Martin Truex Jr. was the talk of NASCAR following his June win at Pocono Raceway.
On that day, The No. 78 driver – from the underdog Furniture Row Racing team based far from NASCAR’s North Carolina hotbed in Denver, Colorado – evolved from a nice story to a bona fide championship contender. Truex and co. proved they could not only run with the Kevin Harvicks and Jimmie Johnsons of the world – they proved they could beat them.
Since his Pocono breakthrough, Truex has failed to lead a lap and claims just two top 10s in his last six races compared to his Richard Petty record-tying 14 top 10s in the first 15 races. He has also dropped from second to fifth in the points standings.
Although he’s had a downtick in performance lately, Truex returned to his early season form with a fourth-place showing at Indy last week. On Sunday, he will attempt to log the first track sweep of the season when he travels back to Pocono for the Windows 10 400 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
“After winning there last month how can you not feel good and upbeat about returning to Pocono?” Truex said. “We’re going to have a big target on our back but that’s ok. We’ll use everything we learned last time and more to hopefully achieve a Pocono sweep.”
Last season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. swept the 2.5-mile track known as the “Tricky Triangle.” Six other drivers – Denny Hamlin (2006), Jimmie Johnson (2004), Bobby Labonte (1999), Tim Richmond (1986), Bill Elliott (1985) and Bobby Allison (1982) have also won both Pocono races.
“The toughest thing about Pocono is to find the right balance for all three corners,” Truex said. “The three unique corners at Pocono are all different and the challenge is to figure out a way to make your car work in each of them. Conditions for this Pocono race will most likely be different, especially with the weather being hotter than in early June.”
In order to break out the brooms on Sunday, Truex will have to figure out a way to stop red-hot Kyle Busch, who has won the last three races and four of the last five.
Busch says his team will run a similar setup to what it used in Indy last week and called Pocono “a good opportunity for us to excel.”
“If we could bring home four in a row, that would be something special,” Busch said. “Especially at a place I have yet to win at, so I would love to cross that one off the list.”
Kenny Wallace takes last ride at Iowa
This weekend, the NASCAR XFINITY Series will say goodbye to its most-tenured driver.
Kenny Wallace, the series record-holder with 546 career starts, will pilot the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota in his final NASCAR race – Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to drive for a proven winning team like Joe Gibbs Racing,” Wallace said. “I told Mike Wheeler [crew chief] and the No. 20 team that I know the pressure is on me because they’re giving me a winning car. I feel light, relaxed and ready to get going in practice on Friday.”
Wallace owns nine wins, 66 top fives (20th-most all-time), 173 top 10s (seventh-most all-time) and 10 poles. He has three top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Iowa.
The St. Louis, Missouri native, who comes from a racing family that includes brothers NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and long-time driver Mike Wallace, has not won a race since 2001, but feels confident he can visit Victory Lane in his Gibbs-powered car.
“I’ll be focused on the race car; not that it’s the final race of my NASCAR career,” Wallace said. “I have nine XFINITY Series wins and it would mean a lot to get double digits and end my career with 10 wins.”
Mentor vs. protégé: Erik Jones and Kyle Busch compete for first time in trucks
Prior to the 2012 Snowball Derby – arguably the most prestigious short track race in America – Erik Jones was a relative unknown.
That December day in the Super Late Model race held at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Jones took his first step toward NASCAR stardom. Driving his family-owned car, Jones cleared Busch with 18 laps to go and adroitly held him off the rest of the race for the win.
Busch was so impressed that he signed Jones to a contract with his Kyle Busch Motorsports team to run late models and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series trucks. In just 28 starts for KBM in the Truck Series, Jones has already won five races. He even subbed for Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car at Kansas this May when Busch was out with a leg injury.
In Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 150 at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1), Jones and Busch will compete against each other in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the first time.
“It’s always exciting to get to race against Kyle, whether it’s Late Models, XFINITY or now in the trucks,” Jones said. “I’m sure he’ll be fast this weekend as he always is in the Truck Series. He came to the test with us and shook our Tundra down and made a few laps. I think he was just trying to learn a few secrets for himself and his team. It will be cool to get to race against him and see what he’s got.”
Busch will make his first NCWTS start of the season on Saturday. He won a series-best seven races last year.
“Just looking forward to getting back to the series and seeing if I can’t score a victory and have another year where I’ve won across all three series,” Busch said.
Jones, who ranks third in the NCWTS standings, wants to get the win for himself as he tries to evaporate leader Matt Crafton’s 24-point advantage. He maintains he’ll race Busch hard even though he’s his boss.
“It’s definitely a different situation than racing against anybody else in the field, but you still go at him if it’s for the win and you have to race him like you would anyone else,” Jones said.
If Jones, Busch or No. 54 KBM driver Matt Tifft visits Victory Lane at Pocono, KBM will add the “Tricky Triangle” to the list as the 18th of 21 active NCWTS tracks it has conquered.
“It sure would be exciting if it came down to me and Kyle at the end of the day racing for the win at Pocono,” Jones said. “I think he’d be excited knowing that it’s a team truck and we are both going at it for the win.”
NASCAR Race Weekend Guide
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Windows 10 400
Track: Pocono Raceway
Date and Time: Sunday, Aug. 2 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)
Tune-In: NBCSN, 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
What to Watch For: Kyle Busch tries to join elite company with fourth straight victory. … Chevrolet goes for its 750th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. … Joey Logano attempts to continue run of top-five finishes, get first win since Daytona. … Carl Edwards eyes his third straight Coors Light Pole Award. … Hendrick Motorsports can add to Pocono Raceway-record 17 victories.
NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: U.S. Cellular 250 presented by New Holland
Track: Iowa Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
Distance: 218.75 miles (250 laps)
Tune-In: NBCSN, 7:30 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
What to Watch For: Chase Elliott continues to close Chris Buescher’s 25-point lead in the championship standings. … Chris Buescher attempts Iowa Sweep. … Drive for Diversity graduate Daniel Suarez tries to build up his 15-point lead in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year race. … Former Iowa winner Elliott Sadler looks for first win of 2015. … Ryan Blaney tries to rebound at Iowa after losing lead on last lap at Indy.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Pocono Mountains 150
Track: Pocono Raceway
Date and Time: Saturday, Aug. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Distance: 150 miles (60 laps)
TV: FOX Sports 1, 12:30 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
What to Watch For: Matt Crafton attempts to build his points lead as Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones close in on the defending two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion … NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon will all compete in the NCWTS at Pocono. … Erik Jones will run double-duty this weekend, flying to Iowa after Saturday’s NCWTS race to compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race that night at Iowa.