Pocono Raceway

Kentucky, New Hampshire and Pocono using traction compound for races

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After criticism of the racing in its June Cup event, Pocono Raceway announced Wednesday that it will add the PJ1 traction compound to areas of all three of its turns for NASCAR’s return trip to the track July 27-28.

The move means the next three tracks the Cup Series visits – Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN), New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July 21) and Pocono – will treat their racing surfaces with the traction compound.

At Pocono, PJ1 will be used in the third lane in Turn 1, the second lane in Turn 2 and the third lane in Turn 3. The Tire Dragon will be used in the application process.

The move comes after criticism over the ability to pass with the new rules package after the June 1 Cup race.

“I was along lines with everybody else, it could have been better,” Pocono Raceway CEO Nick Igdalsky told NBC Sports. “So that’s why we’re doing it. If I thought it was the best race Pocono has to offer, we wouldn’t be putting anything on track. But obviously we have some room for improvement with the current package.”

Igdalsky said the track had contemplated applying the traction agent “for a couple of years.”

“With the packages, every time they come to June race at Pocono it seems like the past couple of years there was a new nuance to it, aero packages, shifting packages, the new package and so on and so forth,” Igdalsky said. “It seemed like every June it was, ‘Hey, let’s see what happens and if we need a little something we can always add it in July.’

“I think we got to the point where coming out of the June race and knowing NASCAR was going to hold to this package for the rest of this season, we knew we had a few things at our disposal. … So we have this at our disposal to improve competition if need be.”

He added that “we would have left something on the table if we didn’t try this.”

Igdalsky explained the reasoning behind the specific location of the application.

“It was just to get some separation between the two racing lanes,” Igdalsky said. “That would create less disturbance in the air and create more stable racing, more stable cars … Lane 1 would be the ideal racing line. … Lane 2 would be one lane up. Lane 3 would be approximately an 8-foot separation from the inside line. What that does is it just creates a layer of cleaner air where they can have maximum grip” and leads to a “drag race down the straightaway.”

PJ1 wil be applied to Lane 2 in Turn 2 because that turn is narrower than the others.

“We’re kind of forced to put it on the second groove in that corner,” Igdalsky said.

“We are constantly looking at ways to improve racing across all tracks and series,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition in a press release. “Nick Igdalsky at Pocono Raceway shares the same goal – to give our fans the best experience and racing possible. After conversations with our drivers, teams, and Goodyear, we felt that the application of PJ1 in all three corners at Pocono would help put on the best race for our fans.”

Denny Hamlin released a statement supporting the decision.

“I’ve been an advocate for using traction compound at Pocono for a while now,” Hamlin said. “It gives us more lane options as drivers, and that’s what this current aero package needs. I think this will help put on a better show for the fans.”

Turn 1 at Kentucky Speedway (via Kentucky Speedway)

Alex Bowman believes the compound’s placement in Turn 1 will have a distinct impact on restarts.

“Turn 1 is obviously the widest racing groove of the three corners there anyway,” Bowman said in a Wednesday teleconference. “If it gives us another groove there it’s going to be a lot to work with. I think that will definitely amp it up a little bit. You might not see the need to be five and six-wide because you’ll have more opportunity to pass in the corners. But at the same time, the guy that’s on the top of three and four-wide isn’t going to be in trouble like he was previously. He’s going to be able to probably run the middle or the top of the racing groove and I think that’s going to be really good.”

Kentucky Speedway, where NASCAR visits this weekend, applied PJ1 and the Tire Dragon in Turns 1 and 2 and Turn 3 and 4. In Turns 1 and 2 it was applied in every lane except the bottom groove and goes all the way up to the wall.

In Turn 3 and 4, the substance was applied only in the middle groove.

At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the track will repeat what it did in 2018 with the PJ1.

The PJ1 will be added to the first (lowest lane) and third (just outside the main lane) grooves in all four turns on Thursday night and again on Saturday and Sunday morning of race weekend.

Each groove of PJ1 will be 12 feet wide with a 12 foot gap between them.

Turn 3 at Kentucky Speedway (Via Kentucky Speedway)

Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski add to their history of duels

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Kyle Busch’s victory last weekend at Pocono Raceway was more memorable for his disdain with being asked about the aerodynamic package raced there, but overlooked was that rival Brad Keselowski finished second.

The history between Busch and Keselowski is long, tense and filled with biting comments and bent sheet metal.

But it also is marked by how often they run next to each other at the front.

Pocono marked the 11th time in Cup that Busch and Keselowski have finished first and second in a race. Keselowski has won seven of those races, but Busch has been the victor in the last two instances (Pocono 2019 and last November’s race at ISM Raceway).

