NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Fourth Race of Season

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Fourth Race of Season

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch was the car to beat in Sunday afternoon's Pocono 400. He couldn't top William Byron in Saturday's one-lap effort to start on pole but did enough to start on the front row and lead the most laps on Sunday, too. The win was his fourth of the season and once again moves him ahead of the rest of the field in the standings. It was a confident and mistake-free afternoon for him, while other contenders suffered trouble or made mistakes. Just one late restart was essentially all the stress he had to weather after cycling back to the lead after the final round of pit stops.

This week the series heads to Michigan International Speedway as the schedule marches toward the halfway mark. Stewart-Haas Racing Fords swept the wins at the circuit last season with Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick taking the honors. The team has yet to get into Victory Lane this season and will be desperate to change that trend and rekindle their 2018 success.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch was the car to beat Sunday afternoon. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was among the fastest throughout the race and continually cycled to the front of the field as other strategies played out and fell short. After building a multisecond lead in the final laps, he had to make just one final restart to stay in front and ahead of teammate Erik Jones to claim his fourth win of the season. He'll go for No. 5

Kyle Busch was the car to beat in Sunday afternoon's Pocono 400. He couldn't top William Byron in Saturday's one-lap effort to start on pole but did enough to start on the front row and lead the most laps on Sunday, too. The win was his fourth of the season and once again moves him ahead of the rest of the field in the standings. It was a confident and mistake-free afternoon for him, while other contenders suffered trouble or made mistakes. Just one late restart was essentially all the stress he had to weather after cycling back to the lead after the final round of pit stops.

This week the series heads to Michigan International Speedway as the schedule marches toward the halfway mark. Stewart-Haas Racing Fords swept the wins at the circuit last season with Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick taking the honors. The team has yet to get into Victory Lane this season and will be desperate to change that trend and rekindle their 2018 success.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch was the car to beat Sunday afternoon. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was among the fastest throughout the race and continually cycled to the front of the field as other strategies played out and fell short. After building a multisecond lead in the final laps, he had to make just one final restart to stay in front and ahead of teammate Erik Jones to claim his fourth win of the season. He'll go for No. 5 this week in Michigan, where he has one career win from 2011. He finished in the top five in both races there last season and continues to be the driver the rest of the garage is working to figure out how to beat.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski worked hard throughout Sunday's 400 miles to climb the order and gain track position. That effort put him behind Kyle Busch on the final restart, and a hefty push from the No. 2 machine was not only enough to give Busch the lead but it also pulled Keselowski into the runner-up position. The finish was his first top-five since winning his third race of the season at Kansas. That gives him two top-five finishes in the last five races and continues building momentum for Penske Racing as they close the gap to Joe Gibbs Racing. Next up is Keselowski's home race where he has yet to win. He finished second at the track in his last visit and would love nothing more than to win on his home circuit this week.

Erik Jones – Jones expected to have a good afternoon on Sunday but may have walked away feeling disappointed. He was in position to challenge for the win, and a late restart allowed him to go head-to-head with teammate Kyle Busch for the win. While Busch got a strong push from behind on that restart, Jones got a disorganized line of cars behind him. That difference not only lost him his chance at the lead, but it also took away his chance at a runner-up finish. His third-place result is his second in the last four points races and fourth of the season. He's working to gain a safer hold on a spot in the playoffs and Michigan could help. He has three of four starts inside the top 10 there along with a third-place finish from 2017.

Chase Elliott – A fourth-place finish on Sunday gave Elliott his fifth consecutive top-five finish in points races. Things are clicking for this team and they are leading the Hendrick Motorsports resurgence. Elliott's win at Talladega gives him confidence of making the playoffs, and that lack of pressure may be helping them relax and take advantage of their best abilities. Fantasy owners should have Elliott high on their radars for Michigan, too. He has been excellent at the circuit, with three top-fives from six starts and an average finish of 5.3. He hasn't led laps at the circuit in the last four races, but his worst finish is ninth. His current momentum and track history combine to make him a top selection this week.

Kyle Larson – Larson won his second and third stage of the season in the opening segments at Pocono. The first came when he elected to stay on track versus pitting early like many of the other top contenders, while the second was a result of strong restarts and quick race pace. He remained in contention until hard contact with the wall on the final restart forced him into a stop to repair damage with less than 10 laps remaining. Larson once won three consecutive Michigan races but was only able to finish 28th and 17th in his two visits there since. His past Michigan track history makes him a driver for fantasy players to consider, while his bad luck this season may give some trepidation.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex's run of strength came to a smoking end in the second stage of Sunday's Pocono 400. The Pennsylvania track is known for being rough on equipment, but no shifting and lower horsepower should have made it more comfortable. Still, Truex didn't make it to the finish and will have to rebuild the momentum he lost. Truex has never won at Michigan but has finished second three times. He has six top-fives and nine top-10s from 26 career starts at the track with an average finish of 15.5. He led no laps in this race last season but was out front for 25 in the return trip. Truex isn't to be counted out, but other favorites may be a more secure play for fantasy owners this week.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick stalked Kyle Busch throughout Sunday's 400 miles at Pocono Raceway, and then made a brave two-tire call to get off pit road first on the final stop of the race. The gamble would have paid off were it not for an uncontrolled tire violation that forced him into a drive-through penalty and out of the race for the win. The team once again tripped over themselves and threw away one of their best chances to visit Victory Lane this season. They will pack up and try again this week in Michigan where Harvick has two career wins, however. He finished second and first in the two races there last season and could use a boost like that again to kick his current season into high gear.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse left the highs of Charlotte behind when he came to Pocono. The team was relatively quick throughout the weekend, but late contact in the race took him out of the race and ruined his car. Stenhouse had just picked up his first top-five of the season a week ago and had another top-15 finish in the last five points races before Pocono. The trouble on Sunday gave him his worst finish since Dover, though. Roush Fenway has taken strides forward in competitiveness, and Stenhouse was beginning to build momentum. This week could be another struggle for them, because Stenhouse has just one top-10 Michigan finish from 12 career starts. His average finish at the track is 21.4.

Austin Dillon – Dillon was fighting for position when he was bumped and sent sliding up the track. He was unable to save the car and collected the wall, which ended his afternoon. Dillon has entered a rough patch with consecutive finishes worse than 30th. The Coca-Cola 600 was his first finish outside of the top 25 this season and now he must halt his backward slide. Dillon's best finish this season was sixth at Richmond and has just two top-10 finishes so far. The speed is there considering he has two poles, but the team must now translate that single-lap pace into a full race distance. Michigan could be a pivotal race in that turnaround effort considering Dillon finished fourth after starting fifth in the second race there last season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Daniel Hemric – Hemric has shown significant pace in his rookie season but has had a hard time putting together an entire race distance. Aside from his fifth-place finish at Talladega, his best result before Sunday was 18th, which he did three times. He used a fast car and zero mistakes over 400 miles on Sunday to earn his best finish of the year, though. He qualified 23rd and climbed confidently into a 13th-place finish that should do wonders for his confidence and experience in what needs to be done to survive an entire race distance. As the second half of the season approaches Hemric could be one of those drivers fantasy owners can use to their advantage. He should be expected to improve as the series visits tracks for the second time and he leverages his experience.

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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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