The NASCAR Cup Series will make series history at Pocono Raceway June 27 and 28 when it runs two separate races in consecutive days for the first time.
However, NASCAR’s second-tiered Xfinity Series dipped its toe in the water this past weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, racing on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
In both events, teams used the same cars so long as they didn’t crash Saturday and need to pull out a backup car.
Many Cup Series teams have Xfinity programs, which should prove beneficial to those at the sport’s top level.
Joe Gibbs Racing fields three Xfinity Series teams and four Cup Series programs. JGR left Homestead with two wins – Harrison Burton in the Xfinity Series on Saturday and Denny Hamlin in Sunday’s Cup race.
Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart, said watching Xfinity run through a doubleheader first helped “in some areas that I haven't even considered until I watched my team live through it.”
“I'm probably not going to divulge a whole lot more information than that,” Gabehart said following Sunday’s victory. “I definitely have some things I need to talk with the shop about tomorrow based on what I watched this weekend. Certainly it's been nice to watch somebody else live through it first. Hopefully we can make some adjustments for Pocono.”
Hamlin, who pilots the No. 11 Toyota, dominated Pocono prior to the 2012 repave, sweeping the 2006 races in his rookie year and earning four more wins over the next four years. Returning to Pocono after a 2019 win, he is eager to get back to the 2.5-mile triangular track.
“I'm looking forward to the doubleheader,” Hamlin said. “I think we perform really, really good when we can think about things overnight, especially our race, go back and do it again. I love our chances when it comes to races like that.”
Alex Bowman, driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet, had a strong run at Pocono in 2018 with a third-place finish but struggled in 2019. His team has shown significant improvement in 2020, claiming a win this year at Auto Club Speedway in California, and expects some conversation between Hendrick its Xfinity Series affiliate, JR Motorsports, which is owned by former Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“We’ll communicate with JR Motorsports and figure out what worked and didn’t work for them to be able to apply things for Pocono’s doubleheader,” Bowman said Monday.
He cautioned, though, how different the cars are from Xfinity to Cup because the Xfinity Series uses composite bodies that allow the sheet metal to flex and bend, much unlike the Cup Series’ vehicles.
"You were able to see (Xfinity) cars hammer the fence at Homestead and race the same car the next day still, just kind of unbolting body panels and changing body panels out,“ Bowman said. ”Can’t do that in a Cup car. The Cup cars are so much more fragile and obviously being hand-fabricated sheet-metal bodies, they’re quite a bit different. So there are some large differences from how things work for the Xfinity cars, but I think we can definitely lean on JRM to figure out what worked for them.”
The Cup Series will run the Pocono Organics 325 on Saturday, June 27, a 325-mile, 130-lap contest, followed by the Pocono 350, a 350-mile, 140-lap race on Sunday, June 28.
Cup teams are required to use the same vehicles in each event but will be allowed to work on them in between races. Following the conclusion of Saturday’s race, the starting lineup for Sunday’s contest will be set by inverting the lead-lap finishers, with lapped cars starting Sunday’s race where they finish Saturday. For example, if 24 cars finish on the lead lap Saturday, the driver who finishes 24th would start Sunday’s race from the pole position.
Fans will not be permitted to attend the race based on safety concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.