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.”

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

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

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.

 

Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.