New Hampshire dealt a vicious blow to Mike's picks last week. Ryan Newman was put behind the wall early on and never recovered once he got back into the race, finishing 39th. Kurt Busch wasn't much better, coming home 38th after a run with the wall courtesy of David Stremme. Cami, meanwhile, made a good call with the popular pick of Jeff Burton who came home seventh, and was also good with Matt Kenseth who soldiered home to 17th.
As we move on to Pocono for the second time this season, the race this Sunday will be an interesting battle. Although attrition was low during the June event, durability always comes into question here with the long frontstretch that results in sustained RPMs that play havoc on the drive train. The pressure of getting close to the Chase cutoff will also heighten anxieties and cause some drivers to take chances that they wouldn't normally take at this 2.5 mile triangular speedway.
Who should you keep an eye on at Pocono? Let's find out:
1:30pm on TNT
2005 Pole Sitter: Jamie McMurray
2005 Race Winner: Kurt Busch
Mike's Keys to the Race
Pocono Raceway is all about compromise. There are three distinct corners that each make different demands on the car, so it’s impossible to set the car up to handle perfectly all around the track. Teams must compromise, meaning you need to look for drivers who can not only keep the handle on an ill-handling race car, but still make it go fast. With the longest straightaway in Cup racing, RPMs get high at the track, so looking at teams who are notorious for durability in the engine/drive train department is also a good idea.
Cami's Instant Replay
Kurt Busch withstood the pressure of three late race restarts to secure the victory in last year's Pennsylvania 500. Busch was dominant that day, recovering from a pit miscue to lead 131 of 203 laps and win his second race of the year. Veterans Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin took turns at the front while Busch was working his way back through the field, and finished second and third respectively. Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman rounded out the Top 5.
Crank â€˜Em Up
Brian Vickers : Vickers has shown a strong consistency at Pocono during his short Cup career. In five races, he has started in the Top 10 and finished in the Top 15 each time, with two Top 5s. Vickers has also seemed to be more relaxed and competitive since his announcement that he is moving to Red Bull racing next season. My only reservation about choosing him is that Hendrick has shown occasional fits of engine failure that could reach out to bite him.
Mark Martin : Martin is known as one of the more capable drivers on the circuit when it comes to taking an ill-handling car and making the most out of it. Since 1998, he has 10 Top 5 finishes in seventeen starts at Pocono, with an average finish of 11.6. With those numbers, it’s a solid bet that Martin will come home in the Top 10 again at Pocono.
Sit â€˜Em Down
Kevin Harvick : 2006 has been a great year for Harvick and the RCR organization, but Pocono is still a difficult track for the No. 29 team. Harvick's average finish at Pocono is 17.8, and he finished just 13th in the race in June. Although he has been finishing solidly the last few weeks, it is probably best to sit Harvick down this week and wait for after the break to start utilizing him again.
Scott Riggs : Riggs has shown flashes of brilliance this year, with his last “flash” netting him a Top 10 and two Top 15 finishes the last two weeks. However, Pocono has not smiled on Riggs. His average finish at the track is 23.2, and he only has one Top 10 finish. Evernham Motorsports has not torn up Pocono Raceway either. In 23 races, they have garnered just one win, four Top 5s and six Top 10s. This is a week where you want to shy away from the No. 10 car.
Roll the Dice
Bobby Labonte : Labonte seems to have a knack for the tricky triangle in Pennsylvania. He has won three times at the track and finishes in the Top 10 there almost 30% of the time. His Petty Enterprises team has shown some signs of coming around more and more as the season has progressed, and if the cards fall Bobby’s way, this could be the weekend that it all comes together for the No. 43 team to nab their first win since 1999.
Crank ‘Em Up
Jimmie Johnson : Should we call him Johnson, or by his “real” name…”Mr. Top 10.” Sure, there is a chance he will finally get unlucky, but sometimes you've got to play the odds, and the odds are good for a strong showing for Johnson at Pocono. He's never finished outside the Top 15 in 10 Pocono starts, and swept both races here in 2004. If you are looking for past and present consistency, Johnson's your man.
