NASCAR Weekend Preview: Pocono Raceway – Six Races Left To Earn Cup Series Playoff Spot

Holly Cain

NASCAR Wire Service

After a thrilling race on the downtown Chicago streets last weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series moves to one of its most iconic venues, the 2.5-mile Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for Sunday’s The Great American Getaway 400 Presented by (2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

With Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman’s victory at Chicago, only four positions remain up for grabs with six races to go to formalize the 16-driver Playoff field. Sunday marked the second consecutive race a new driver earned a Playoff bid with Team Penske’s Joey Logano securing his position at Nashville two weeks ago.

Three former Pocono Raceway winners – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch – are still competing for their first win of the 2024 season to become championship eligible.

Martin Truex Jr. – ranked fifth, the highest points position of a driver without a win so far this year – has a pair of past victories (2015 and 2018) at the Tricky Triangle. Buescher, ranked 16th, earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at Pocono in 2016. And the two-time series champion Kyle Busch, who is a surprising 19th place in the standings, has celebrated in Pocono’s Victory Lane four times (2017, ’18, ’19, ’21) – second most among active drivers. Only defending race winner Denny Hamlin (seven) has more wins.

“Really looking forward to going to Pocono this weekend in our Interstate Batteries car,” the New Jersey native Truex said. “It’s one of our home tracks, as they say. I’ve won there a couple times but really excited to get back with the fast race cars [crew chief] James [Small] and all the 19 guys have been bringing to the track lately. We’re fired up and hope we can get another win at Pocono.

The regular season championship presents a compelling storyline in addition to the dramatic Playoff contention. Kyle Larson holds a slight 11-point edge over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott atop the championship – even having missed a race (Charlotte). The three-time 2023 winner Larson has never won at Pocono. Elliott, who has one win this season, was the 2022 Pocono race winner.

Should either 2021 series champion Larson or 2020 series champion Elliott win the regular season title, they would join Truex and Busch as the only multi-time regular season champions. 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick is now ranked a season high third place, 23 points behind Larson.

Also, with victories this year to secure their race for a championship are Joe Gibbs Racing’s Hamlin, Hendrick Motorsports’ Byron, JGR’s Christopher Bell, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski, Bowman, Logano, Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric.

Truex, his JGR teammate Ty Gibbs, Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain and Buescher hold the current remaining four Playoff positions based on points. 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace is 17th, 45 points behind Buescher followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe (-88 ) and Busch (-98).

Wallace has one top five and a pair of top 10s in 11 starts at Pocono. Briscoe’s best finish in four Pocono starts is 15th-place. In addition to his four wins at the track, Busch has 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 36 starts.

Busch finished ninth at Chicago – his first top-10 since an eighth place at Kansas eight races ago. The two-time series champ’s best finish of the season is third-place at Atlanta, the second race of the year. He is looking to extend his career winning streak to 20 consecutive years.

“You make your own luck, it’s when opportunity meets preparation and we just haven’t done that,” said Busch, driver of the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet.

Practice for the Great American Getaway 400 is Saturday at noon ET followed immediately by Busch Light Pole Qualifying. Both sessions will be televised live on the USA Network. At Pocono, the pole position has resulted in more winners (16) than any other starting spot. There have only been two back-to-back Pocono race winners in the last 20 years – Busch (2018-19) and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014 sweep).

Cole Custer leads the Xfinity Series back to Pocono

New Zealand driver Shane Van Gisbergen collected a series high third win of the season on the Chicago Street Course last week to move into the top position on the 2024 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff grid. But racing moves off the city streets to one of the sport’s most traditional ovals, Pocono Raceway for Saturday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 (3 p.m. ET on USA Network, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).

In eight Xfinity Series races there has never been a repeat winner at the unique 2.5-mile three-turn track and reigning series champion Cole Custer sure would like to change that statistic on Saturday. The driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford won from pole position at the “Tricky Triangle” in 2019 leading more than half of the laps.

A frustrating 19th-place finish at Chicago snapped a five-race top-10 streak for Custer. Although he is still racing for his first win of 2024, he sits atop the regular season standings by 38 points over JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier.

Six of the season’s 12 Playoff positions are filled with race winners. And Custer currently has the regular season championship lead, leaving five spots still to be decided with eight races remaining before the Xfinity Series Playoffs begin Sept. 28 at Kansas Speedway.

Three drivers that won races last season – Riley Herbst (ranked eighth), A.J. Allmendinger (ninth), and Sammy Smith (12th) – are currently Playoff-bound based on their points positions. But, like Custer, are still looking for their first trophy of the year. Sheldon Creed and Parker Kligerman, ranked 10th and 11th respectively, are racing for their career first wins in the series.

Smith holds only a tenuous 23-point advantage over Ryan Sieg for that 12th and final Playoff position.

Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill is the defending Pocono race winner and his title chase momentum could use a trip to Victory Lane. After winning the first two races of the year – at Daytona Beach and Atlanta – Hill led the points and has been ranked first or second eight times in the 18-race season. After a tough Spring, he’s fourth in the championship heading into Pocono, 60 points behind Custer. He’s had top-10 finishes in the last two races, however.

NASCAR Cup Series driver Josh Berry will make his first Xfinity Series start since he was a full-timer in the series in 2023. He’ll drive the No. 15 AM Racing Chevrolet. This year’s Daytona 500 winner William Byron will drive the No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship leader Corey Heim will be in the No. 26 Sam Hunt Racing Chevrolet.

Ryan Truex will drive the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota making his second start for the team since a victory at Dover Del. in April.

Practice for the Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 is scheduled for 10 a.m. ET Saturday followed by pole qualifying at 10:30 a.m. ET. The sessions will be televised on USA Network and the NBC Sports App.

Just three races left in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series regular season

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series returns to competition after a week break with only three races remaining to set the 2024 10-driver Playoff field.

McAnally-Hilgemann Racing driver Christian Eckes shows up at Pocono Raceway for Friday’s CRC Brakleen 175 (5:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) fresh off one of the most dominating performances of the season. The three-race winner led every lap in winning the most recent Truck Series race, two weeks ago at Nashville.

There are four drivers with guaranteed Playoff positions – four-race winner Corey Heim, three-race winner Christian Eckes, two-race winner Nick Sanchez and a first-time series’ winner, Rajah Caruth. Ty Majeski is fifth in the Playoff standings with a healthy 144-point edge on the cutoff line.  Tyler Ankrum, Taylor Gray, reigning series champ Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger and Tanner Gray are currently above the Playoff cut line.

Tanner Gray holds only a slim 14-point advantage on Daniel Dye and a 17-point advantage on veteran Stewart Friesen in that final position. Three-time series champion Matt Crafton is 54 points behind Gray.

NASCAR Cup Series’ champion Kyle Busch earned his third Pocono Truck Series win last year. There are no former winners entered this week. Heim, who has won three races just since May, finished runner-up to Busch last summer and was fourth in his debut at the Tricky Triangle in 2022.

A pair of NASCAR Cup Series drivers are on the Pocono entry list. Ross Chastain will run the No. 45 Neice Motorsports Chevrolet and former Truck Series champion Zane Smith will drive the No. 91 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Chevrolet.

Heim, Taylor Gray and Dye will all pull double-duty competing in both the trucks and Xfinity Series races at Pocono.

Practice for the CRC Brakleen 175 is Friday at 2 p.m. ET followed immediately by Cometic Gasket pole qualifying at 2:30 p.m. ET. Both sessions will be televised live on FS2.

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