NASCAR PREVIEW: Pocono Race Preview (DH at the Tricky Triangle)
By Brennen McCall, Racing Contributor
The exciting NASCAR season rumbles on after a successful return to the Music City. Now the stars of the Cup series travel north for a rare doubleheader weekend in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Drivers and teams will face one of their biggest challenges yet: The Tricky Triangle.
For 50 years Pocono Raceway has been hosting motorsports events on its 2.5-mile triangular layout. It’s flat and fast corners were purpose built to mimic other racetracks across the country. Turn 1 is modeled after Trenton Speedway with 14 degrees of banking. Turn 2, also known as the “tunnel turn” due to an entrance tunnel running underneath, got its inspiration from the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 8 degrees of banking. Finally, turn 3 is a long sweeping corner formed after the Milwaukee Mile with only 6 degrees of banking. The straightaways are all different lengths too, with the front straight reaching over 3,700 feet making it the longest and widest on the schedule.
Pocono’s unique layout is how it’s earned the name “The Tricky Triangle”. Most NASCAR ovals have the same degree of banking on both ends, making setups easier to manage. Pocono’s corners are all different, making setups a challenge to get right. A good racecar at Pocono is lightning fast down the straights while also carrying that speed in the corners. The challenge is finding the proper setup that works for all three. A car can handle like a dream in turn 1, but handle like crap in turn 2. It’s all about balance at Pocono. Cup will be running the smaller 550 horsepower motor with the added downforce, so maintaining momentum is key to a fast lap.
The doubleheader weekend has a unique format. One race will be held on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday will feature a 325-mile, 130 lap race followed by a slightly longer 350-mile, 140 lap contest on Sunday.
The starters for the Sunday race will be determined by the finishing order of the Saturday race, but will invert the field from positions 1-20. So, the winner of the Saturday race will start Sunday in 20th position, while the 20th-place finisher on Saturday will start from the pole on Sunday. Teams are required to use the same car for both races. If the car crashes out or is too damaged Saturday, teams are then allowed to use their one and only backup car for Sunday.
As always there are plenty of storylines coming into Pocono. Kyle Larson is riding high on a dominant winning streak of three straight races, not including his victory at the All-Star race just a few weeks ago. The #5 car is fast everywhere they go and there is no reason not to choose it as a favorite to win again. Larson is likely to snatch the overall points lead from Denny Hamlin this weekend. Whoever leads in points at the end of the regular season gets a big point advantage to carry over into the playoffs.
Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates have all found victory lane this season. Alex Bowman with 2 followed by Chase Elliott and William Byron each with 1 win a piece. When the 5 car runs well, these three are usually not too far behind. There is a good chance all 4 HMS cars could finish inside the top-10 in both races.
Another driver to keep an eye on this weekend is Kevin Harvick. Harvick won the first race in the Pocono doubleheader last season. While Harvick is still winless in 2021, the #4 car is running better. A top 5 last week at Nashville is sure to give that team a shot in the arm.
Harvick’s teammate, Aric Almirola, earned a pole in one the few qualifying sessions of the year at Nashville and backed it up with a 4th-place run. If there is any driver that needs a win this year, its Almirola. He currently sits 28th in the standings and there isn’t enough time to make up points. If Almirola wants to make the playoffs, he’s got to win.
Denny Hamlin won the second race of 2020 Pocono doubleheader. He too, is winless in this season and is in jeopardy of losing the overall points lead to Kyle Larson. Hamlin is tied for all-time wins at Pocono, so if there is any track where he can shine it’s here.
A doubleheader weekend is special. Two shorter races should prove to be exciting as the field of NASCAR stars push ever closer to the playoffs. Will Kyle Larson dominate again? Will Kevin Harvick or Denny Hamlin snap a winless streak? Or could we see an underdog pull an upset? Stanger things have happened at Pocono. Let’s have a race!
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