Things to watch for at Pocono and Iowa
By Justin Melillo
July 28, 2017
LONG POND, Pa.—This weekend, NASCAR splits up the racing action between the Tricky Triangle of Pocono Raceway and the 7/8th-mile short track of Iowa Speedway.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the Camping World Truck Series will run with a condensed schedule in the Pocono Mountains on Saturday and Sunday (with ARCA on taking the track on Friday) while the NASCAR XFINITY Series returns to Iowa for a Saturday afternoon standalone event.
Here are a few things that are lighting up the headlines.
JOE GIBBS / FURNITURE ROW RELATIONSHIP ISSUES
One of the biggest stories entering this weekend is the Joe Gibbs Racing suspension of front-tire changer Chris Taylor and rear-tire changer Lee Cunningham.
Taylor and Cunningham both pit the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, but they are employed by Joe Gibbs Racing and loaned out for the 2017 season.
The suspension comes after an altercation in the pits last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, after both Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 and Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota collided on a restart, taking them both out of the race.
Busch’s Crew Chief Adam Stevens confronted the pit crew members in the No. 78 pit box, and words were exchanged between the two parties.
The details are unclear of what exactly transpired during the verbal confrontation, but the ultimate result was the two pit crew member suspensions. Adam Stevens was not suspended and will be atop the No. 18 Toyota pit box this weekend.
PLAYOFF GRID GETTING CRAZY
Speaking of Kyle Busch, he still sits winless through 20 races in the 2017 season, as 13 other drivers have already found victory lane, and 12 of them occupy the playoff grid with only six races until the regular season ends.
Busch, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott, and Matt Kenseth are the four drivers who are in on points, but with six races remaining, the possibility still exists that all 16 spots in the playoffs are taken by 16 different race winners in 2017.
Joey Logano is one of those 13 winners, but is not eligible to use the win due to it being encumbered at Richmond.
Both Busch and Logano are perennial favorites for the championship. Busch has been a threat to win almost every week, and with his standing in the points, he should be able to find victory lane or, if anything, point his way in.
Logano, on the other hand, has been on a decline since his penalty, and sits on the outside looking in. It’s not impossible to still make it via points, but another win that’s not encumbered would help the No. 22 Team Penske Ford team tremendously.
XFINITY STANDS ALONE IN IOWA
Over in Iowa, only three regular drivers have found victory lane in 2017 so far, and the chances of increasing that number are higher than usual being a standalone event on Saturday afternoon.
William Byron, Justin Allgaier, and Ryan Reed are the only three drivers all but guaranteed to make the NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs. There will be no Cup Series drivers pulling double duty between Pocono and Iowa.
Series veterans Sam Hornish Jr. and Brian Scott make their return to the series in Team Penske and Richard Childress Racing equipment, respectively, while up-and-comers Kyle Benjamin and Ryan Preece both take the reigns of a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, in the No. 18 and 20 respectively.
The absence of most Monster Energy Cup drivers gives many series regulars who haven’t won, such as Elliott Sadler, Brennan Poole, or Daniel Hemric, who all sit in the top five in points, or capable drivers such as Brendan Gaughan, Michael Annett, or Brandon Jones, who haven’t had the best of seasons, the chance to lock in and not worry too much for the remaining races in the regular season.
THE SILLIEST OF SEASONS
Lastly, Silly Season has picked up over the past few weeks, with Alex Bowman getting confirmed to take over for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Blaney moving to a third Penske ride, Paul Menard leaving Richard Childress Racing and filling the seat vacated by Blaney at Wood Brothers Racing, Brad Keselowski reupping with Team Penske, and Erik Jones usurping Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing.
There still are many questions left unanswered to this point. Here are a few on my mind:
Where does Matt Kenseth land in free agency, or does he hang up his helmet after 2017?
What is the status of Kasey Kahne, William Byron, and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy after Kahne’s upset victory last week at Indianapolis?
What does Aric Almirola do since his contract with Richard Petty Motorsports is ending after this season?
What happens to Stewart Haas Racing if they can’t procure sponsorship for three of the four cars? Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch both have options for 2018, but does the team renew if they don’t have any sponsorship?
What about Richard Childress Racing and the No. 27? Without Menards money coming in, can they afford to keep running a third car?
On Friday, it was announced that Target would be leaving Chip Ganassi Racing and Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevy. Does that impact Larson’s future with Chip Ganassi Racing or can they find sponsorship?
There could be a lot of shuffling in the next few weeks. Race fans will have to wade through the rumor mill until official announcements are made. DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. SOURCES Racing-Reference.info IMAGES Matt Courson/The Racing Experts