Having trouble with your fantasy team this year? Does it seem you can’t ever come out on top and win a week? Well, look no further than the last two weeks in the Nextel Cup Series for inspiration. Casey Mears and Martin Truex, Jr. each won their first career Nextel Cup events in the two races heading up to this weekend's race at Pocono, a track where Denny Hamlin and Jeremy Mayfield also won their first Cup races. Pocono does present a unique challenge, but with the right setup (or lineup) just about anyone can come out on top. Pocono’s unique triangular shape and tendency to attract mechanical failure leads to one of the more wide-open fantasy races of the year; if there’s ever a time to play around with your lineup, this is it.
So, which drivers will help you fly to the front of the fantasy field this weekend and help you taste sweet victory? And which ones will falter, leaving a sour taste in your mouth? Let's find out in this week's Fantasy Picks N Pans:
Cami's Race Rewind:
Not even a blown tire and spin in the grass could deny rookie Denny Hamlin in last year's Pocono 500. Hamlin started from the pole and led all but one of the first 50 laps. Things seemed on cruise control for the No. 11 car before all of a sudden, Hamlin’s tire let go and sent him spinning down the straightaway and into the grass. But after several trips down pit road to make repairs, Hamlin worked his way back through the field to win his first Nextel Cup Series race. Ironically, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart, new BFF's after Dover last week (yeah, right), finished second and third. Meanwhile, one of the scariest moments of the year occurred when the brakes on the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet let go, sending Jeff Gordon hard into the turn one wall. Luckily, Gordon was unhurt and able to walk away from one of the more badly mangled cars he’d wrecked throughout his career. Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth rounded out the Top 5.
Mike's Keys to the Race:
Pocono Raceway is one of the most uniquely shaped ovals raced on anywhere. The track is 2.5 miles long with three individual corners. Turn one is banked 14 degrees, turn two is eight degrees, and turn three is six degrees. The radius of each corner is also different, ultimately resulting in every team having to compromise in some shape or form with their handling package. There is no way to make a car work perfectly through all three corners, so the teams that can get the most out of all their car in two out of the three will be the ones to run near the front. Expect Joe Gibbs cars to be formidable considering Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have both won at the track. Hamlin actually swept both races last year, adding to Bobby Labonte’s three wins here under the JGR banner. Meanwhile, Hendrick Motorsports has had a handle on Pocono since Tim Richmond dominated the track back in the mid-1980s. Jimmie Johnson swept the races at Pocono in 2004, and Jeff Gordon has won at the track three times.
Those are the obvious choices, but if you're looking for a sleeper, don't be surprised to see Casey Mears run near the front and possibly win this weekend. Brian Vickers was strong at Pocono in the No. 25 with three top 5s and no finishes lower than 14th in six career starts.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
Jimmie Johnson has been a consistent performer at Pocono Raceway in the past. In 10 races at the track, he has never finished lower than 15th with two wins and six top 10s. Johnson is also enjoying a strong run as the defending champion of the series and drives a Chevrolet, which seems to be nearly mandatory to win a race on the circuit this year. Finally, he also drives for Hendrick Motorsports, which has fielded the winning car in nine of the 13 races this season.
Carl Edwards has been running more and more like he just might break his winless drought over the last few weeks. He has two Top 5 finishes in the last three races and has also led laps in all three. Add to that the fact that he won the very first time he ever raced a Cup car on Pocono Raceway, and the chance of Carl's Truck driver finally shaving is looking rather good for this weekend.
Sit â€˜Em Down:
Elliott Sadler is simply not feeling the love. After starting the season strong at Daytona, he has only been able to notch one Top 10 and three Top 15 finishes all year long. He also drives for Evernham Motorsports, who have apparently lost the handle on how to make Cup cars run well. Sadler needs his own magic formula; he’s scored just two Top 10 finishes in his entire Cup career at Pocono. Clearly, don't count on Sadler to make any big improvements on his subpar season this weekend.
Reed Sorenson is still only in his second year of racing at the Cup level. That is often forgotten by many of his critics, but that simple fact can most certainly have a negative impact on his success at Pocono. Outside of Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, most rookies don't fare well here, in large part due to the tricky nature of the three varying corners. While Sorenson has run better this year, he's still not shown a consistent pattern of results, and Pocono is just too difficult of a track to expect him to step up and finish well on.
Roll the Dice:
Casey Mears won the race at Charlotte over Memorial Day weekend, and many people predicted that would merely take the lid off of what would surely be many more wins. Add to the fact that he now knows how to win, the No. 25 team has long run well at Pocono, and Hendrick Motorsports has notched 10 victories at the track, and you can feel some confidence that Mears is going to put on a good performance this weekend.
