The NASCAR Cup Series holds its lone doubleheader of the season this weekend at Pocono Raceway. The 2021 Pocono Organics CBD 325 is scheduled for Saturday, June 26, with the Pocono Mountains 350 to be held the following day.
The 2.5-mile, triangular-shaped track in northeastern Pennsylvania is one of the most unique on the NASCAR circuit. Each turn is banked differently, making it difficult for the car to handle perfectly on all parts of the racetrack. The key is to find a compromise on where you sacrifice speed, finding a balance that works along with an engine that can power off turn 3. Acceleration and top speed on the Long Pond Straightaway are critical; at 3,740 feet, it's the longest on any speedway in North America.
The doubleheader combined with COVID-19 protocols has NASCAR bringing back its off-track qualifying format for this weekend. Established during the pandemic, Saturday's lineup was set by a metric that evaluates each driver and team's recent performance.
Here's a breakdown of NASCAR's qualifying formula.
50% of the metric is their finishing position from the previous race (split between driver and owner).
35% of the metric is the team's current position in the NASCAR Cup Series owner point standings.
15% of the metric is their fastest lap during the previous race.
The team with the lowest total starts on the pole, then the next lowest, etc., until all available spots are filled. It's the best compromise NASCAR could make while attempting to limit each team's at-track time and respecting COVID-19 restrictions still in place.
For Sunday's event, the first 20 positions will be inverted based on Saturday's results. That means the 20th place driver gets the pole for Sunday, 19th will start 2nd, and so on. The 21st through 38th-place finishers will start Sunday in the same spot they completed Saturday's race.
Only 38 cars entered the doubleheader at Pocono, leaving the 40-car grid two short. JTG Daugherty Racing (Ryan Preece, No. 37) continues to be the lone open car that's attempted to qualify for every race this season. MBM Motorsports (Timmy Hill, No. 66) joins them for this event.
Here's what the starting grid looks like for race one.
1. Kyle Larson
2. William Byron
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Joey Logano
5. Kyle Busch
6. Ross Chastain
7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
8. Kurt Busch
9. Christopher Bell
10. Denny Hamlin
11. Aric Almirola
12. Austin Dillon
13. Alex Bowman
14. Daniel Suarez
15. Martin Truex Jr.
16. Tyler Reddick
17. Michael McDowell
18. Brad Keselowski
19. Ryan Newman
20. Bubba Wallace
21. Matt DiBenedetto
22. Erik Jones
23. Corey LaJoie
24. Anthony Alfredo (R)
25. Chris Buescher
26. Cole Custer
27. Ryan Blaney
28. Chase Briscoe (R)
29. Chase Elliott
30. Garrett Smithley (i)
31. Ryan Preece
32. BJ McLeod (i)
33. Josh Bilicki
34. Justin Haley (i)
35. Cody Ware (i)
36. James Davison
37. Quin Houff
38. Timmy Hill (i)
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
-Kyle Larson (pole) will be seeking his fourth straight Cup Series win. That hasn't happened since Jimmie Johnson, also driving for Hendrick Motorsports, won four straight postseason races on route to the 2007 Cup title.
-William Byron (2nd) has started inside the top 5 for 11 straight races.
-Kevin Harvick (3rd) is the highest-qualifying Ford driver for this event. He's also the defending winner of this race.
-Kyle Busch (5th) is the highest-qualifying Toyota driver.
-Ross Chastain (6th) has the best starting position of his Cup career (97 starts).
-Denny Hamlin (10th) is the defending winner of the Sunday Pocono event.
-Cody Ware (35th) comes back to the Cup Series, replacing J.J. Yeley in his dad Rick's No. 51 Chevrolet after running the IndyCar Series race in Road America last weekend.
-James Davison (36th) replaces Joey Gase in a Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. Davison is running a limited schedule for Ware this season.
-Timmy Hill (38th) makes his first Cup start since Talladega (and seventh of the season) driving Carl Long's MBM Motorsports Toyota.
NASCAR RACE BREAKDOWN
Race: Pocono Organics CBD 325
Track: Pocono Raceway
Date: Saturday, June 26
TV: NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 130 laps (325 miles)
Stage 1: 25 Laps
Stage 2: 52 Laps
Final Stage: 53 Laps
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Derek Kraus comes by to chat about his up-and-down year before Frontstretch podcast host Davey Segal and company preview this weekend’s Pocono Raceway doubleheader.
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.