The Setting For Trackhouse Racing, 23XI Racing’s Success
The NASCAR Cup Series headed to Long Pond, Penn. for the Pocono Raceway doubleheader, the second consecutive year the track has hosted back-to-back races. Drivers tackled a 325-miler on Saturday, June 26 and a 350-miler on Sunday, June 27.
The Tricky Triangle presented two thrilling races, with both taking on a different face. Saturday’s event featured multiple accidents and several tire blowouts while Sunday’s race turned into a “hold your breath” fuel mileage event. The bumps of the two-and-a-half-mile track shifted from previous years, with many drivers talking about the difference in the Tunnel Turn.
Pocono is called the Tricky Triangle for a reason, but many underdogs were able to have solid or even strong performances. Others, however, fell victim to the toughness of Pocono. A field inversion of the top 20 for Sunday’s race allowed several dark horses to run up front for certain periods of the event.
By the end of both races, it was NASCAR’s newest teams who stood on top of the underdog mountain: Trackhouse Racing and 23XI Racing.
Top Dog: Trackhouse Racing, 23XI Racing
Once again, it was Daniel Suarez leading the underdog charge in Saturday’s race. The newly-formed Trackhouse Racing program came off a productive week at Nashville Superspeedway, where Suarez notched his third top 10 of the year. A top-20 points finish would be very successful in the eyes of many for a brand new organization with lesser equipment than the sport’s powerhouse organizations. For Trackhouse Racing and Suarez, they’re looking poised to think bigger following a 13th in the first race of this weekend’s doubleheader.
After starting 14th, Suarez drove up into the top 10 early on and stayed there, earning three stage points with an eighth-place stage one result. Suarez was able to keep his No. 99 inside the top 15 for a large majority of the race, running many laps inside the top 10 as well. In the end, the Monterrey, Mexico native crossed the line 13th after fading a bit at the end of the race.
Sunday’s event was more of the same from Suarez, who earned two more stage points after a ninth-place stage one showing. Suarez was able to hold pace and earn a 15th-place result. Both runs now have Suarez sitting 18th in points, only 48 points back of Kurt Busch for the final playoff spot. What an underdog story it would be for Trackhouse Racing if Suarez can point his way in.
Perhaps the underdog story of the week, though came from Bubba Wallace. 23XI Racing has found the spotlight for several reasons in 2021. At the beginning of the year, it was about six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan partnering with Denny Hamlin to give Wallace arguably his best opportunity in the Cup Series to date. As the year progressed, a lack of top-10 finishes led to criticism the organization was falling short of expectations. Everyone knows there are growing pains for a startup team. But 23XI was falling behind to Trackhouse Racing in nearly every category.
After a momentum-building 14th in Saturday’s race, the No. 23 car displaying DraftKings for the first time had its best run of the year. Wallace started in the top 10 and was able to use some late strategy to finish fifth in stage one, earning six valuable points. After that, the varying strategies of teams mired Wallace outside the top 15 for quite a while. Clean air means a lot today, especially at Pocono, and Wallace was struggling to find it. However, strategy was a revolving cycle throughout the race, and crew chief Mike Wheeler’s strategy eventually got him back inside the top 15.
At the end of the race, nearly every driver at the top of the leaderboard was in conservation mode. Wallace entered it seemingly earlier than others and saving fuel paid off in a big way. While multiple drivers were forced to come in for a stop, Wallace babied his Toyota Camry around the track. That extra bit of Sunoco gasoline allowed him to finish in fifth, the first top five and top 10 for 23XI Racing and Wallace’s first top 10 since Daytona last August.
“We knew we were in a worse position than the No. 18, so we were just racing our race,” Wallace told NBC Sports following the effort. “I was trying to do the best that I could, but all in all, a really solid weekend. Great day for DraftKings, their first race on the car. First top five for the team, so I think that’s a little pen and paper action for them to re-sign, re-up there. But all in all, just happy with how the weekend went.”
Interestingly enough, Wallace made his Cup debut at Pocono for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2017 after Aric Almirola fractured his back in a race at Kansas Speedway. Flash forward four years and Wallace just earned 23XI Racing its first top-five result.
“We wanted the playoffs from the start of the season, so we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Wallace added. “We know we’re in a hole, but it’s finishes like this that we have to capitalize on. We’ve had the speed in our cars, and it’s just from me not executing, pit road not executing, all-in-all team effort for not executing on the day. We’ve had the speed so today shows what we can do.”
It cannot be noted enough just how much pressure Ryan Preece is facing this year. With no charter or guaranteed sponsorship, the future is uncertain (although he told Frontstretch’s Zach Sturniolo this weekend his JTG Daugherty Racing Cup team is running all 36 races).
But the ambiguity of 2022 isn’t fazing him. Preece proved his worth last week by winning in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Nashville. And after a learning experience on Saturday, Preece also played the fuel-saving game to earn an eighth-place finish. The Berlin, Conn. native continues to keep his name in the pipeline and show what he is truly capable of. The top 10 was his first since the Daytona Road Course in February, a much-needed result for him and the No. 37 team.