Crank â€˜Em Up:
OK, this may be the obvious pick but I'll remind you anyway. Denny Hamlin has an average finish of first at Pocono, making him one of the obvious pre-race favorites. Plus, Hamlin has been so close to winning this year that you just know his time is coming soon. Perhaps Pocono is a too obvious choice for that first win, but you can't pass up a hot driver on a track he clearly excels at. Look for Hamlin to deliver win number one of the year or at least another solid Top 5 or 10.
After last week's run-in with Kurt Busch, you know that Tony Stewart is going to be a man on a mission. His poor finish at Dover knocked him back to seventh in the standings. Normally, I don't read too much into numerology, but go with me on this for a second: Smoke has finished seventh at Pocono five times in his career and is currently seventh in the standings. That was just too much coincidence for me to pass up. Plus, he's a past Pocono winner who has 11 Top 10 finishes in 16 starts and he's more than a bit ticked off. Look for Stewart to be near the front at the end of the day.
Sit â€˜em down:
So far there hasn't been much of a sophomore slump for Clint Bowyer but unlike his rival from the freshman class of 2006, he hasn't had the same kind of fortune at Pocono. Last year he finished 21st and 41st in both his starts here, though; those are not really promising finishes that make you want to use him for your fantasy team. Bowyer has been on a roll as of late, but he has a tendency of not being able to keep a hot streak alive. That being said, please hold off using Bowyer for one more week.
Another driver who can't get on a roll is Kyle Busch, he'll be up one week and down the next. In the last three non-CoT races, Busch has finishes of 37th, 30th and 17th. Other than a fourth place finish at Pocono in his first time out, he has an average finish of 24th. Wait until the next CoT race before thinking of planting Shrub on your team.
Roll the Dice:
This could be the wildest wildcard pick I've made. But if he can find a way to get into the race, look out for Brian Vickers this weekend. In recent week, Vickers has been the class of the Toyota field and was in contention for the manufacturer's first win at the Coca-Cola 600. During his time in the No. 25, Vickers posted three Top 5 finishes at Pocono with no finish worse than 14th. If your fantasy game lets you make picks after qualifying and Vickers makes the race, I believe he's a solid choice this weekend.
Mike: So, are you officially on the Joe Gibbs payroll or just receiving kickbacks? I hope for your sake they don’t have an engine gremlin pop up that takes all of their cars out.
Cami: I’ll never tell my secrets. But let’s say Junior might not be the only person they are negotiating with. Honestly, I couldn’t pass up Hamlin after you took Johnson for the 600. But if you notice, I didn’t take Yeley.
Mike: I see, well let’s hope your pick works out about as well as Johnson did for me. I am wondering if Stewart will be on his game or not.
Cami: I think Kurt may have stirred Tony’s competitive fire a bit more. He usually runs well pissed off.
Mike: I don’t know that you’re that far out. Vickers has a history at Pocono, albeit in the No. 25. But the whole Red Bull organization has been looking better and better. I’m just hoping that the one week I take Casey Mears that he actually lives up to some of his potential again.
Cami: If Vickers can make it in, I think he’ll have a good race. But that’s the gamble. For your sake, I hope Mears treats you better than he did me when I picked him.
Mike: I think he will just because you always had bad luck with him. By the way, are you really thinking that Hamlin can go three for three?
Cami: If not, I think he’ll come real close. He seems to be the king of second and third place finishes this year. It’s not a CoT race, but his average at Pocono is just too good not to make the call.
Mike: I hear you. Also, I’m thinking the time has come for Edwards to shake the monkey and get his truck driver a clean shave.
Cami: He had some bad luck at Pocono last year from a likely source; I suggest he stays away from Tony for sure. But you might be right on that one. You need a Top 5 or 10 finish after last week, I’m starting to sneak up on you. If not for Tony’s troubles with Buschy I would have really made a move on you.
Mike: I know you would have. I am kicking myself for actually drinking the Hendrick CoT Koolaid. I finally jump on their bandwagon with both feet and get burned. I still think Johnson will have a good run this week.
Cami: He probably will, he can’t stay out of the Top 10 for long. But that says something about how good Hendrick has been when 15th and 17th place finishes is getting “burned”. Of course, I’m banking on Kyle getting burned again this week.
Mike: I’m starting to wonder what is going on in the No. 5 camp. I’m wondering if he’s pushing too hard to try and make up for mistakes, l or if its just been bad luck and overaggression.
Cami: I tend to believe it’s him trying too hard and getting overly aggressive. Most of the time this year, when he’s bad…he’s REALLY bad.
Mike: Yes he is. I guess we’ll see how that pans out this week.
Crank â€˜Em Up – 13.5
Sit â€˜Em Down – 23.2
Roll the Dice – 17.8
Crank â€˜Em Up – 11.8
Sit â€˜Em Down – 24.4
Roll the Dice – 19.6
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