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Toyota has been solid on flat race tracks lately. For example, Joe Gibbs Racing dominated last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Add to that that four of its drivers combined to win 15 races at Pocono Raceway and all of its six drivers recorded qualifying laps that were among the top 11 fastest on Saturday, and it could be another towering day at the Sunday office at the ‘Delicate Triangle.’
Dustin Albino’s race day lineup:
Initiator 1: Kyle Busch
Initiator 2: Denny Hamlin
Initiator 3: Kyle Larson
Initiator 4: Ryan Blaney
Initiator 5: Martin Truex Jr.
Garage Pick: Bubba Wallace
NEXT IN LINE: Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Daniel Suarez
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RISING: Quietly, Pocono suits the driving style of Daniel Suárez. Don’t ask him why; he’s not sure of the answer, except that it has similar technicalities to a road course. Suárez has already finished second in the ‘Tricky Triangle’ and was quick on Saturday. The #99 Chevy placed third in practice and will start ninth.
In Fantasy Fastlane earlier this week, there was no mention of Kyle Larson despite having a strong outing in both races at Pocono last year. The No. 5 car rounded a corner before winning the first race, before exploding a left front tire. Larson showed speed again on Saturday and will start from the second row.
FALL: Kevin Harvick’s recent success at Pocono speaks for itself, with 10 top five finishes in his last 15 races. But the No.4 team has been missing the setup this weekend so far, only setting the 30th-fastest lap in practice and will start the 400-mile race from a disappointing 24th position.
Before sinking in the last qualifying lap, Kurt Busch was one of the fast Toyotas on the field. But the No. 45 team must revert to a back-up car for Sunday, moving Busch to the back of the field. And while he’s certainly not ruled out potentially having a good finish, having no track position at the start is going to hurt his chances.
Christopher Bell vs. Kevin Harvick: Throw Pocono’s past stats out the window — Harvick said in his Saturday press conference — Bell is the easy pick this weekend. No doubt the tenacity of Crew #4 will likely result in a better-than-expected finish. But with a lack of speed in practice and qualifying, it’s hard to see Harvick getting ahead of Bell this weekend.
Aric Almirola vs. Erik Jones: Jones is another one of those underrated drivers at Pocono, earning five top five finishes in 10 career starts at the track. Even with finishes of 22nd and 31st in 2021, his average finishing position is still 14.4. The starting line-up may not be in favor of Jones, but the #43 car was sixth in practice ahead of Almirola’s 27th. The 34th-place starting position is not indicative of Jones’ speed, as he scraped the wall on his qualifying lap.
Austin Dillon vs. Brad Keselowski: Ah, old friends. There’s been no love lost between Dillon and Keselowski since they met in New Hampshire – and the previous incidents – last weekend. In free practice, the #3 car set the 18th fastest time and the #6 Ford the 22nd. It’s a draw, but with past successes on the track, wink at Keselowski.
Kyle Busch vs. Denny Hamlin: Look at that, the front row battle! Either driver could win the race on Sunday, as the two JGR drivers are the winningest active drivers at Pocono. Both are also among the top cars in testing, as the #18 team was one of four cars to complete a 10-lap race. Whichever car finds clean air late will likely finish ahead of the other. But with M&M sponsoring the race, it feels like a KFB weekend.