Only one other matchup among active drivers has had more 1-2 finishes. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have finished first and second 14 times with Johnson winning 12 of those races. After finishing second to Johnson at Auto Club Speedway in 2010, Harvick memorably said: “Jimmie is a good friend of mine, but there’s no denying how lucky they are. They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their a–.”

Of course, the gold standard in 1-2 finishes is Richard Petty and David Pearson. They ran first and second 63 times. Pearson won 33 times to Petty’s 30.

Here’s a look at most 1-2 finishes among active Cup drivers heading into this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway:

14 — Jimmie Johnson (12 wins) vs. Kevin Harvick (2)

11 — Brad Keselowski (7 wins) vs. Kyle Busch (4)

10 — Kyle Busch (5 wins) vs. Kevin Harvick (5)

7 — Jimmie Johnson (5 wins) vs. Kyle Busch (2)

7 — Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins) vs. Kevin Harvick (3)

7 — Denny Hamlin (4 wins) vs. Jimmie Johnson (3)

2. Optimism for a better race

The belief among some in the garage is that this weekend at Michigan could provide some of the same type of racing that fans saw last month at Kansas Speedway – racing that drew more positive reviews than last weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway.

“I think it’s going to look somewhat like Kansas,” said Alex Bowman, who finished second to Brad Keselowski in that race. “I think Kansas and Michigan are the two tracks that complement this package the most.

“It’s probably not going to be as double-file as Kansas, just because Kansas has widened out so much more than Michigan has. If you look at the Xfinity race last year with that package, it was a pretty good race I thought. I think it was very interesting how you had to work the air. I’m looking forward to that; I think it’s going to be a really good race for the fans.”

Erik Jones placed third at Kansas and also thinks the racing this weekend could mirror what took place at Kansas.

“Obviously the track is not as wide groove-wise, but as far as the throttle you’re going to carry and the racing you’re going to see, I’d say similar to Kansas,” Jones said. “I feel like it’s going to be really packed up a majority of the time. You’re going to see guys getting big runs and making big moves. There’s probably going to be some big wrecks. I don’t know. It’s going to be fun.

“By yourself, you’re probably going to be pretty easily wide open, which is kind of unexciting, but as you get into the race and get into a pack, it makes it pretty eventful.”

3. Preferable schedule

While the focus on schedules often is on where NASCAR is or isn’t or where it should be, there’s been a change the past couple of weeks.

Last week’s Pocono schedule was changed to have both Cup practices Friday and qualifying moved to Saturday. That meant that Cup cars were only on the track Saturday for their qualifying effort.

Michigan has adopted the same schedule this weekend.

“I think it’s great,” Chase Elliott said last weekend of the change at Pocono. “We’re supposed to be the best at what we do, and I don’t know why we practice for hours on end, anyway. So, whatever they want to let us do is great.

“It just separates the guys who belong and the guys who are good and the guys who aren’t, you know? Again, you have a certain amount of time. Everybody has the same about of time. And, you just make the most of whatever you have and try to get it as good as possible for Sunday.”

4. Streak ends

Ross Chastain will see his record streak of consecutive starts across NASCAR’s top three national series at the beginning of a season end this weekend.

The streak will end at 36 after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Michigan International Speedway. He is not entered in Sunday’s Cup race (Garrett Smithley is in the No. 15 Premium Motorsports ride Chastain has been in this year).

Earlier this week, Chastain announced that he was declaring Truck points instead of Xfinity points. Drivers are allowed to declare for only a series at a time but can switch however often and whenever they want.

Chastain enters tonight’s Texas Truck race with zero points — because he didn’t declare Truck points earlier. He’ll likely need to win to make the playoffs (his Kansas win doesn’t count toward playoff eligibility since he hadn’t declared for Truck points at the time) and be in the top 20 in points when the regular season ends.

5. Streak buster?

Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske enter this weekend having won 13 of the 14 points races in Cup. Neither organization has won in the past five races at Michigan. Kyle Larson has three wins for Chip Ganassi Racing during that time. Stewart-Haas Racing won the other two races, both last year, with Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick.

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NBC Sports Power Rankings after Pocono: Kyle Busch back to No. 1

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Well, that was a short stay atop the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings for Martin Truex Jr.

Truex was No. 1 last week but plummets to a tie for eighth this week.

Pocono winner Kyle Busch is back atop this week’s rankings – by unanimous vote – followed by Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski, who was not ranked last week.

Dropping out of this week’s rankings are Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings shape up:

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): Back where he belongs after his fourth win of the season. Last week: tied for 2nd.

