championship.

This is the deepest into a season Busch has gone without a Cup victory since 2017 when he won race No. 21. That race was the June visit to Pocono.

“(Pocono’s) evolved with Adam Stevens being the crew chief since 2015,” Busch said in a media release. “We’ve run really well there. It’s a good track for us. I’ve learned a lot from my teammate Denny Hamlin who’s won there (five times), and certainly working with Martin (Truex Jr., who has two wins) and his guys has also brought on some new, fresh ideas which help.”

Busch said “talking is kind of the best resource” for getting better at a track like Pocono, in addition to evaluating data and driver technique.

“Being teammates with Denny for this long (13 seasons), it’s (lent) itself to myself improving at Pocono and Martinsville, places like that, and him improving at places like Bristol and Charlotte from myself. It’s a good take there. And then having Martin now, having him on board, who is really good everywhere, as well, has definitely brought a good basis to our team.”

That flow of information between teammates has played at least some part in Joe Gibbs Racing having won the last five visits to Pocono.

But this is the first year Pocono has hosted four NASCAR races, including two Cup events, in the same weekend. Typically, roughly two months transpired between Cup visits to the Pennsylvania track. Now teams will have less than 24 hours to recover from a 325-mile race on Saturday and prepare for a 350-mile race on Sunday.

“I think you will have to make some changes to your stuff,” Busch said. “The first race, there’s only going to be the Truck Series rubber, it’s only 60 laps, so there’s just going to be a little rubber down. Then, we’re going to put a lot of rubber down with our race. Then you’ll have the Xfinity race the next day, and then you’ll have our (second) race. Over the course of all those miles, I think the main similarities between the two days is going to be just that – they’re a day apart rather than a month apart. There’s a difference between the Pocono racetrack when it’s a month apart, but when it’s day one to day two, there are going to be big differences in day one to day two, so you have to take a lot of different things into account.”

Busch said Pocono’s three-turn layout requires teams to make “compromises.”

“Every time you go there, it’s a bit different,” Busch said. “The bumps change, the characteristics change. Where the bumps are. Are they getting bigger? Are they getting worse? Is there more? That Turn 2 tunnel turn is always a culprit for the bumps, and the harsh winters up there really change the racetrack. Then, what happens in Turn 3 where the wind is blowing and stuff like that, is always kind of a convoluted piece to Pocono, and how you get through Turn 3 versus Turn 1 versus (Turn) 2.”

How much is Busch willing to conserve himself and his car Saturday in preparation for the longer race the next day? Busch is factoring in the field invert, which will take the top-20  finishers from Saturday and reverse them for Sunday’s starting lineup.

“Kind of depends on what’s going on and what’s happening,” Busch said. “If you’re struggling along, or pit strategy throws you off and there’s three (laps) to go and you’re back in 15th, maybe you want the pole for the next day. We’ll see what happens with that. Obviously, you want as many points as you can possibly get.

“We’ve run real well there the last few years. We definitely want to keep that going and try to get a win. If you’re up in the front, or up in the top five or whatever, you’re going to try to get as much as you can get there and not worry about the next day. You’ll just refocus the next day.”

Daytona road course entry lists

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NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list

Silly Season Scorecard: Christopher Bell moves back to JGR

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No surprise that Christopher Bell moves over to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing next season with Leavine Family Racing being sold and Erik Jones not remaining with JGR beyond this season. Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement Monday.

While JGR lets the 24-year-old Jones, who has 133 Cup starts go, it brings in the 25-year-old Bell who has made 22 career Cup starts. Jones said before Sunday’s race he was “blindsided a little bit” by JGR’s move.

It’s part of the building momentum of Silly Season. In the last week, Team Penske signed Brad Keselowski to a reported one-year extension and Bubba Wallace said he has an offer for next year not only from Richard Petty Motorsports but also Chip Ganassi Racing.

Here’s how the Cup Silly Season scorecard looks as of Aug. 10.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said in a press conference Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through at least 2021.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 10: Aric Almirola is in a contract year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said after the Aug. 9 Michigan race: “I haven’t really talked about that stuff for next year yet, but we’ve just been so focused and head down on digging and trying to make the playoffs and run well. We haven’t even really talked about it, so, hopefully, I stay here for a very long time to come and that’s what they had expressed to me when I came over here.”

No. 32: Corey LaJoie is in a contract year at Go Fas Racing.

No. 42: Matt Kenseth told NBC Sports on Aug. 8 in regards to talks with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year: “We really haven’t had any very meaningful discussions really about any of that to be honest with you.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace said Aug. 9 he has an offer from Richard Petty Motorsports and an offer from Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 car next season.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Leavine Family Racing announced it was selling its assets earlier this week. The buyer has not been announced. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021.

Christopher Bell to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021

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Christopher Bell will drive for the No. 20 next season for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team announced Monday, a decision that was expected with Erik Jones’ contract expiring after this season and it not being renewed. 

“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity I have this year with LFR and I want to finish this season strong for Bob (Leavine) and everyone there,” Bell said in a statement from the team. “At the same time, I’m extremely excited to return to Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2021. It’s an organization I’m very comfortable with and have had a lot of success with.”

Said car owner Joe Gibbs: “We are excited to bring Christopher into our Cup Series program starting in 2021. He obviously had tremendous success in the Xfinity Series with us and we look forward to his return to JGR.”

Bell drove for JGR in in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019, winning 15 races, before moving to the Cup Series and Leavine Family Racing this season. Leavine Family Racing announced last week that it has been sold.

Entering Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC), Bell is 19th in points. His best finish this season is fourth at the first Pocono race in late June.

Xfinity playoff grid after Road America

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Brandon Brown extended his hold on the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid last weekend at Road America after struggles early in the race.

Brown needed to be pushed back to pit road before the field took the green because of a mechanical issue. He fell a lap down as his crew diagnosed the issue, got his lap back, scored four stage points in the second stage and finished 12th, one spot off his best career finish on a road course.

MORE: Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

MORE: Austin Cindric wins at Road America 

Brown’s effort and Jeremy Clements misfortune in being collected in a crash to finish 29th led to Brown extending his lead on Clements for the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid to 53 points. Myatt Snider is 73 points behind Brown. Eight races remain until the Xfinity playoffs begin Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at the playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Those shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Xfinity playoff grid.