The NBC commentators noted during Sunday’s broadcast that Front Row Motorsports has greatly improved at every track type. Michael McDowell backed that statement up with two top-20 finishes on the weekend, peaking with a 17th on Sunday. Thanks to the field inversion, McDowell took the lead on an early restart and held off 2017 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. for seven laps before Truex finally took the top spot.
A career year for McDowell not only shows because of his Daytona 500 win but also where he is in the standings. Even without the massive Daytona 500 upset, McDowell would be in 17th in the standings, only 12 points behind Kurt Busch.
After a couple of solid weeks, McDowell’s teammate Anthony Alfredo is ready to leave Pocono behind him. In stage two of Saturday’s race, Alfredo was on the outside of Corey LaJoie when the No. 7 slid up into him. The contact forced both drivers into the wall, causing significant damage.
Alfredo recovered for a 26th-place result, underwhelming for the rookie driver. It was still better than the second race, though. On lap 2, Alfredo cut a tire entering the Tunnel Turn and slapped the wall hard. The driver of the No. 38 Black Rifle Coffee Company Ford finished 33rd.
Cut a tire down on lap 2 and hit the wall. Damage was pretty critical but we were able to ride it out to the end. @DeathWishCoffee @Team_FRM @FordPerformance @PoconoRaceway @NASCARonNBC pic.twitter.com/JA7GUbPD9M
— Anthony Alfredo (@anthonyalfredo) June 27, 2021
It was a tough weekend for Erik Jones as well. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver showed top-10 speed in Saturday’s race but ended up in 22nd at the end of the day.
“It was an up and down day for our No. 43 Medallion Bank Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, but just got too tight at the end,” Jones said after the first event.
It got worse on Sunday. After a solid run inside the top 20 for most of the event, Jones made contact with Cole Custer on a restart to begin stage three. The contact cut a tire on the No. 43 Medallion Bank Chevrolet, forcing Jones into the wall. It left the team with a battered 31st-place showing.
LaJoie’s streak of four straight top 20s came to an end on Sunday, but it was his sister car at Spire Motorsports that made pre-race headlines. After a vicious hit in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, Justin Haley opted to sit out the Cup event. To replace him, the team called on Xfinity veteran Justin Allgaier as soon as he climbed out of his NXS machine. After not being in a Cup car since last year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Allgaier turned in a respectable performance, finishing in 25th.
Jordan Anderson Racing has turned into quite the ultimate underdog story in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. When team owner Jordan Anderson decided to expand the team into NXS, many thought it would be a mid-pack organization. Instead, a rainout of qualifying at Daytona International Speedway to open the season left the No. 31 team with no owner points to make the field in the first 10 races where qualifying wasn’t held.
However, once it got a shot at racing onto the grid, this team has turned into the little engine that could. Josh Berry took the reins for the second time in the team’s sixth start, and he posted his second top 10, finishing ninth in the Pocono Green 225. In those six races, JAR has tallied four top 10s between Berry and Tyler Reddick, including one top five.
P9 and some stage points for us in the 31! Great day. Feel like I’m starting to figure this stuff out a little better. Thank you @j66anderson & @BommaritoAuto for the opportunity!! pic.twitter.com/3dlz6lT1Ys
— Josh Berry (@joshberry) June 27, 2021
Santino Ferrucci has also made a name for himself. Making his fifth start at Pocono for Sam Hunt Racing, Ferrucci turned in a 14th-place result. After a lackluster 30th-place showing in his debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March, the IndyCar convert earned his fourth straight top 15. Ferrucci is trying out multiple racing aspirations but a stock car career could be very fruitful if he decides on it.
Berry also led the underdog charge in the NCWTS race on Saturday, June 26 for Rackley W.A.R. Berry continues to hold a lot of stock as he seeks to prove his worth for a full-time 2022 ride. After finishing 10th two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, Berry once again showed his talent, running 11th.
Small Team Scheme of the Week
Front Row Motorsports announced a partnership with ARRMA to sponsor McDowell earlier in the week, and boy did the scheme deliver. It even got some well-earned television exposure as McDowell was able to lead seven laps in race two of the doubleheader.
— Front Row Motorsports (@Team_FRM) June 27, 2021
What to Expect Next
For the first time ever, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Road America in Plymouth, Wisc. McDowell should be one to watch again on this road course, as he won an Xfinity race there in 2016.
Speaking of special moments at Road America, the Xfinity Series also heads to the track. Jeremy Clements pulled a stunner here in 2017 for his first career win, raising hopes he’ll have a solid run on Saturday. Clements sits in the final playoff spot currently, so look for him to be licking his chops to punch his 2021 ticket.
What They’re Saying
— Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) June 27, 2021
Constant pressure finally broke through.
Strongest weekend of the year. Lots of momentum heading into Road America. pic.twitter.com/Lv0tR3gQJu
— 23XI Racing (@23XIRacing) June 27, 2021
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 27, 2021
Trouble for Corey LaJoie and Anthony Alfredo.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) June 26, 2021
Justin Allgaier gets fitted in the Justin Haley seat for today's Cup race. Their similar size means no real adjustments are necessary. pic.twitter.com/L4xKvQcEea
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 27, 2021
— Sam Hunt (@SamHunt22) June 27, 2021
What a day at @PoconoRaceway – Another Top 10!!
— Jordan Anderson (@j66anderson) June 27, 2021
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