As racing weekends go, this one already has been quite remarkable: A photo finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway followed by Brad Keselowski’s last-lap pass of Kyle Larson to take the victory in Saturday afternoon’s XFINITY Series race at Pocono Raceway.
Those two races are going to be tough acts to follow for Sunday’s Pocono 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1), but it, too, has the potential to be a nail-biter.
Here are six observations about the Cup weekend so far at Pocono:
Nigel Kinrade/LAT Photo USA
Bad start for Junior
Dale Earnhardt Jr. swept the two Pocono races in 2014 and finished second in this race last year. But so far, his weekend is off to a miserable start. He lost an engine in Friday’s practice and will have to start from the rear of the field. And he didn’t like his car in today’s practice, when he was just 20th.
© Rusty Jarrett LAT Images www.latphoto.co.uk Rusty Jarrett
The Toyotas are fast again
Last weekend at Dover, the top four qualifiers were all Toyota Camry drivers, but none of them won and only one — Martin Truex Jr. — finished in the top five. This weekend, Toyotas qualified in the top three spots and I keep thinking that sooner or later, Joe Gibbs Racing has to break through and win its first race of the season.
Then again, while Kyle Busch qualified on the pole for the second consecutive race, he’ll be without his crew chief and rear-tire changer and career for the next four races. That doesn’t improve his odds of winning.
Location, location, location
In today’s modern NASCAR races, track position is everything, because it’s always so hard to pass. Pocono is no exception. Drivers and crew chiefs are going to do everything in their power to make sure they maintain track position, especially late in the race. No one’s going to come from 20th in the final 10 laps to win.
Matthew OHaren Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports
If you watched the XFINITY race, you saw there were drivers who gambled on four tires, two tires, no tires, short-pitting, staying out and just about every other kind of strategy. You’ll see a lot more of that on Sunday, as drivers try to optimize their stage finishes and track position.
The race could well come down to the final caution flag of the day, whenever that may be. In the XFINITY race, Brad Keselowski clearly had the fastest car, but because of pit strategy, he nearly lost, having to make a last-lap pass to win.
NASCAR via Getty Images Todd Warshaw
Last year was a weather disaster at Pocono: Both Cup races were rained out and run on Monday, with one of them rain-shortened. Even the IndyCar race at Pocono was rained out until Monday.
But this weekend, the weather has been perfect, and Sunday is going to be hot and sunny, with a high of 86, according to weather.com. That should make the track difficult to get hold of and the racing fun to watch.
Nigel Kinrade/LAT Photo USA
Nine drivers have won Cup races this year, while a lot of the sport’s stars haven’t, including past champions Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth. With 13 races left in the Cup season, presumably we’ll have at least a few more new winners of 2017.
And every time someone new wins over the next 13 races before the field is set for NASCAR’s playoffs, the pressure will ratchet way up for winless drivers in the top 10 to 15 in points. That’s going to make the summer racing a whole lot more interesting.
© Nigel Kinrade LAT Images www.latphoto.co.uk Nigel Kinrade
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