NASCAR Barometer: Bowman and Busch Add to Win Totals in Pocono

NASCAR Barometer: Bowman and Busch Add to Win Totals in Pocono

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Pocono Raceway delivered two unexpected finishes over the double-header weekend. In Saturday's race, it looked like Kyle Larson was destined to continue his win streak only for him to suffer a flat tire in the final turn, allowing Alex Bowman to sweep through to the checkered flag. Sunday's race then proved to be equally dramatic with Kyle Busch nursing his car – stuck in fourth gear for the majority of the race – and fuel all the way to the checkered flag, as multiple cars ahead of him were forced to pit road for splash-and-go stops to make it to the finish. With no new victors, the battle for the 16th and final playoff spot also heated up. Kurt Busch continued his reversal of fortune and was able to elbow his way past Chris Buescher in the standings to regain a playoff position he lost a number of weeks ago.

Teams and drivers will not have long to catch their breath before visiting another new road course July 4th weekend at Road America. It will be the first visit of the NASCAR Cup Series to the scenic natural-terrain road course, and they'll be joined by the Xfinity Series for their annual visit to the track. On-track practice and qualifying for the Cup competitors starts Saturday with qualifying and the race taking place on the holiday.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch won the opening stage at Pocono on Saturday and went on to finish that race second to Bowman, which signaled

Pocono Raceway delivered two unexpected finishes over the double-header weekend. In Saturday's race, it looked like Kyle Larson was destined to continue his win streak only for him to suffer a flat tire in the final turn, allowing Alex Bowman to sweep through to the checkered flag. Sunday's race then proved to be equally dramatic with Kyle Busch nursing his car – stuck in fourth gear for the majority of the race – and fuel all the way to the checkered flag, as multiple cars ahead of him were forced to pit road for splash-and-go stops to make it to the finish. With no new victors, the battle for the 16th and final playoff spot also heated up. Kurt Busch continued his reversal of fortune and was able to elbow his way past Chris Buescher in the standings to regain a playoff position he lost a number of weeks ago.

Teams and drivers will not have long to catch their breath before visiting another new road course July 4th weekend at Road America. It will be the first visit of the NASCAR Cup Series to the scenic natural-terrain road course, and they'll be joined by the Xfinity Series for their annual visit to the track. On-track practice and qualifying for the Cup competitors starts Saturday with qualifying and the race taking place on the holiday.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch won the opening stage at Pocono on Saturday and went on to finish that race second to Bowman, which signaled another top finish to come Sunday. However, that day started poorly with shift linkage trouble leaving the car in fourth gear with more than 100 laps remaining. The team attempted to fix it, only to return to the track no better off than before. Once up to speed, he remained competitive, however. The extra fuel the team was able to put in the car while working on the issue allowed him the mileage he needed to outlast the rest of the field to claim and improbable victory. It was a maximum result from what could have been a disaster, and he is now the fourth driver to win multiple races this season.

Alex Bowman – While every restart seemed to favor the outside line, Bowman chose the inside line for the final restart of Saturday's race. That decision enabled him to jump to the lead for the final miles, only needing to keep Larson behind him to claim another victory. Larson ultimately made the pass, seemingly regulating Bowman to second, but a flat tire on the final lap opened the door for Bowman to sweep through and reclaim the lead and score his third victory of the season. This week's trip to Road America could be a good one for fantasy owners to consider the No. 48 again. Bowman finished in the top 10 in all three road course races so far this season and will head into this weekend's race with four consecutive road course top-10 finishes to his credit.

William Byron – Byron was not only fast Saturday with a third-place finish and 13 laps led, but he then raced Martin Truex Jr. to the line in Sunday's first stage to stay on the lead lap and succeeded. That extra effort paid off, as he started the second stage back with the contenders and ultimately took the segment win. If Sunday's race hadn't turned into a fuel-mileage race, Byron likely would have finished higher than 12th. Still, he led 22 laps for a total for 35 across the two races. The current season hasn't been kind to Byron on road courses, but he does have four career top-10s on the Road America configuration from 11 career starts. He finished 11th at COTA, which might signal top-10 potential again this week despite his sluggish start to 2021 on the configuration.

