The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway on Saturday, June 26, and Sunday, June 27, for the first doubleheader of the season. These races will not feature qualifying, so the sanctioning body used its formula to set the starting lineup. However, the first race will feature new faces — Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, and Kurt Busch — in the top 10.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron will lead the field to green after dominant performances at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 20. Larson won the race while Byron finished third. Chastain, who posted a career-best second-place finish, will start sixth overall. Stenhouse and Busch will line up seventh and eighth, respectively, after they both posted top-10 finishes in the Ally 400.
While Chastain, Stenhouse, and Busch are relative newcomers to the top 10 in 2021 due to previous struggles, the other drivers make regular appearances. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano will line up on the second row, just ahead of Chastain and Kyle Busch, while Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin will make up row five.
Stenhouse Returned to Early-Season Form at Nashville
The driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet Camaro, Stenhouse started the 2021 season with a run of top-15 finishes that put him squarely in the playoff picture. He finished 13th at Homestead-Miami, 11th at Las Vegas, and 12th at both Phoenix and Atlanta. Stenhouse then took second behind Team Penske’s Logano in the first-ever dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Mar. 29.
Since that string of strong performances, however, Stenhouse had a run of finishes outside of the top 20 that hurt his playoff chances. He took 33rd at Talladega and then finished 34th at Kansas after a crash. Engine problems at Sonoma relegated him to a 37th-place outing on June 6 and kept him below the playoff cutoff line.
The trip to Nashville, however, served as a bounce-back performance for the pending free agent. Stenhouse ran near the front of the pack for much of the race after initially starting 14th. He didn’t lead any laps or win any stages but still walked away with 40 points and confidence in the No. 47 team.
Stenhouse (349) is currently 18th in the points standings, two spots below the cutoff line. Though the closest driver he can leapfrog is Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher, who sits 15th overall with 392 points.
The NASCAR Schedule Benefits Busch and the Monster Energy Team
Stenhouse has every intention of reaching the playoffs with strong performances in the remaining regular-season races. However, there is another driver that sits ahead of him in the standings. Busch is 17th in points (368) and is within reach of a playoff spot as the Cup Series returns to a track where he has previous success.
The driver of the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro has made 39 starts at Pocono in a career spanning more than two decades. Busch has raced to Victory Lane three separate times (2005, 2007, 2016) while posting 14 top-five finishes and 20 top-10s.
Since joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019, Busch has made four starts at Pocono. He hasn’t cracked the top 10, but he finished 11th in 2019 and 13th in the second 2020 race. Now he will head back to the Tricky Triangle for a doubleheader weekend riding the momentum of two straight top-10 finishes.