What to Watch: Full guide for Pocono Raceway doubleheader | NASCAR


Everything you need to know for this weekend’s doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, the 18th and 19th points-paying races of the season.

Full schedule:  Get times, TV schedule and results from the weekend
Pocono Raceway, a 2.5-mile tri-oval in Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Grand Marshal: Sat: Jeff Moyer, CEO, Rodale Institue | Sun: Bill Colavito, Board Chair, Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau
TV/Radio: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Sat: A slight chance of showers, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 2 p.m. Patchy fog before 8 a.m. Otherwise, mostly cloudy, with a high near 85. South wind 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. Sun: A chance of showers after 2 p.m. Partly sunny, with a high near 89. Chance of precipitation is 30%.
Race Distance: Sat: 130 laps, 325 miles | Sun.: 140 laps, 350 miles
Stages: Sat.: 25 | 77 | 130 | Sun.: 30 | 85 |140
Pit-road speed: 55 mph
Caution car speed: 70 mph
Pocono 101: Get the full lowdown
See how the field will line up for the first race | Larson snags Busch Pole
Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where Saturday | Teams will walk a fine line on pit road

Pocono 2
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Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Pocono Raceway

1. Perhaps the biggest question this weekend is not if Kyle Larson will win — but how many times? At the rate he’s been visiting Victory Lane, it would be a true shocker to see 2021’s strongest driver so far go 0-for-2 at the “Tricky Triangle,” even though he’s winless there in his previous 12 attempts. Apart from three outlier races from 2017-18 when he had finishes of 33rd, 23rd and 26th (and in that one, he won both stages), Larson has averaged a 7.44 finish in his nine other starts at Pocono. Combine that with the scorchingly hot streak he’s on and he’s the clear favorite for at least Saturday’s race, and probably Sunday, too. | Debate: Will Larson win Regular-Season Championship?

2. Of course, we know Larson’s streak will end at some point (at least, we think so) it’s just a matter of when and by whom. This weekend feels like it could be just as good an opportunity as any for another organization to usurp Hendrick Motorsports atop the leaderboard and Toyota’s Joe Gibbs Racing is the clear team in waiting. Early 2021 dominator Denny Hamlin won his sixth Pocono race last year, tying Jeff Gordon for most all-time at the track, and six of the last seven drivers to win there did so in a Toyota — all of whom now drive for JGR. Given it has two shots this weekend to take down Hendrick at one of its best tracks, it seems likely JGR will come out of the mountains with at least one win. | Debate: No. 2 team behind Hendrick right now?

3. Then again, JGR isn’t the only team beginning to close the gap on Hendrick. Stewart-Haas Racing is starting to rebound from a dreadful start to the season by its historically elite standards with last weekend’s Nashville race weekend among the team’s 2021 highlights. Team leader Kevin Harvick has been near-exceptional at Pocono lately, notching a win and a runner-up in last year’s doubleheader, his eighth top-six result in the last nine “Tricky Triangle” races. After last year’s nine-win career-year for the veteran, it’s unfathomable that we’re closing in on July and he’s winless. That may not be the case much longer, however. (And for what it’s worth, Aric Almirola scored the most points combined — 94 — in last year’s doubleheader.) | More: SHR starting to find its rhythm

4. After the season opened with two first-time winners amidst a slew of surprising starts in the first few weeks, we haven’t seen one since. Might Pocono mark a good chance for us to see a third, given the nature of a doubleheader lends itself to some outside-the-box happenings, especially with the lineup inversion from Saturday to Sunday? Four drivers got their first Cup win at Pocono, three of whom are active drivers (Hamlin, Chris Buescher and Ryan Blaney). Tyler Reddick seems determined to right the ship after some off races and he’s looked capable of winning at times this season. Though in a slump, Matt DiBenedetto is driving for the team that Blaney picked up his first win with, and Ross Chastain has found an extra gear as of late. Don’t count out Daniel Suarez or Bubba Wallace, either, who would not only be picking up the first win for themselves but also their respective first-year teams.

5. At this point in the season with the number of races left before the playoffs now in the single digits, it’s hard not to start peeking ahead to the postseason. This year has been an entertaining one, and with nine races left before the field is trimmed to 16, we’re sure to see fireworks over the coming weeks with five of 2020’s 13 victors still winless this year —including the two drivers that combined for 16 wins. The cutline is full of interesting names and movements, with the likes of Kurt Busch, Chastain and Suarez all trending upward, DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also below the cutline and Buescher and Reddick starting to sweat a little. Strange things tend to happen at Pocono and a surprise winner isn’t out of the equation. Toss in three road courses and the regular-season finale at Daytona as potential wild cards and we’re looking at a potentially wild summer ahead.

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Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.
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Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set roster
• Playoff Watch:
How the 2021 NASCAR Playoffs field is shaping up | See the outlook
• Who’s headed where:
Key players in 2021-22 Silly Season | See the players
Preview Show: Double the races, double the fun | Watch the show

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.
Betting odds for Pocono-1 race | See the odds
How NBC Sports is integrating betting content into NASCAR broadcasts | Learn more
It could come all down to speed on pit road | Fastest pit crews of 2021
Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

History at Pocono

Every track has a story to tell. Here’s what we’ve seen go down at Pocono Raceway in the past.
• Tricked out: All-time wins: Pocono Raceway-1 | See them all
• Late bloomers: All-time wins: Pocono Raceway II | Learn more
• Blaney’s first: Former Wood Bros. driver’s fist Cup win among Pocono memories | View the moments
• Front of the field: Top 10 lap leaders at Pocono Raceway | See the leaders

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.
• Chevrolet is winless in the last nine Pocono races, with the last win coming in 2016.
• Eleven of the last 14 Pocono winners started in the top 10.
• Only two of the last 17 Pocono races were won by a driver under the age of 30.
• The driver who led the most laps won four of the last 11 Pocono races.
• Both Pocono races in 2020 were caution-free during the Final Stage.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to race weekend.
Jeff Gordon named vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, will leave FOX after 2021 | Read more
Team Penske ‘not panicked, but definitely realistic’ | Read more
NASCAR competition VP on sharpening eye on Hendrick | See what he said
No. 19 JGR team fined for lug-nut violation at Nashville | Penalty report
Track-by-track updates, protocols for grandstand seating and fan access as COVID-19 restrictions ease | Read more
LaJoie to drive ‘Stroker Ace’ tribute car at Kansas | See the car
Where are they now? Catching up with Shawna Robinson | Read more

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