NASCAR Barometer: Busch Scores Breakthrough Victory

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Scores Breakthrough Victory

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch finally made his way into Victory Lane after having one of the fastest cars all weekend at Pocono Raceway, including scoring the pole position earlier in the afternoon. It was Busch's first win at the track, and his first of the 2017 season. It has been a long time coming for him and the team, considering the strength they've displayed throughout this season so far.

Sunday's battle was another dogfight between Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in their Toyota machines. Denny Hamlin joined them in the fray, but Kevin Harvick was the interloper from Ford with a shot at the win as well. This week's race features the second road course of the season in Watkins Glen International. Busch was a top-five racer in Sonoma earlier this season, but it was Sunday's runner-up Harvick who took that win in June.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch started Sunday at Pocono by claiming another pole position, and then moving on to claim victory in the first stage. His car lost a bit of its advantage late in the race, and he was forced to play a strategy game with Truex as the pair maneuvered for the final laps. However, Busch's car was the fastest after that final stop, and he used that speed to march back to the front and grab victory by the neck for his breakthrough win at the circuit and on the season. Busch won at Watkins Glen in 2008 and 2013. He also led laps in

Kyle Busch finally made his way into Victory Lane after having one of the fastest cars all weekend at Pocono Raceway, including scoring the pole position earlier in the afternoon. It was Busch's first win at the track, and his first of the 2017 season. It has been a long time coming for him and the team, considering the strength they've displayed throughout this season so far.

Sunday's battle was another dogfight between Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in their Toyota machines. Denny Hamlin joined them in the fray, but Kevin Harvick was the interloper from Ford with a shot at the win as well. This week's race features the second road course of the season in Watkins Glen International. Busch was a top-five racer in Sonoma earlier this season, but it was Sunday's runner-up Harvick who took that win in June.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch started Sunday at Pocono by claiming another pole position, and then moving on to claim victory in the first stage. His car lost a bit of its advantage late in the race, and he was forced to play a strategy game with Truex as the pair maneuvered for the final laps. However, Busch's car was the fastest after that final stop, and he used that speed to march back to the front and grab victory by the neck for his breakthrough win at the circuit and on the season. Busch won at Watkins Glen in 2008 and 2013. He also led laps in all but one of the last six races at the road course, and it feels like there's more to come after this win.

Martin Truex Jr. – Yet again Truex was among the fastest cars last week. This team is a perennial contender each time they visit a track, and last week's return visit to Pocono was no different. The car came on strongly in the second segment of the race but gave up the stage points as the team focused on winning the race instead. In the final run, he simply didn't have the pace to match Busch, and he settled for yet another top-five finish instead. This team finished seventh at Watkins Glen last season and has been pretty decent at the road course throughout his career. He has three top-fives and six top-10s from 11 starts at the track and is sure to be a top contender again.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer overcame his recent stumbles to gain valuable bonus points by picking up the stage victory in the second segment of Sunday's race. Sitting on the edge of qualifying for the playoffs the team gambled to get stage points and sacrificing track position for the final segment on Sunday. It was a shot in the arm for the team that suffered disaster a week prior at Indianapolis, and they used that boost to finish the afternoon in sixth position for Bower's third top-10 in the last five races. He finished in the top 10 in three of the last five Watkins Glen races, and another would certainly give this team confidence for the final races of the regular season.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin had a strong race in Pocono on Sunday and ultimately finished fourth to claim his third top-five finish in the last five races. He held the lead in the second stage of Sunday's race and was running inside the top five for most of the afternoon as well. With three top-fives in the five races leading up to Sunday's race, this could be the team fantasy owners want to look toward as the team's swagger grows. To make the situation even more appetizing, Hamlin is the defending victor at Watkins Glen. He led 10 laps at the track last year to capture the checkered flag after starting sixth, and should be a strong consideration for fantasy owners this week.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick delivered an excellent performance in Pocono despite not having the Toyota advantage on Sunday. The Ford driver was arguably the best of the rest and was still able to mix things up with the three fastest Toyotas. His effort paid off with a runner-up finish, too. He held the lead for a short period after the final stops but wasn't able to hold off the charging Kyle Busch. Second place on a day that Toyota was so powerful is nothing to be disappointed by. He crashed out at Watkins Glen last season, but led 29 laps the year prior en route to a third-place finish. That result was one of two top-10s in his last three tries at the circuit.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson – A broken drive shaft effectively ended Larson's Pocono race. It was a rare mechanical failure for the team that has been at the front of the field for most of the season so far. Qualifying problems and now issues in the race haven't helped the team advance their cause as the regular season winds down. They are safely in the playoffs but need quickly to fix the issues that have been holding them back in order to advance to the finale in Homestead. Larson has raced in the Cup series at Watkins Glen three times, and his first try was his best result. He finished fourth in that race but hasn't been able to finish in the top 10 at the track since then.

Jimmie Johnson – The second segment of Sunday's race didn't work out well for Johnson. Slight contact with Kasey Kahne turned him around and into the wall, leaving nothing left to fight for due to damage significant enough to send the car to the garage. While the team is safely in the playoffs to fight for another championship they are losing momentum and working to correct their woes before the final races begin. While Johnson has typically been considered a top road course racer, he hasn't had huge success at Watkins Glen. He crashed out of last year's race and has a highest finish of third, which he achieved twice, and only has one top-10 in the last three races at the circuit.

Ryan Blaney – Damage early in the second segment of Sunday's race put Blaney and team at a disadvantage. The rest of the afternoon was a futile exercise, as he languished deep in the field and completely out of contention for a respectable finish. Blaney won the last time out at Pocono but had a complete reversal of fortune on Sunday, which was just a continuation of his recent form. Blaney has only scored one top-10 finish in the last five races. He and the team will need to dig deep to score their 100th team victory and end their partnership with Blaney on a high note. The future full-time Penske Racing driver started and finished 19th in his first Watkins Glen race in the series last season.

Joey Logano – Speeding on pit road dropped Logano deep into the field late in Sunday's race. It was yet another misstep for this team who's lost the wind from its sails. Logano was more than 50 points outside of the playoff spots prior to Sunday's race and made the job no easier with the mistakes they made. He did have two finishes inside the top 10 in the four races prior to Sunday's stop, but he also had two finishes worse than 30th. The team is nearing must-win territory if they hope to have a shot at making the playoffs this season. Watkins Glen could offer them that chance. Logano was runner-up there last season and won it the year before.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Daniel Suarez – Suarez didn't make any big splashes at Pocono but he turned in another confident top-10 result. He finished 15th at the track in June and is now on a run of three consecutive top-10 finishes as the second half of the season marches on. Suarez has been quiet and consistent this season, and is starting to deliver fantasy owners better results as he visits tracks for the second time. He has yet to race at Watkins Glen in Cup machinery but has two races under his belt at the track in the Xfinity series. His best finish was fourth there last season, leading six laps. If he can continue to deliver the results we've seen from him recently, he should be a valuable fantasy asset as the season draws to a close.

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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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