NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch Fantasy Insider: Trying to Overcome the Pythagorean Theorem of Racing at Pocono

The weekend’s trip to Pocono Raceway is about as far away from the Monster Mile as one can get. An enormous (and enormously wide) 2.5-mile triangle, Pocono is truly a one of a kind racetrack. With long straightaways and three unique corners, both handling and horsepower will be at a premium this coming weekend. And with NASCAR’s restrictions on gear packages, the old adage of picking drivers apt at road racing when the Series tackles Pocono is no longer sure-fire. However, there are a handful of drivers out there that have flat figured this racing gem among resorts out, and so has the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider.

By the Numbers

Best Average Finish at Pocono Raceway (Since 2005, active drivers)
Denny Hamlin, 6 starts, 6.2
Kevin Harvick, 8 starts, 9.6
Mark Martin, 8 starts, 10.0
Jeff Gordon, 8 starts, 11.0
Jimmie Johnson, 8 starts, 11.2

2008 Pocono 500 Top-Five Finishers
Kasey Kahne, 69 laps led
Brian Vickers, 18 laps led
Denny Hamlin, 17 laps led
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 0 laps led
Jeff Burton, 0 laps led

Chateaus

Carl Edwards took to the big triangle in Pennsylvania like a duck to water when he joined the Cup series. In his first trip to Pocono, Edwards won the race. He finished fourth in his second race but then hit a stretch of four races where he didn’t run that well. However, his last two races have been much better with a ninth and first place finish. While his season has not been up to the standards that Edwards expected at the onset of the season, his last two races have shown much improvement with a fourth at Charlotte and a seventh at Dover. This weekend should be a prime opportunity for Edwards to break into the win column for the first time in 2009. – Mike

Johnson turned in one of his most dominant performances in recent memory on the high banks of Dover, and in doing so built tremendous momentum heading to Pennsylvania. Johnson has scored six top-10 finishes in the last eight Pocono races, one of only three drivers to do so. Further, in COT competition at the triangular oval, Johnson has an average finish of 4.5 and has led more than 30 laps in each of those races. There aren’t many safer bets than the No. 48 this weekend. – Bryan

Cabins

Hamlin hasn’t been setting the world on fire this season, but he hasn’t been chopped liver either. He has four top-10 finishes, but he has another five finishes of 14th or better. That consistency has put him seventh in the points even after a crash took him out at Dover and relegated him to a 36th-place finish. Hamlin’s history at Pocono has been very impressive in his short Cup career. In his six career races, he has two wins, four top fives and five top 10s. His only bad race was the second Pocono race last year where he came home 23rd, but still on the lead lap. Hamlin’s got the highest average finish among active drivers since 1998 at the track, and that number should get even better after the race this weekend. – Mike

Tony Stewart came within a few laps of scoring SHR’s first points win at Dover… and that was at a track that had been a struggle in recent seasons for Smoke. Now we’re headed to Pocono… a track that’s been anything but that. Stewart has six top-10 finishes in the last seven Pocono races, and has visited victory lane here in the past. Combine that kind of driving record with momentum, a consistent team and Hendrick horsepower, and it would not surprise anyone to see SHR finally take the checkers on Sunday. – Bryan

Shacks

AJ Allmendinger and his No. 44 team have definitely cooled in recent weeks, but fortunately for them Pocono is up next. After his disastrous 2007 rookie campaign, the Dinger shone very brightly in both Pocono races last season, finishing in the top 20 and on the lead lap in each 500-mile event. And while the horsepower in his Richard Petty Motorsports machine may not be what he had when driving for Team Red Bull, he’s got perhaps the best teammate he could ask for this weekend: Kahne won this race for the same organization from the pole last year. – Bryan

Bobby Labonte has always run well at Pocono. He has three career victories at the tricky triangle and an average finish of 17.7 in 32 races. Even when he was running in sub-par Petty equipment, he posted three top-15 finishes in six races. Labonte’s season has been a rollercoaster with one top-five finish and an average finish of 23.9. However, he has as many finishes of 12th or better (two) as he does finishes worse than 30th. Pocono is a driver’s track and Labonte has proven throughout his career that he can excel there. When you’re looking for a low-priced option for your fantasy team this weekend, you will be well served adding Labonte to your roster. – Mike

Last Word

Pocono is a true test of man and machine. Not so much the drivers, since their skill is always tested, but the crew chiefs. Three distinct corners offer three different challenges to the crew chiefs. How the cars get through the Tunnel Turn can afford the drivers passing opportunities in the short chute while turn 3 sets up the longest straightaway in the series. That straightaway will put the machines to the ultimate test. The high RPMs for that sustained period of time will cause engine attrition to possibly come into the picture. The fact that some Dodge teams are going to be using the new engine for the first time might be cause for pause among fantasy owners. Owners can also expect to see teams that are on a roll right now continue their hot streaks, so if your team has had some good finishes recently, they’ll probably continue. If not, a change in line up might be in order.

Results of our experts in the Frontstretch Games

Game of Tomorrow

Bryan – 3185
Mike – 3165

Hat Dance Dynasty

Bryan – 2597
Mike – 2482

Frontstretch Fourplay

Bryan – 6597
Mike – 5742

In order to help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week and the total for the season.

Totals

Bryan 394 4481
Mike 396 4431

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