Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will FOX’s Drivers-Only Broadcast Be Success or Disaster?

Will FOX’s Drivers Only Broadcast Be a Success or Disaster?

Pocono Raceway has a way of giving us a little something new.

After debuting the double-file restart in a points event in 2009, Pocono flipped from a 500- to 400-mile distance in 2012, showing that shorter could be better in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Last year, the Tricky Triangle gave us the first XFINITY Series race in track history, a first-time Cup winner in Chris Buescher, and will now let fans in for free on Fast Friday with the simple recycling of an empty Monster Energy can.

Next on its list is FOX’s drivers-only broadcast that will take place during Saturday’s Pocono Green 250.

It is what it’s called; eight drivers from the Cup Series will take over all (on-air talent-related) duties for FOX’s race broadcast, with three commentators in the booth, three pit reporters and two to start and finish the show in the Hollywood Hotel.

Will a booth be tougher than a racetrack for these drivers? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Kicking off the broadcast will be Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin, two drivers who have been on-air for XFINITY races in the past. But this is different. Instead of answering questions, they will be talking in detail about the series, drivers and teams like Shannon Spake and Larry McReynolds do each week.

From pit road, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Blaney will be on foot to keep the audience on top of setups, radio chatter and race strategies. Blaney and Stenhouse will be strong, as they both generally dispense humor, entertainment and information with ease. Jones, however, may be the top driver tested in this broadcast. He’s by far the youngest and has not done a FOX broadcast before. Another something new.

Finally, the most important part of the broadcast is the booth. Kevin Harvick will man the main duties, with Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano alongside. Can I hear a hell yeah? These three, especially Bowyer, have experience, success and a remarkable amount of character to give us a race to remember.

How Will Bubba Wallace Perform in the Cup No. 43?

For the third time in two races, we have a debut in the Cup Series.

For Sunday, the newest Cup driver, Darrell Wallace Jr., will compete in one of the sport’s oldest cars, Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43, for the Pocono 400.

Besides a planned picture of himself and buddy Ryan Blaney alongside their two legendary car numbers (Blaney drives the No. 21), what else can we expect from the 23-year-old this weekend?

Appreciation will certainly be a part of his first Cup weekend. Despite a plethora of reminders of his lack of sponsorship to run the full XFINITY Series season, the opening four months of 2017 were still a success. He ranks fourth in points coming into Pocono and is best known for his streak of five consecutive sixth-place finishes from Atlanta Motor Speedway to Texas Motor Speedway.

However, Pocono will be his final XFINITY race in the No. 6, as Roush Fenway Racing shuts down operation of the car after Saturday.

Knowing that, you can bet on a happy-go-lucky Wallace this weekend. Performance-wise, you have to go off what Randy LaJoie told his son Corey earlier this season: “Take what the car will give you.” Wallace is not in a winning racecar, as RPM hasn’t seen victory since 2014 at Daytona and has overall struggled to crack the top 10 since.

Aric Almirola’s average finish through his 11 starts in 2017 was 17.3. So for Wallace, the top 20 is the goal. At least for his first race weekend.

Will Pocono Be Chase Elliott’s First Cup Win?

Austin Dillon, Stenhouse and Buescher are all Cup Series winners.

Chase Elliott, somehow, is not.

In his 55th start on Sunday, Elliott is more than halfway to Kyle Larson’s mark of 100 starts before his first win. But judging from track history, it could end at 55, as Pocono has been a solid place through only two starts.

Finishing fourth, last year’s June event was one of Elliott’s best performances of his rookie season, leading the most laps of the day for the first time of his Cup career but losing out on the win thanks to Kurt Busch. Elliott crashed out early in the August race when he wrecked out with Logano toward a 33rd-place finish.

Coming into this weekend, the 21-year-old is happy to have some momentum; it’s been a while. With four straight finishes of 24th or worse, including two DNFs, Elliott ended the run with a top five last week at Dover. Though he’s dropped from second to eighth in points since Bristol, it may be a good time to get these gremlins out early.

Pocono can be a happy place for Elliott’s career, which has been rather lackluster with Larson and Blaney up front. With Wallace now taking the No. 43 until Almirola returns, Elliott has an extra push to be the kid who brings a trophy to an iconic number.

Who Stands Where at Halfway Point in Regular Season?

Being halfway through the regular season, it’s a good time to see where everyone stands in the playoff picture.

We have eight winners who are locked in and ready for September, with plenty of playoff points still on the table. Behind them, Kevin Harvick is at 109, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Elliott are relatively comfortable to get in on points, sitting 109 to 78 points above the 16th-place cutoff.

Going even deeper, this is where it gets a little tight. Clint Bowyer, with only two top fives, is 29 points to the good. And thanks to an encumbered win from Richmond, Joey Logano is 28 points to the good.

And finally, Matt Kenseth holds the final spot with only eight points to spare over 17th-place Blaney.

These are the men to watch in the second half. Will they win or will they rely on these points? The interesting part is that is could go either way for the likes of Elliott, McMurray, Bowyer, Blaney and others. They’ve had moments, but something is missing every week.

Under the line, from 18th on back, is where points may be the telling factor of playoff contention. Trevor Bayne is 41 back, showing a bit less pace than his RFR teammate Stenhouse. Rookies Jones and Daniel Suarez are close behind, however neither of these two have a top five this year.

Ty Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr are next, each 100 points back, with road course ace AJ Allmendinger way back in 28th, a massive 160 points back. Indeed, they must win to get in that top 16.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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