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Through the Field: Expect the Unexpected

by Elliot Hicks

If Saturday’s opening race of the Pocono double-header race weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series taught us one thing, it’s this: Nothing is over until it’s over.

This fact hit Kyle Larson or at least one of his front tires hard as his attempt at a fourth straight points victory (five in a row if you count the All-Star Race) ended in the final corner of the last lap at the track known as the Tricky Triangle.

Larson had well-earned the victory, playing the strategy right and passing his teammate Alex Bowman late in the race for the lead. But the racing gods weren’t in his favor to become the first to win four in a row since 2007 and only the eighth driver ever to do it in the 73-year history of NASCAR Cup racing.

And though those racing gods gave Larson’s No. 5 car enough fuel to finish Sunday’s race, it was another Kyle Busch who took the victory Sunday, with Larson ending up in second.

Sometimes things will be out of your control, like they were with Larson. But the point is that no matter how certain things may look, always put your best effort forward and keep trying until the very end. You never know how things may turn out.

We honestly have no idea how the Cup Series cars will race as they head back to Wisconsin’s 4-mile-plus Road America on Independence Day, but things will be more traditional the following week in Atlanta.

Regardless, the wild card road course race could be an advantage to pick up some big-time fantasy winnings. Chase Elliott, the road course favorite, may have won the most recent, brand new road course races at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and the series’ first trip to Daytona’s road course last season, but I’m more focused on some potential longshots for the holiday road course race.

Drivers to Watch at Road America

The Ringers:  While as of press time the entry list has not been released for the race, it’s a near certainty that Xfinity regulars and road course specialists A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric will enter the race in their part-time No. 16 and 33 entries respectively.

A.J. Allmendinger’s only Cup Series victory came in 2014 at Sonoma Raceway.

Both drivers have had past experience and success on road courses, not only in NASCAR but in other auto racing series as well, and have been competitive this season on the road course events they have entered.

The defending Xfinity Series Champ, Cindric, finished 25th in his lone Cup road course start at COTA, but he led four laps and was competitive for much of the race. And in the 2021 Xfinity road course events, Cindric finished in the top five in two of them and was headed for another at Mid-Ohio before an incident sent him to 14th.

As for Allmendinger, his Cup starts have both come on road courses and have been top-10 efforts. On the Xfinity side, he crashed while leading at Daytona’s road course, won the Mid-Ohio race and was the runner-up at COTA.

While in the past the road course ringers were never the ones to pick, things feel different this year, and it is nearly a given that these two drivers will have good finishes this upcoming weekend.

Martin Truex Jr.:  While in the past, Truex would be a big favorite to perform well week in and week out, his No. 19 team has been in a downward spiral since their third win of 2021 at Darlington in May. But the lone top-10 finish they’ve had since then? A third-place finish at Sonoma. This could be the week that Truex  gets back on track.

Ross Chastain:  The “Melonman” Ross Chastain isn’t usually known to be a road course specialist, but a combination of strong momentum for his No. 42 team and some good finishes this year on road courses make them a team to watch. Although the finishing positions were terrible for Chastain at the Pocono doubleheader, he had good speed in both races.

He finished seventh at Sonoma and fourth at COTA and we don’t know how he would have ended up at the Daytona road course as he was crashed out early on. The watermelons in Wisconsin had better watch out for a potential victory lane melon smash from Chastain on July 4.

Thanks for reading. For more fantasy NASCAR and life advice, follow me on Twitter, @EHicks39, or check out more of my work at Elliot-Hicks.com.

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