After two years of double-headers, NASCAR is back to racing 400 miles in one day at the Tricky Triangle
When the summer hits its peak and the weather is fine in the northeast, there is arguably no better place to be than the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. The area is blessed with natural beauty, from its lush greens to its many bodies of water, and it is also the site of one of the most unique and challenging tracks in all of American auto racing.
This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual trip to Pocono Raceway for the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400. Dubbed the “Tricky Triangle”, Pocono is notorious for its triangle-shaped configuration that features three completely different corners at the end of very long straightaways. The track’s 2.5-mile configuration draws from other great speedways — now-defunct Trenton Speedway in Turn 1, Indianapolis in Turn 2, and The Milwaukee Mile in Turn 3 — to create a track that presents a test of driver skill, crew ingenuity, and equipment durability.
How to Watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Pocono
- Date: Sunday, July 24
- Location: Pocono Raceway — Long Pond, Pa.
- Time: 3 p.m. ET
- TV: USA Network
- Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
What to watch
- After Christopher Bell’s win last week at New Hampshire, the collective eyes of NASCAR are now firmly upon both Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. Both drivers have had outstanding seasons so far, ranking third and fourth in points respectively with a still somewhat-realistic chance of contending for the regular season championship. But without a win, neither driver is assured a spot in the playoffs yet, and both stand to be bumped if there are new winners from below the cutoff line between now and the end of the regular season at Daytona.
The pressure is now squarely on both Blaney and Truex to find Victory Lane and find it soon. Truex came close last week by leading over half the race before tire strategy cost him a chance to win, and he’s won at Pocono twice in 2015 and 2018. Blaney’s first ever win, meanwhile, was at Pocono in 2017.
- In 2020 and 2021, NASCAR experimented with double-header weekends by splitting what had been two annual races for Pocono between one weekend, with a 325-mile race on Saturday and then a 350-mile event the next day. Last year, neither race disappointed — Kyle Larson blew a tire and crashed while leading in the final corner of the Saturday race, allowing Alex Bowman to steal the victory. Then the next day, Kyle Busch earned a remarkable victory that saw him drive to the front despite a transmission problem that left him stuck in fourth gear.
This year, Pocono returns to hosting a single, 400-mile event, which marks the return of conventional strategies to a race that has offered anything but.
The history of Pocono is littered with many, many races where strategy has come into play, whether through races decided by fuel mileage or races where teams have used alternate pit strategies to gain time and track position. In recent years, the introduction of stage racing has created an extra element of strategy, with teams often having to choose between whether to bring their driver to pit road to set them up for the rest of the race, or leave them on-track to earn stage points before coming to the pits and losing track position under caution.
- The aforementioned second race of 2021 highlights something that takes on even more importance this year: The ability of the transmission to withstand 400 miles of upshifting and downshifting.
Even with traditional four-speed transmissions, drivers have long tried to utilize shifting at Pocono in order to get the best possible RPM range and acceleration for the track’s long straightaways. Now, the five-speed transmission of the Next Gen car stands to make shifting at Pocono even more important, and it likely also increases the risk of something going wrong v
Midway through the second race, Kyle Busch’s transmission failed, leaving him stuck in fourth gear and unable to accelerate and get up to top speed quickly. If the race had featured a series of restarts from that point onwards, it would have marked a death sentence for Busch and his team. Instead, the race featured a long green flag run to the finish, and Busch’s extra pit stop under the last caution to try and repair his transmission meant that he had more fuel than the rest of the field, allowing him to drive to the front and take a victory that will surely amplify his racing legend for years to come.
Pick to win
(Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
Martin Truex Jr. (+1000): It’s a little hard to believe this, but with Christopher Bell winning last week at New Hampshire, Martin Truex Jr. is the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to not have a win this season. But over the past month, it feels like Truex’s time to visit Victory Lane is coming.
Since dispelling retirement rumors by announcing that he would return to the Cup Series in 2023, Truex has led 281 laps — more than any other driver — in the last four races. Truex has been a serious threat to win two weeks in a row, first at Atlanta and then in a dominating performance through the first two stages at New Hampshire. Couple that with his two career wins at Pocono and strength of Gibbs at Pocono — the team has won seven of the last nine races at the speedway — and Truex is a solid bet to affirm his playoff spot on Sunday.