NASCAR Barometer: Busch Saves Fuel, Wins at Pocono

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Saves Fuel, Wins at Pocono

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kurt Busch drove a fuel-mileage stunner to score his first 2016 victory in the Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway. Limited practice made it slightly difficult for fantasy players to assess which drivers had the edge, and then rain on race day created even more uncertainty as the race was moved to Monday. In the end, it was the No. 41 who carried his practice speed forward in the race. He outlasted Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott, as it was questionable as to whether most drivers had the fuel to make it to the finish. Busch had the fuel as well as the pace, and he punches his ticket to NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup at the end of the season, where he will seek his second series title.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – Busch saved as much fuel as possible in the final laps of Monday's Axalta 400 to remain ahead of the field and score his first win of the season, earning himself a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup. The No. 41 car was one of the fastest in the weekend's limited practice, and it all came together in the race. Despite missing his normal crew chief due to infractions in Charlotte, the team called a perfect strategy and allowed their driver to run to the win. Busch also won the first Michigan race last season and has three track wins to his credit. The team has a quick turnaround, but will

Kurt Busch drove a fuel-mileage stunner to score his first 2016 victory in the Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway. Limited practice made it slightly difficult for fantasy players to assess which drivers had the edge, and then rain on race day created even more uncertainty as the race was moved to Monday. In the end, it was the No. 41 who carried his practice speed forward in the race. He outlasted Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott, as it was questionable as to whether most drivers had the fuel to make it to the finish. Busch had the fuel as well as the pace, and he punches his ticket to NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup at the end of the season, where he will seek his second series title.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – Busch saved as much fuel as possible in the final laps of Monday's Axalta 400 to remain ahead of the field and score his first win of the season, earning himself a spot in the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup. The No. 41 car was one of the fastest in the weekend's limited practice, and it all came together in the race. Despite missing his normal crew chief due to infractions in Charlotte, the team called a perfect strategy and allowed their driver to run to the win. Busch also won the first Michigan race last season and has three track wins to his credit. The team has a quick turnaround, but will carry the most momentum to Michigan this week.

Joey Logano – Logano took advantage of his front-row start on Monday to lead all 15 opening laps before the competition caution at Pocono. Some hard racing with Ryan Newman unfortunately damaged Logano's car. However, multiple stops for repairs and a refusal to give up worked the team back into the top 10 and in contention for the win again. By the time 400 miles were in the books, the No. 22 was back inside the top five but remains winless as a result of the misstep. The Penske Racing driver has finished inside the top 10 in every Michigan race since 2013 including a win in that season's fall race; a 2016 victory feels overdue at this point.

Chase Elliott – Elliott found himself in an enviable position early in Monday's delayed Pocono race, running second within the first 50 laps of the race before fully taking charge of the lead before lap 70. He then worked his way into the top five in the final miles, and added his fifth top-five to his rookie season. He sits solidly in contention for the Chase on points as well. The young Hendrick driver has two Xfinity starts at Michigan with finishes of sixth and second. He's driving like a seasoned veteran at the wheel of the No. 24 car, and it's looking increasingly likely that he will score a win sometime during his rookie season.

Brad Keselowski — NASCAR penalized Keselowski for an unapproved body modification early in Monday's race. The crew had to pull bodywork back out ahead of the rear fender from an earlier dent that was brought about by the jack man leaning into the sheet metal. Not only did he have to pit under caution to make repairs, but he also was assessed a drive-through penalty. However, just like their teammate, the No. 2 team continued fighting and wound up in contention to win with a top-five at the end of the race. It was a remarkable recovery from the team as they continue to build momentum. Keselowski has never won at Michigan, but he has finished in the top 10 in his last four starts at the track.

Ryan Newman – The 2016 season hasn't been the most fruitful for Newman, but his luck may have started to change in Pocono. The car was largely off the pace in practice, but it raced better than what those sessions initially showed. Newman fought through hard racing with Logano and front-end damage to run inside the top 10 in a season in which he has otherwise been unremarkable. The day ended with him in 12th place, marking three consecutive races with finishes inside the top 15. Newman's two Michigan wins came more than 10 years ago, and he would likely have been a driver to avoid this week had it not been for his gutsy drive last week. The next step is a top-10.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – What little momentum Johnson gained from his run in Charlotte seemed to have left him in Pocono. While the No. 48 team was fast throughout practice and the early race, an unfortunate incident on the back of the course sent the car sliding into the inside wall and out of contention. The 35th-place finish is the team's lowest of the season, and means there is more work to be done to close out complete races. While no one should count out Johnson, momentum does seem to be an issue. This team used to win championships due to its consistency but that is fleeting now. Johnson only has one Michigan victory and didn't even score a top-15 there last season.

Tony Stewart – With the pace that Stewart showed in practice for the Axalta 400 the last thing fantasy players expected was for him to crash, taking out teammate Danica Patrick along with him. He had been running reliably inside the top 10 at various points throughout Monday's race, but the day ended early, against the wall. The run could have further bolstered Stewart's belief that he could earn an entry into the Chase, but it all ended in tears. The good news is that Stewart is still running better than the past two seasons and is a former Michigan winner. Stewart needs a win to keep his championship hopes alive, otherwise he's just racing for pride in his final full season.

Paul Menard – The current season hasn't been the best for Menard. He has just one top-10 finish, and after a flat tire and a midrace trip to the garage at Pocono, he isn't exactly poised to turn things around. Menard wasn't demonstrating the pace he needed to feel confident about adding another top-10 to his tally last week, which is unfortunate given his history of being strongest in the first half of a season. The team hasn't shown that kind of form yet in 2016, and it will likely take longer for Menard to turn things around. While Michigan has been a good track for the team recently, it might be best for fantasy players to put more stock in his momentum and avoid choosing him this week.

Matt DiBenedetto – Just a few scant weeks since scoring his best ever NASCAR Sprint Cup finish at Bristol, DiBenedetto found himself at the opposite end of the spectrum in Pennsylvania. Two spins before Monday's race was even 70 laps complete resulted in a terrible outing for the team and gave DiBendetto consecutive finishes worse than 30th. He stood 32nd in the championship standings prior to Monday's race, and the disappointing afternoon did nothing to advance his cause of moving forward. He has two Sprint Cup races under his belt at Michigan with a best finish of 30th, which doesn't inspire much confidence. After the pain of last week, it may be best that fantasy players don't expect much value from him this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Martin Truex Jr. – The Truex domination from Charlotte didn't flow through to Pocono. The most recent winner in the series had an issue with the front splitter dragging on the track, and the team was much less competitive in terms of lap speed than they were two weeks ago. More bad luck struck the team later in the race, and the car was never in contention again. The day ended with a 19th-place finish, which is a big disappointment given the superiority they enjoyed just one week ago. Michigan has been a decent track for Truex in the past, however. He has a pair of third-place finishes in the last two races there and could regain some momentum with a good outing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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