Kyle Busch Challenging Harvick for 2018 Supremacy
Last Sunday, Kyle Busch put forth a dominant effort at Charlotte, leading 377 of the 400 laps and getting his 4th win of the season, all in the last 7 races. Between he and Kevin Harvick, the duo have combined to win 9 of the 13 races this season, with 2 of the races they didn't win coming on highly unpredictable restrictor-plate races. Although Harvick leads the series in wins, Busch actually has more laps led and playoff points accumulated so far.
Busch's Charlotte win was the 47th of his Cup Series career, moving him out of a tie for 15th all-time (he was tied with Buck Baker). Each of his next few wins would move him up an extra spot on the all-time list.
Busch is well ahead of the pace he set in 2015, when he missed the first 11 races of the season, but still rebounded to win his only Cup Series championship.
Halfway to the Playoffs; Who's in Danger?
Last week's race at Charlotte marked the halfway point to the playoffs. Wins are the first criteria for who gets into the playoffs, and then points, but only 6 drivers have won races so far, leaving playoff spots wide open for upset winners in the 2nd half.
The Hendrick Motorsports drivers have something to be worried about, as their drivers rank 13th, 15th, 16th and 22nd in the playoff standings. Jimmie Johnson leads the way in 13th, but is just 31 points ahead of the cutline. He's never missed the postseason, and his career-long winless streak is now up to 36 races, the equivalent of a full season.
Chase Elliott is on the bubble, ahead of 17th-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a tiebreaker. However, Elliott has been penalized 45 points this year for a pair of infractions. With those points, he'd be sitting 13th in the playoff standings.
Can Harvick Break Through at Pocono?
Coming off a last-place (40th) finish last week at Charlotte, the first last-place finish of his Cup Series career, Harvick will try to break through at Pocono, 1 of 2 active Cup Series tracks where he hasn't won (Kentucky is the other). He also ran 7 races at now-defunct Rockingham without a victory.
Despite the 0 wins, Harvick has finished 2nd in 4 of the last 7 Pocono races, including both races last season. In the June race last year, Harvick finished 0.14 seconds behind Ryan Blaney. 4 runner-up finishes without a win are tied for the 5th-most at a single track in Cup Series history, the record is 7 runner-up finishes without a win by Mark Martin... also at Pocono.
Denny Hamlin Trying to Leave His Mark on Pocono
Denny Hamlin finished 3rd last week at Charlotte, and now is moving to one of his best tracks. He's a 4-time winner at Pocono in 24 starts, and is looking to become the 3rd driver to reach 5 wins at "The Tricky Triangle," and he would get there far quicker than the other 2 to reach that mark, Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott.
But Hamlin's 4 Pocono wins all came in his first 9 starts at the track. He's winless in his last 15 starts there.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - Pocono
Kevin Harvick: finished 2nd in 4 of last 7 Pocono races (including both last year); 34 starts at Pocono is his most at any track without a win
Kyle Busch: won last Pocono start; led 174 laps at Pocono last season (2 races); led 86 in his first 24 career Pocono starts
Brad Keselowski: 5 straight top-5 finishes after Pocono (3 in his first 11 career Pocono races)
Kurt Busch: finished 7th or better in last 5 Pocono spring races, including a win in 2016
Matt Kenseth: 5 top-10 finishes in last 6 Pocono starts (all with Joe Gibbs Racing)
Jimmie Johnson: wrecked out of 3 of last 4 and 4 of last 7 Pocono races (finished 36th and 35th last year)
Denny Hamlin: winless in last 15 Pocono races after winning 4 of first 9 starts at the track
Joey Logano: finished 37th, 23rd, 27th in last 3 Pocono races (3 top 5's in previous 4 Pocono races)
Aric Almirola: 4 DNF in last 6 Pocono races (wrecked out of last 2); never finished better than 18th in 11 Pocono starts
Jamie McMurray: 0 top-5 finishes in 30 career Pocono starts
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