2. Chase Elliott (35 points): On the best run of his Cup career with five consecutive top-five finishes. The No. 9 team has established championship-level consistency. Last week: tied for 2nd.

3. Brad Keselowski (29 points): Has a win and a runner-up within the past three points races. Only car to finish in the top five of every stage at Pocono. Last week: Not ranked.

4. Joey Logano (27 points): Six top 10s in the past seven races. May not be long before this team wins again. More wins would certainly help but can’t fault the No. 22 team’s title defense. Last week: 4th.

(tie) 5. Clint Bowyer (15 points): Turns 40 as he matures into Stewart-Haas’ most consistently good finisher. Has seven top 10s in the last nine points races. He also returns to a track this weekend where he won last year. Last week: Not ranked.

(tie) 5. Erik Jones (15 points): Three top 10s in the past four points races, including a third at Pocono. Is working hard to keep his ride at JGR. A win or two could cement the deal. Last week: Not ranked.

7. William Byron (11 points): Consecutive pole positions are the most impressive feat of his young Cup career. Also has three top 10s in the last four points races. Last week: tied for 9th.

(tie) 8. Martin Truex Jr. (7 points): Not his fault the engine didn’t last at Pocono. Just like last year, it’s been top five or bust (sometimes literally). Last week: 1st.

(tie) 8. Chris Buescher (7 points): Best three-race stretch of his JTG Daugherty Racing career. Last week: 7th.

10. Denny Hamlin (5 points): Nothing bad happened to him at Pocono and the result was a sixth-place finish, his best finish in the last five points races. Last week: Not ranked.

Others receiving votes: Daniel Suarez (4 points), Tyler Reddick (4 points), Alex Bowman (3 points), Cole Custer (3 points), Kurt Busch (1 point).

Long: How crew chiefs mastered Pocono’s challenges

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While the Cup race at Pocono Raceway went as drivers predicted with passing difficult, it showed the value of a strong team.

Rodney Childers, Paul Wolfe and Adam Stevens displayed talents Sunday that have made them among the sport’s top crew chiefs.

MORE: Joe Gibbs Racing on verge of tying Roush Fenway Racing for more national series wins

The talk before the race was how track position would be critical. Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, struck early. With a competition caution on Lap 20, Childers had Harvick pit for four tires before that caution.

“I know on our box when we got to Lap 19, (Harvick) rolled on to pit road and I looked at my engineer and I said, ‘Why are they … awwww’ because Rodney made a great call on that one, one we totally should have gotten and missed, the field missed it,” said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” on Monday.

Harvick was 11th when he pitted.

Harvick returned to the pits during the competition caution for fuel — teams cannot add fuel before a competition caution. Filling the car with fuel didn’t take as long as changing four tires. That allowed Harvick to pass cars on pit road.

The move put Harvick ninth on the restart — gaining two positions — but six of the eight cars in front of him had two tires to his four.

Harvick moved to sixth on the first lap of the restart. By pitting before the competition caution for tires and then filling up the tank during the caution, Childers gained Harvick two spots and put him in position to gain three more positions on the restart.

Austin Dillon‘s crash helped Kevin Harvick gain two spots on the ensuring restart. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

When Austin Dillon crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later, Harvick restarted sixth in the outside lane — the preferred lane — and moved to fourth after the restart.

Childers adjusted his strategy to be on the same plan with Kyle Busch and Stevens. They were among those who pitted on Lap 94 while others stayed out until the end of the second stage at Lap 100.

That put Harvick on the front row with Busch for the restart after stage 2 since they stayed out during the break. Harvick’s chances took a hit with a penalty for an uncontrolled tire on a two-tire stop on Lap 124 and then a steering box issue. But up to that point, Childers had played the game well enough to put Harvick in position to challenge for the win.

Wolfe did a masterful job in guiding Brad Keselowski to a second-place finish. While others sacrificed stage points for track position, Keselowski finished third in the first stage and fifth in the second stage. Keselowski scored 50 points — more than any other driver.

Wolfe’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t the point total but adjusting his strategy when things went against him. It’s a trait the champion crew chief has had for years.

Wolfe called for a two-tire pit stop for Keselowski during the competition caution. Keselowski entered the pits seventh and exited second. Keselowski was the first of two cars (Martin Truex Jr. was the other) who did not pit after the first stage. That gave Keselowski the lead. He needed to pit but since a car at the front can do it at Pocono without losing a lap, Keselowski was in good shape.

Then came the caution a couple of laps after the restart for Matt DiBenedetto’s spin.

