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.”