NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN) at Pocono

Is 1 Race The Future Of Pocono?

As NASCAR has shifted from a traditional schedule to a more contemporary one, Pocono has shifted with it. We used to come here for a pair of 500 mile races. The redundancy and same race was finally shifted to 400 miles in 2012. Then in 2020 it was moved to just 1 weekend but a doubleheader. That lasted 2 years. This year, it’s 1 race on the race weekend.

I feel like this is right. Lets be honest, Pocono is a boring track. 500 miles was far too long. Hell, 400 miles is too long. I like the length of the doubleheaders. But to move away from coming here twice is also the right move.

You don’t need the same race twice in a span of 7-8 weeks. You just don’t. This region isn’t warm enough to move a race up too far in the spring and the racing sucks too much to have it as a playoff event. So you’re stuck with 2 races in the middle of the schedule.

Making it 1 race is great.  For the first time since 1981, there’s just one race on the Tricky Triangle and that’s likely here to stay.


LEBANON, TENNESSEE – JUNE 25: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Office Toyota, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 25, 2022 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Will Next Gen Help The Racing At Pocono?

It’s not like Pocono has featured many edge of your seat races so will the new car alleviate that? With some of the comments the drivers were making about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and this new car recently, I wonder if the racing will actually get worse.

That’s hard to do at Pocono but the way they talk about this car and the shifting too, it’s possible as well. If Pocono races well, it could open the door for a move back to the oval at Indy too.

In saying that, without the Indy oval on the schedule anymore and with no other tracks comparing so far to Pocono and with this being the 1st race run with the Next Gen at the Tricky Triangle, throw away all past notes and even notes from what you’ve seen this season too. This weekend will look like nothing else.


Is This Toyota’s Race To Lose?

Toyota has been victorious in 7 of the last 9 Pocono races and should be in the running to win again on Sunday. Kyle Busch has nine top 10 finishes in his last 10 Pocono including four of his last nine being wins at that. He was second and first respectively last year. Martin Truex Jr. won this race in 2015 and again in 2018. Furthermore, he has five top six finishes in his last 10 tries on the Tricky Triangle. Pocono has been Denny Hamlin’s playground. Hamlin, has six wins there including two in the last five. He was runner-up in another for six top sixes in his last seven Pocono tries.

Kurt Busch has 11 top 10’s in his last 20 Pocono starts including eight of which being in the top five. Bubba Wallace is still new to this with 23XI Racing.

The only one you worry about is Christopher Bell who was fourth in his first Pocono start but 39th, 17th and 32nd respectively since.


LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JUNE 26: A general view of the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics CBD 325 at Pocono Raceway on June 26, 2021 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Can Bowman/Byron Get Back Rolling?

At one point in the season, one could make a chase that Alex Bowman and William Byron would be leading the Hendrick Motorsports charge heading into the postseason. Yes, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson had won each of the last 2 season titles and yes Larson won in Fontana (2nd race of the year) but through the first 8 races run in 2022, Larson had 3 top 10’s (all top 5s) and Elliott 5 top 10’s with just 1 top 5. Byron and Bowman meanwhile, had combined to score 1 less win (3) than Larson and Elliott had top 5’s (4) at that point.

Since?

The tide has shifted.

Over the last 12 races, Elliott has 3 wins, 2 runner-ups, 6 top 5’s and 9 top 10’s. Larson has 0 wins, 1 runner-up, 5 top 5’s and 7 top 10’s.

Bowman has 1 top 5 and 4 top 10’s in this same span. Byron has 0 top 5’s and 1 top 10 himself. Elliott has 3x as many wins now (3) as Bowman and Bryon have top 5’s (1).

Bowman has led just 4 laps outside of Las Vegas all season. He has no finish better than 12th in his last 6 with 3 of his last 4 results being 32nd or worse.

Byron has just 2 top 15’s over his last 8 starts on the year too.

Maybe Pocono though is what they need.

Bowman won here last year and was 7th a day later. Byron has 5 top 10’s in his last 7 at Pocono including 3 of which in the top 6.

Can they turn things around?


Why Is The Final Stage Costing Truex/Blaney

Part of the reason as to why Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney are holding onto the 2 wildcard spots and not automatically into the postseason is because they can’t turn early race success into end of the race finishes.

Blaney sits 3rd in total points accumulated this season. Truex Jr. is 4th. Truex has 7 stage wins in 2022, most among all drivers. Blaney is in a tie for 2nd most with Chase Elliott with 5. Blaney has the 2nd most stage points scored this year. Truex Jr. is 3rd.

So why are they not winning?

Truex has swept the stages 3 times in 2022 but has no wins to show for it. 2 of the 3 have occurred in the last 4 races at that.

At the end of the second stage, Truex has been in the top 10 in 7 of the last 11 races including 4 of them in the top 2 and 6 of the 7 in the top 4.

Blaney has been in the top 10 in 13 of the last 19 races including being in the top 5 in 9 of them. Among the 20 2nd stages run this season, Truex and Blaney have combined to win 7 of them.

They’ve not turned that into race victories.

Why?

The final stage is why.

Truex swept both stages in the season opener at Daytona and failed to lead a single lap in the final stage. He did so again in Nashville but led just 8 laps in the final stage that race and only 9 last weekend.

More times than not, they’re not leading the laps in the final stage that they are prior. That’s why I wonder if a large part of this is crew chief related and not making the adjustments needed to keep up with the car. Also, they’re not getting maybe the pit calls to keep track position like others either.

Still, it’s a problem that both need to figure out or they may each be on the wrong side looking in next month.

Truex has digressed since losing Cole Pearn as his crew chief. Jonathan Hassler had hit it off with Blaney in 2021 but while they’ve been consistent this season, they’re not winning outside of the All-Star race as they should.

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