The Frontstretch: Fantasy Insider: Hamlin, Stewart Seeking 2011 Breakthroughs At Pocono by Brett Poirier -- Thursday June 9, 2011

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Brad Keselowski’s victory last Sunday at Kansas may have been termed by many as a surprise, but really the win just fit into a new disturbing fantasy trend. Keselowski, who led nine laps on his way to victory, became the sixth driver in the last 13 races to lead under 15 laps and win the race. It has happened in three of the last four races.

In the previous race at Charlotte, Kevin Harvick led two laps. Dover is the lone exception in the last three weeks, but in that race Matt Kenseth led only 33 of the 400 laps. At Darlington, Regan Smith led 11 laps to pick up his first career win.

The fastest driver isn’t winning the majority of these races as of late. Fuel strategy and late-race restarts are really mixing up the results at race end in 2011 and for that reason, Keselowski’s win shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

This week, the series heads to the tricky triangle of Pocono Raceway. The 2.5-mile track usually lends itself to long green flag runs with the fastest driver finishing at the front, but the way this year is going,\ we will just have to wait and see what happens on Sunday.

Picks

Not only did Denny Hamlin run up front Sunday, he did it at a track he hasn’t had much success at. The No. 11 team seems to have turned a corner. After his third-place finish at Kansas, Hamlin has picked up four top 10s in his last five races and has surged up to 11th in the standings, one point behind Ryan Newman.

Denny Hamlin may have had a slow start to 2011, but he’s been running well of late and going to his best track — Pocono.

Nobody has been better at Pocono then Hamlin. He has won four of the last 10 races (including last spring) and has eight top-10 finishes in that span. Hamlin finally has a little momentum on his side and he is headed to his best track. Look for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to solidify himself as a Chase contender with a win on Sunday.

It has been a trying week at Stewart-Haas Racing after Director of Competition Bobby Hutchens was released by the team. Stewart-Haas hasn’t performed up to its own expectations this season. Both Tony Stewart and Newman are winless and Newman has been sliding back in the standings.

Stewart was solid at one of his best tracks last Sunday, coming home with an eighth-place finish. He should be even better at Pocono on Sunday. Stewart is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in the last four races (1 win, three top-5s) there. He has 18 top-10s in 24 career starts at Pocono, proving he is dependable if nothing else.

Drivers who excel at road courses have a history of doing well at Pocono. That has proven to be true for Juan Pablo Montoya. He was eighth in the spring race last year and has three top 10s in his last four starts in Pennsylvania. His average finish of 8.5 in that span is second only to Stewart.

Another driver who has had success at the triangle is Stewart’s teammate, Newman. By no means has Newman set the world on fire, but he has six top-five finishes and the seventh best average finish (12.42) of active drivers. He has one top-10 finish in his last eight races and this team will be in need of a good run on Sunday.

No driver sticks out in the bottom-tier group as a safe pick. Pocono is a tough race track, and the best teams usually run at the front. Smith was 18th and 21st in the two Pocono races last season, and while that isn’t outstanding, this team has been better nearly everywhere they have gone this year. Smith probably won’t compete for the win or even a top 10 this weekend, but in bottom-tier fantasy groups, a top-20 finish should be valued.

Bench

Joey Logano had a top-10 finish going until he was turned late in the race by Harvick. I’m sure we all remember the result of that incident. Other than that one decent run, Logano finished 23rd, 25th and 27th at Pocono in his previous three starts. Take note of those numbers in the last sentence because they haven’t been far off, or off at all, of where Logano has been this season. He has finished 23rd, 25th or 27th in six of the 13 races this year. He was 23rd last week at Kansas.

David Ragan has been running better as of late. He has been the hot pick out of the bottom-tier drivers, but you may want to stick him back on the bench for this week. He has one finish inside the top 15 in his last five starts at Pocono. With limited numbers of picks in most fantasy leagues, Ragan could be used more effectively most anywhere else, especially at the 1.5-mile tracks.

Until next week, good luck my friends!

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