Kurt Busch – Fantasy players should have confidence that Busch's midseason slump is now behind him. He leveraged strategy through much of the running Saturday to find a place among the leaders and also won the second stage. He ended Saturday in sixth with 12 laps led, which meant he started Sunday's race deeper in traffic. However, despite the lack of track position he worked his way forward, but finished lower than he deserved due to needing a late stop for fuel. His effort Sunday was enough to take advantage of Buescher's misfortune, though. Busch recaptured a spot in the playoff positions with seven regular-season races remaining. Another good road-course performance from him this week would help consolidate that position in the standings.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski used the Pocono double-header weekend to reverse his trend of poor finishes. The Team Penske driver got the ball rolling with a 10th-place finish Saturday, his first top-10 finish since Kansas in May. He then went out and improved on that with a third-place run Sunday with 31 laps led and stage points from both of the day's opening segments. It was a confidence boosting weekend for the former champion who is starting to face growing speculation about his future with the Penske organization. His best finish on the road courses so far this season was a fifth-place run at Daytona. He will have the benefit of practice and qualifying to get ready for this week's new circuit, and another good day could help continue the momentum he gained at Pocono.

DOWNGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott left the weekend at Pocono without even a top-10 finish. The Hendrick Motorsports driver started deep in traffic Saturday due to his disqualification from the race a week prior. That traffic caused an early accordion-like accident that caused significant damage to the rear end of Elliott's machine. Oddly enough, Saturday was the better result for him, however. Sunday's race only produced a 27th-place finish despite him leading 16 laps. Elliott needs to get over the bad luck and be on his game for this weekend's trip to Road America. He is one of the best in the series on road courses, and will have the advantage of practice and qualifying to save him from another poor starting spot.

Chris Buescher – Being a former Pocono victor didn't give Buescher the sort of boost for which he would have hoped. Instead, his finishes of 20th and 19th were not enough for him to hang onto his spot in the playoffs. Buescher's lack of stage points from either race, coupled with just top-20 finishes, were not enough for him to overcome the nice weekend that Kurt Busch was able to put together. The battle for that final playoff position is getting tighter with just three points separating the pair. Buescher is going to need to be at his best the last seven races of the regular season to fight his way back into the top 16, especially with Busch rediscovering his top form of the season. Buescher has finished 16th or better in all three road course races this season.

Aric Almirola – While he didn't suffer the same misfortune that has plagued him much of this season so far, Almirola was certainly not at his best at Pocono. The Stewart Haas Racing driver had a history of performing well at the Pennsylvania oval, but last week he was only able to muster a pair of 16th-place finishes. He missed out on stage points Saturday but salvaged some from the first two segments Sunday. The net result is that he still hasn't improved his playoff chances. With seven races remaining in the regular season, he sits 136 points behind the 16th and final transfer position. The No. 10 team must win to make another playoff appearance. With a best finish on the road courses this year of 17th it doesn't look likely that victory will be coming this week.

Denny Hamlin – Yet another race weekend has passed with Hamlin unable to break his winless streak. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver didn't have the pace to challenge for the win Saturday, and then was in position to win Sunday but had to dive onto pit road instead of taking the white flag for the final lap in order to get enough gas to make it to the finish. The weekend wasn't a total loss for the No. 11 team, however. Hamlin was able to retake the lead in stage points from Larson and still holds the points lead by two as well, despite not visiting Victory Lane yet this year. Hamlin has a top-five and one other top-10 from the three road-course races this season and may have a good shot at getting that elusive win on a new track this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Bubba Wallace – The double-header weekend at Pocono was good for Wallace. The 23XI Racing driver missed scoring stage points Saturday but came away with a top-15 finish. Sunday saw him finish fifth in the opening stage and then go on to navigate the fuel-mileage game successfully, scoring an impressive fifth-place finish overall. It was his first top-five finish of the season and a just reward for the speed he has shown many weeks so far this season. This team is finding its place quickly in NASCAR Cup Series racing, and it might not be too long before fantasy players can expect Wallace at his best among the top 10 much more frequently if the team can continue its trajectory.

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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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