Tony Stewart : Other than his win at Daytona, Pocono is the only other place that Tony has finished well in the past eight races, coming home third while nursing his injured shoulder. Currently out of the Chase, Stewart and Co. have to get things turned around quickly, and with a win and ten finishes of 7th or better at this track, Pocono is a place where Stewart can get that done.
Sit ‘Em Down
Dale Earnhardt, Jr : Depending on if you believe the driver or the crew chief, Junior either had an off week at Loudon, or the D.E.I. engine program is in the toilet. Regardless of what the real answer is, Junior took a big points hit last week, but that's not the reason I'd shy away from him at Pocono. With only four Top 10s in 14 races, this isn't one of his better tracks. The team might force things to make up for the ground lost at New Hampshire, and sometimes trying too hard can backfire on a team. For this week, I'd let Junior sit and wait for his momentum to swing the other way.
Jeremy Mayfield : When you see a driver with two wins at a particular track and five other Top 10 finishes there, you might think he is worth a look. But given how poorly Mayfield and his Evernham Motorsports team have run this year, it's time to look away from using him. Mayfield was 23rd here last month, and hasn't posted a Top 10 at Pocono since 2004. Don't waste a slot on him this time around.
Roll the Dice
Denny Hamlin : Hamlin has an average finish at Pocono that can't get any better; right now, he's one for one, picking up the win here in June. On the outside looking in for the Chase, Hamlin needs another good Pocono performance to help get him back in the mix. His results lately haven't been terrible, but Top 15 finishes aren't going to cut it for the Chase, and this team knows it. Pocono is known for sweeps, so Hamlin is worth a second look.
Mike: Nice pick with Jimmie Johnson. Way to go out on a limb.
Cami: Well, adventurous doesn’t always pay off. Sometimes being boring is just fine.
Mike: Well, you’re probably right, but I think Johnson is due for the good luck to run out. One of these days, they won’t rebound for a top 10.
Cami: You should hope so…that way, you can close the gap on me a bit. Tough luck at Loudon last week.
Mike: No doubt. Nothing like picking two of the final five finishers.
Cami: But good call on Vickers for Pocono. He should be a solid pick and maybe not a lot of people would have thought about him.
Mike: Yeah. He has always seemed to be strong at Pocono. I think this could be his win before he leaves Hendrick. I’d like to see your Hamlin pick pan out, too. It would be cool to see a rookie sweep Pocono again.
Cami: I think he has a shot…it would be a perfect story come Monday. It also looks like we agreed on another thing; to stay away from Evernham this weekend.
Mike: Yeah. Other than Bill Elliott, they have never really done well there. I’m curious about Mayfield’s mindset now that it is basically assumed that Sadler is taking his seat. Before we go, for your sake I hope you are right on your pick with Junior. If not, Junior Nation will come raining down on you.
Cami: They will anyway. I put myself in a no-win situation there. Either I’m right and they’re mad, or I’m wrong and you catch up with me.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Its only one race. Don’t get too full of yourself!
Weekly Results: Loudon
Crank ‘Em Up:
Ryan Newman – 39th
Kurt Busch – 38th
Sit ‘Em Down:
Kevin Harvick – 5th
Elliott Sadler – 25th
Roll the Dice:
Dale Jarrett – 31st
Crank ‘Em Up:
Matt Kenseth – 14th
Jeff Burton – 7th
Sit ‘Em Down:
Carl Edwards – 2nd
Jeff Gordon – 15th
Roll the Dice:
Ryan Newman – 39th
Season Totals (Average Finish):
Crank Em Up- 38.5
Sit Em Down- 15
Roll the Dice- 31
Crank Em Up- 10.5
Sit Em Down- 8.5
Roll the Dice- 39
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