Time to get ‘Tricky’ at Pocono Raceway for the NCS

(Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Unique in its design, the three-turn, paved 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway will host the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend for the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 on Sunday, July 24 at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90), the 21st event of the 26-race regular season.

Originally named Pocono International Raceway, the facility opened as a three-quarter-mile track in 1968.  Located in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, Pocono Raceway, as what it is known as today, is operated by the family-owned Mattco Inc., started by Joseph II and Rose Mattioli.

Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile track in 1971 and the first NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway was on August 4, 1974. The first Cup Series Pocono event was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty driving the family-owned Dodge (115.593 mph).

There have been 88 NASCAR Cup Series races at Pocono Raceway, one race from 1974 through 1981, and two races per year from 1982-2021. The 2012 season marked the first year the NASCAR Cup Series races at Pocono were scheduled for 400 miles. Prior to 2012, all of the NASCAR Cup Series races at Pocono were scheduled for 500 miles in length. The 2020-2021 seasons were the first time the NASCAR Cup Series held doubleheader weekends at Pocono Raceway with the races running at 325 miles and 350 miles in length.

This season will be the 89th-time the NASCAR Cup Series has visited Pocono Raceway. The prior 88 Cup races have produced 46 different pole winners and 39 different race winners. 

NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott (1984, 1985 sweep, 1995 and 2002) and Ken Schrader (1989, 1992, 1993 sweep and 1995) lead the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Pocono Raceway with five each. Eleven of the 46 Pocono Raceway Cup Series pole winners (23.9%) are active this weekend, led by Kyle Busch with four Pocono poles (Spring 2010, Fall 2015, 2017 sweep).

Active Pocono Pole Winners (11)PolesSeasons
Kyle Busch42017 sweep, 2015, 2010
Denny Hamlin32014, 2006 sweep
Kurt Busch22015, 2011
Joey Logano22012, 2011
Kevin Harvick12019
William Byron12019
Daniel Suarez12018
Ryan Blaney12018
Brad Keselowski12016
Martin Truex Jr12016
Kyle Larson12014

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon (1996, 1997, 1998, 2007, 2011 and 2012) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep, 2009, 2010, 2019, 2020) lead the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Pocono Raceway with six victories each. A total of 10 of the 39 NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Raceway winners (25.6%) are entered this weekend.

Active Pocono Winners (10)WinsSeasons
Denny Hamlin62020, 2019, 2010, 2009, 2006 sweep
Kyle Busch42021, 2019, 2018, 2017
Kurt Busch32016, 2007, 2005
Martin Truex Jr22018, 2015
Alex Bowman12021
Kevin Harvick12020
Ryan Blaney12017
Chris Buescher12016
Joey Logano12012
Brad Keselowski12011

Make sure to check out all of the NASCAR Cup Series on-track activity this weekend from Pocono Raceway, with practice from 2:35 p.m. ET – 3:20 p.m. ET directly followed by Busch Light Pole Qualifying on Saturday, July 23 at 3:20 p.m. ET. Both events will be televised on the USA Network starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Playoff Bubble Trouble: Blaney, Truex hanging on by a thread

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell was on the verge of possibly not making the Playoffs sitting in the final transfer spot on points heading into New Hampshire last weekend, but all that pressure wasn’t enough to stop him from winning his first race of the season and clicking his ticket to his second career berth in the postseason. Now with six races left in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, just two spots are still open to make the Playoffs on points. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney currently holds one of those positions, 15th, up 105 points on the postseason cutline, and Bell’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., who dropped to the 16th and final transfer spot on points by virtue of his teammate’s victory, is currently 68 points ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick in the 17th position – the first spot outside the Playoff cutoff.

Through 20 races this season the NASCAR Cup Series has produced 14 different winners, tied with the 1950, 2002, 2003 and 2011 seasons for the all-time NASCAR Cup Series-most winners through 20 races (1949-2022). 

Of the 16 drivers without wins inside the top-30 in points vying for a Playoff spot this season, 11 of them have at least one win at one of the upcoming six tracks that close out the NASCAR Cup Series regular season. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick leads all 16 drivers with the most wins at the upcoming tracks with 12 victories at five of the six tracks, followed by Martin Truex Jr. (six wins at three tracks) Brad Keselowski (five wins at three tracks) and Ryan Blaney (three wins at three tracks). Of the 16, only Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon and Todd Gilliland are the five drivers without a win at any of the upcoming six regular season tracks left on the schedule. And of the six remaining tracks in the regular season, Daytona International Speedway has the most former winners of the 16 drivers without a win this year vying for the postseason at nine former victors. This weekend’s Pocono Raceway has the second-most number of former active winners without a win this season among the six tracks with five – Martin Truex Jr. (two wins), Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski (each have one).   