Wolfe had to adjust his strategy. He pitted during that caution (as did Truex) and was outside the top 15 and mired in traffic. Keselowski moved up to fifth by the end of stage 2 as others in front pitted and he didn’t. Keselowski then pitted during the break.

But Keselowski still didn’t have track position. He was 13th on the restart. He gained three spots to 10th on the first lap of the restart but was stuck there.

Brad Keselowski’s team services his car. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Keselowski was 12.5 seconds behind the leader when Wolfe called Keselowski in to pit on Lap 119 of 160. Keselowski was in his fuel window to make it to the end, so Wolfe decided to bring his driver in for a two-tire stop to stay on the lead lap (changing four tires likely would have put Keselowski a lap down).

Keselowski was the first car to pit and worked his way through the field as others stopped under green. Keselowski was fourth when the caution came out on Lap 148 for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s incident.

The leaders stayed out. Keselowski, fourth, restarted in the outside lane and took advantage of that spot. He pushed Busch to the lead and shot to second, passing Erik Jones in Turn 1. 

But Keselowski couldn’t get by Busch, a tribute not only to Busch but to Stevens. Busch and Stevens have combined to win 26 of 142 races (18.3%) in Cup since being paired in 2015.

A good crew chief puts his driver in position to excel. For Stevens, that is putting Busch close to the front. While Keselowski and a few others pitted ahead of Busch on what was their final stop, Stevens held his driver out until Lap 124.

Four years ago, Busch lost a bid to win a fourth consecutive Cup race when he ran out of fuel on the last lap at Pocono. Stevens said that day that they were good with fuel to make it to the end but didn’t factor how much the pace increased in the closing laps and that cost Busch the win.

Stevens didn’t let the same thing happen this time and was celebrating in victory lane with Busch afterward.

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It’s easy to overlook since Chris Buescher didn’t finish in the top 10 but Sunday’s 14th-place finish was significant.

It marked the first time Buescher has placed in the top 15 in three consecutive races for JTG Daugherty Racing since joining the organization in 2017. He was 10th at Kansas and sixth in the Coca-Cola 600.

Seven finishes of 20th or worse have Buescher 22nd in the season standings. He’s 60 points out of what would be the final playoff spot.

Still, this is a step forward for the organization and will be worth watching in the coming weeks if similar performances can continue.

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Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski have combined to win 10 of the 14 points races this season.

Cole Custer celebrates his Pocono Xfinity win. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

There’s a similar level of domination taking place in the Xfinity Series among three drivers. Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have combined to win the past six Xfinity races.

They’ve also combined to win eight of the 12 races this season. Busch has three wins. Michael Annett is the only other driver to win, capturing the season-opening race at Daytona. Bell, Custer and Reddick also have combined to win 13 of 24 stages and lead 58.8% of the laps (1,300 of 2,212).

They’ve also all finished in the top five in five races. They went 1-2-3 at Bristol with Bell winning, followed by Reddick and Custer.

The key question is where will they be next season. Reddick, the reigning Xfinity champ, is in his second full season. So is Bell. This is Custer’s third full season in Xfinity. They’re showing that it’s time to move them to Cup next season.

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Pocono winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — It’s a recurring theme but Kyle Busch’s season-high fourth win gives JGR nine victories in 14 points races.

Chris BuescherHis 14th-place finish marked his third consecutive top-15 finish. It’s the first time he’s had such a streak since joining JTG Daugherty Racing in 2017.

Erik Jones and Denny HamlinNothing bad happened to them. Jones finished third to move into a playoff spot. Hamlin was sixth, ending a streak of four consecutive finishes of 15th or worse.

Chase Elliott His fourth-place finish marked his series-best fifth consecutive top-five finish.

LOSERS

Kyle LarsonBold moves needed to be made to pass at Pocono, and Larson’s bold move backfired in the waning laps as he ran in the top 10. Contact with Clint Bowyer’s car caused Larson to hit the wall. Larson finished 26th, losing about 20 points from where he likely would’ve finished. Because of that failed move, Larson is tied with Jimmie Johnson for the final playoff spot. Will Larson need those 20 points when the playoff field is set in September?

Austin DillonContact with Paul Menard sent him into the wall early and to a last-place finish. Dillon entered the race 27 points out of a playoff spot. He left Pocono Raceway 57 points out of a playoff spot.

Jimmie Johnson — He is tied with Kyle Larson for the final playoff spot but would lose the tiebreaker and wouldn’t make the playoffs if the field was set today. Johnson has 12 races to either secure a playoff spot with a win or put himself in a better position via points. Johnson has qualified in the previous 15 seasons of the playoffs.