THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM POCONO
1. Monkey released
Kyle Busch finally got the monkey off his back and put the brakes on a 36-race losing streak by winning Pocono Sunday. “It’s been a frustrating year, and this certainly relieves a little bit of that,” said Busch, who won Toyota’s first Cup race in 2008 and its 100th on Sunday.
2. Aggravating aero
NASCAR drivers asked for this lower downforce package, but it has put a premium on clean air, track position and crazy wrecks, such as Matt Kenseth’s spin on Lap 1 Sunday. “I was a half-a-second faster just being able to run those laps in clean air,” Pocono winner Kyle Busch said.
3. Sweet 13
The number of drivers with Cup Series victories this season jumped to 13 with the Busch win. That means only three spots remain for the 16-driver playoff field with five regular-season races left to contest. Kenseth is on the bubble in points, only 17 ahead of Clint Bowyer.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Playoff points
Playoff points didn’t seem to be a big concern at the start of the 2017 Cup Series season. Now they are looming large as the postseason approaches. Martin Truex Jr., who has 29 playoff points, could add to that total if he wins the regular-season championship, which is worth 15 points. Those points follow a driver all the way to the doorstep of the season finale at Homestead. Jimmie Johnson is second with 16 points.
2. Left, right, left
The Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen in New York state for the final road-course race of the season. This race could rattle the playoff picture again if a driver with road-course experience, such as AJ Allmendinger or Michael McDowell, happens to triumph. And, for the second week in a row, qualifying and the race will both happen on Sunday. There are two Cup practices on Saturday.
3. Gibbs update
With two wins in its past three starts, it is safe to say that Joe Gibbs Racing is out of its mysterious 2017 funk. All four JGR drivers had wins at this junction last season. Rookie Daniel Suarez continues to find his footing in the No. 19 Toyota, while Matt Kenseth, who won’t have this ride next year, will likely get more aggressive as the regular season closes. “I’m really concerned about 2017, winning races,” he said.
QUESTIONS & ATTITUDE
Compelling questions ... and maybe a few actual answers
What did Ryan Preece teach us about racing?
Probably nothing we didn’t already know, but he did confirm the theory that the most important element is the car. Preece won last weekend’s Xfinity Series race in Iowa, driving a car owned by Gibbs Racing. This followed a runner-up finish at New Hampshire two weeks earlier, in the only other Xfinity race Preece is scheduled to drive this year. Prior to these two finishes in Gibbs machinery, Preece had one top-10 in 36 career Xfinity starts in middlin' equipment. The driver is very important, but the car is always key.
Did Preece drive himself into Silly Season?
He’s in the neighborhood, but not exactly in the driveway. When you finish second and first in back-to-back races, you put your name in the mix for “future considerations” at least. But for now, it’s back to the Modified wars for Preece, who has some stories to tell the guys in Stafford Springs this weekend.
A few questions we had to ask ourselves
What do you think of this qualifying/racing on the same day?
GODSPEAK: NASCAR hasn’t done this in 45 years, and now they are doing it on back-to-back weekends. What gives? Probably a test balloon.
KEN’S CALL: In earlier times, a separate day for qualifying was needed for promotional purposes. Not anymore.
There are three open playoff spots left. Who absolutely makes the postseason from here?
GODSPEAK: I cast my ballot for Chase Elliott, who gets in on points, if not on a win.
KEN’S CALL: Same for Jamie McMurray, but definitely on points.
How much more “Silly Season” will there be?
GODSPEAK: How much more can you take? I think Matt Kenseth finds a 2018 ride in the next few weeks.
KEN’S CALL: The biggest silliness will be the upcoming shuffling of team charters.
FEUD OF THE WEEK
JIMMIE JOHNSON VS. KASEY KAHNE: Johnson was not happy with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. Kahne’s contact sent Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy spinning off the course.
GODWIN KELLY’S TAKE: Oh, a couple of text-message exchanges and this will blow over. “I think the No. 5 (Kahne) washed up into me and kind of finished me off over there in Turn 3,” Johnson said.
1. Martin Truex Jr. 823
2. Kyle Larson 738
3. Kevin Harvick 726
4. Kyle Busch 723
5. Brad Keselowski 649
5. Denny Hamlin 649
7. Chase Elliott 616
8. Jamie McMurray 615
9. Matt Kenseth 594
10. Clint Bowyer 577
11. Jimmie Johnson 566
12. Ryan Blaney 529
13. Joey Logano 525
14. Kurt Busch 494
15. Ryan Newman 491
16. Erik Jones 469
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 468
18. Daniel Suarez 464
19. Kasey Kahne 414
20. Trevor Bayne 406
WHAT'S ON TAP?
CUP SERIES: I Love New York 355
SITE: Watkins Glen International (2.45-mile road course)
TV SCHEDULE: Saturday, practice (NBC Sports Network, 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.). Sunday, qualifying (NBCSN, noon), race (pre-race coverage begins on NBCSN, 2:30 p.m.; green flag, NBCSN, 3:15 p.m.)
XFINITY: Zippo 200
SITE: Watkins Glen International
TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (online only on the NBC Sports App, noon and 2:30 p.m.). Saturday, qualifying (NBCSN, 11 a.m.), race (NBCSN, 2 p.m.)
GODWIN'S PICKS FOR WATKINS GLEN
WINNER: AJ Allmendinger
REST OF TOP 5: Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch
FIRST ONE OUT: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
DARK HORSE: Clint Bowyer
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF: Allmendinger has his nose in the lead pack all afternoon.