Cup Playoff Outlook – Drivers Without Wins This Season At Upcoming Regular Season Tracks

Drive Without Wins This SeasonNumber of Wins by Track
Pts PosDriversPoconoIndy RCMichiganRichmondWatkins GlenDaytona
15Ryan Blaney111
16Martin Truex Jr.2  31 
17Kevin Harvick15312
18Aric Almirola     1
19Erik Jones 1
20Austin Dillon     1
21Michael McDowell 1
22Justin Haley     1
23Bubba Wallace 
24Chris Buescher1     
25Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1
26Cole Custer      
27Harrison Burton 
28Ty Dillon      
29Brad Keselowski121
30Todd Gilliland      

Last season’s Pocono winners Bowman and Busch return to looking for another victory

Last season’s doubleheader weekend at Pocono Raceway produced two NASCAR Cup Series winners – Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch. Both drivers have won this season, but neither has visited Victory Lane since the first part of the season, and both would like to defend their wins from last year.

Last season’s first Cup Series Pocono race came down to the finish. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson battled it out, swapping the lead in the closing laps, but it was Bowman who would make the final pass on the final lap to take the victory. In total, Bowman led just 16 laps on the day en route to his first win at 2.5-mile track. Bowman has made 12 series starts at Pocono, posting one win (2021), two top fives and four top 10s. 

This season, Hendrick Motorsport’s driver Alex Bowman has put up one win (Las Vegas), three top fives and nine top 10s in 20 starts. Bowman is ranked ninth in the Playoff outlook with six Playoff points. 

In the second race of last season’s Pocono doubleheader weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch, who finished runner-up in the first event behind Bowman, grabbed the win. Much like the first race, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were battling it out in the closing laps, but it was Busch who would take the lead with two to go and sail on to victory. The win was the fourth career Cup win for Busch at the ‘Tricky Triangle’. To accompany those four wins, he has accumulated 11 top fives and 18 top 10s in 34 starts.

Busch is currently ranked seventh in the Playoff outlook after posting one win (Bristol Dirt), six top fives and 11 top 10s in 20 starts this season. He also has collected six Playoff points heading into this weekend.   

Age Window of Cup Champions’ First Title

Many of us like to think age is just a number, but is it?

When digging through the stats on the NASCAR Cup Series champions, one three-year age window stands out above the rest when it comes to a driver’s age at the time of their first title – 28-30 years old. Of the 35 different series champions 10 of them (the most in a three-year span at 28.5%) have earned their first NASCAR Cup Series title between the ages of 28 and 30; including four active champions Joey Logano (28), Brad Keselowski (28), Kyle Larson (29) and Kyle Busch (30). 

The most recent driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series title in that age group was last season’s champion Kyle Larson, who put together a historic season in 2021, posting 10 Cup Series wins, five of which were Playoff races, tying NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart’s (2011) series record for most Playoff wins in a single postseason run with five each.

First-Time Champions 28-30 Years OldChampionship SeasonsAge at 1st Title
Joey Logano201828
Brad Keselowski201228
Ned Jarrett1965, ‘6128
Tim Flock1955, ‘5228
Herb Thomas1953, ‘5128
Kyle Larson202129
Dale Earnhardt1994, ’93, ‘91, ‘90, ‘87, ‘86, ‘8029
Ned Jarrett1965, ‘6129
Kyle Busch2019, ’1430
Rex White196030

Bill Rexford (23 years, 7 months, 15 days) holds the record as the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship (1950). NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison holds the record as the oldest driver to accomplish the feat at 45 years old (1983). Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott is the youngest active driver to win his first championship and did so at the age of 24 in 2020. Plus, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick is the oldest active driver to accomplish the feat, bringing home the hardware at the age of 38 back in 2014.

Statistically, the all-time average age of when a driver wins their first NASCAR Cup Series title is 32.2. The average age of the eight active NASCAR Cup Series champions is 30.0 at the time of their first championship in the series, which is a difference of just over two years (2.2).

Active ChampionsYearsAge at 1st Title
Chase Elliott202024
Kurt Busch200426
Joey Logano201828
Brad Keselowski201228
Kyle Larson202129
Kyle Busch2019, ’1430
Martin Truex Jr.201737
Kevin Harvick201438

Looking at this season, seven drivers are currently in the window of 28 to 30 years old and looking for their first NASCAR Cup Series title – Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney (28), 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace (28), RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher (29), Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain (29) and Daniel Suárez (30), Petty GMS Racing’s Ty Dillon (30) and Spire Motorsport’s Corey LaJoie (30). Plus, keep in mind, Joe Gibb Racing’s Christopher Bell (last weekend’s winner) and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe (also a winner this season) are both 27 years old and will be turning 28 at the end of this year in December.

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