NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Insider: Making Right Pocono Picks Proves a Bit Tricky

The NASCAR Sprint Cup series makes its first of two trips to the Tricky Triangle (otherwise known as Pocono Raceway) Sunday afternoon and just trying to figure out who can do well on this 2.5-mile track with three distinct turns can be a bit tricky at times.

There are a number of factors that go into making some type of educated picks here. First, it seems the weather is almost always an issue at some point during the weekend at Pocono. No matter what the forecast says, a late afternoon thunderstorm is always a possibility on this track located in the middle of the Pocono mountain range. Also, horsepower can really come into play on this track as the frontstretch is an amazingly long 3,740 feet. So, the last thing you want to hear from your favorite driver or crew chief coming into Pocono is that they are down a little on horsepower this weekend.

Something else to look at here is that you need a driver and team that has the ability to endure. Even though the races are 400 miles now instead of 500, Pocono can be tough on equipment because of the different turns and that long frontstretch and having a driver who knows how to take care of tires, engines, and transmissions where shifting is an option, is an important factor as well.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

One of the most consistent and reliable drivers this season has been Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Sure, he will be one of the favorites at Michigan next week, but Junior has hung around at almost all of the 13 races this season and is one of four drivers with eight or more top 10 finishes. Junior has been solid at Pocono in the last four races, with three top 10 finishes, including a best finish of third. He did not lead a ton of laps in those races at 55, but based off the consistency he’s displayed this season, I’m going on a bit of hunch here that he could be in line for his second win of the season.

It’s hard to overlook that other Hendrick drivers at Dover too, as Jimmie Johnson will be going for his third straight win. But just like that, the questions about how long it was going to take Johnson to win this season, have now turned into frustration for some because they think he wins too much.

So, what’s the guy to do?

What Johnson has done at Pocono in the last four races there is win and turn in another top 10 finish, while his worst finish in those races is 14th. It’s also hard not to notice that Johnson has led 215 laps in the last four races at Pocono; no other driver has led more than 67 laps in the last four races.

There’s two ways you can play it this weekend: Bet that Jimmie Johnson wins three-straight, or lose. Really, just pick a Hendrick drive and you’ll be money.
There’s two ways you can play it this weekend: Bet that Jimmie Johnson wins three-straight, or lose. Really, just pick a Hendrick drive and you’ll be money.

And the driver to lead those 67 laps just happens to be Johnson’s and Junior’s teammate, Kasey Kahne. Now, Kahne doesn’t have a win yet this season, the only one of the Hendrick cars that does not, so you know he and his team won’t want to feel left out forever. Kahne has won one of the last four races at Pocono and also has another top 10 finish.

So, this could be his chance to get into Victory Lane.

A driver who has visited Victory Lane at Pocono once in the last four races and six times in his career is the other Hendrick driver, Jeff Gordon. He also has a remarkable 29 top 10 finishes in 42 races at Pocono. One of my most interesting memories of attending a race at Pocono was watching someone who was quite obviously not a Jeff Gordon fan give the “No. 1” finger-salute to Gordon every single lap of race, even though Gordon wasn’t in contention to win that day. But Gordon could very well finish in the No. 1 spot this Sunday.

MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS

Like Kahne, another driver who is desperate to get a win anywhere, anytime is Tony Stewart, and Pocono just might be the place for him. He’s been strong at that track in the last four races with an average finish of 5.25, the best among active drivers. He’s finished between third and ninth in those races, however, you can’t say he’s been dominant, either, because he’s led just three laps. Pocono can sometimes turn into a fuel-mileage race and Stewart knows how to save a lap or two when needed, so if that scenario plays out, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t go for it.

Pocono has long been a favorite place for Denny Hamlin. He hasn’t had much recent success there with two top 10s in the last four races, and best finish of fifth. However, Hamlin has four career wins among his 10 top 10 finishes in 16 career races there, including sweeping the 2006 races from the pole for his first career win. Granted, that was eight years and three generations of cars ago, however the No. 11 team has a win already to lock them in The Chase, so this is a track and race where they can go for it and not worry about anything.

With a win at Talladega already, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team are free to pull out all the stops at Pocono, where Hamlin had so much success early on in his career.
With a win at Talladega already, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team are free to pull out all the stops at Pocono, where Hamlin had so much success early on in his career.

One driver who has managed to run well at Pocono, no matter which team he is on, is Joey Logano. He has one win in the last four races there and also has two other top 10 finishes. Logano’s worst finish was a 13th. And you might remember Pocono was where we saw Logano’s temper rise when he was wrecked by Kevin Harvick while fighting for a top five spot. It’s where the comment about DeLana Harvick, Kevin’s wife, wearing the fire suit in that family comment came from. Just an example of why Logano is better when he is calmer and with how good he has been at most tracks this year, he’s got plenty of reason to be calm and confident.

Another driver in this group to look at is Ryan Newman. Sure, he’s on a different team, now but he’s still driving a Chevrolet and he’s managed his way to some good finishes recently at Pocono. In the last four races there, Newman has three top-10 finishes, but no wins. He’s finished between fourth and 13th in those races for an average finish of 6.75, second behind Stewart, while leading 21 laps. While RCR hasn’t made much noise as a whole this year, Newman has four Top 10s and is 11th in points, so this might be the week to say “Hello, Newman” when making your picks.

DARK HORSES

Last week I went with one of the two obvious picks in this category with Kyle Larson and was rewarded with his 11th place finish. And once again this week, Larson, and fellow rookie Austin Dillon are the two obvious choices here. The question is if you want to use one of them yet, or save them for later in the season. Since I’m down in the standings, I’m kind of throwing patience out of the window for now; there are just too many points to make up.

So, in this case, I like Dillon a little better than Larson. Pocono is more of an endurance track, one where you hang around until the end, and then all of a sudden you are in a line for a top 10 finish. Dillon has just one of those this year, but I think his more patient style of racing will suit him well at Pocono.

Kyle Larson hasn’t raced at Pocono before, but Austin Dillon has. Will that give the No. 3 an advantage this weekend, or will Larson pick it up in 100 laps like he has all year?
Kyle Larson hasn’t raced at Pocono before, but Austin Dillon has. Will that give the No. 3 an advantage this weekend, or will Larson pick it up in 100 laps like he has all year?

Going for Larson here it not a bad move either, especially if you are locked into a budget where he is affordable, or if you are not on pick limits. However, if you have a nice lead and want to go for someone else besides Larson or Dillon, this might be the race to do that.

The two other possibilities here are Danica Patrick or Justin Allgaier. But if you do pick them and they give you a finish inside the top 20, then consider yourself fortunate.

Rearview Mirror

The overall leader in the Frontstretch Fantasy League on Yahoo! remains LeftTurnOnly with 3,739 points followed by Ace Racin’ at 3,622, NoBarNascar at 3,595, Mojothemonkey at 3,575 and Doo Doo Brown Racing at 3,542. The biggest mover of the week was Joseph88 moving up 12 spots in the standings to 24th.
The top weekly score came from team Yellow Stripe with 373 points. It had race winner Jimmie Johnson, second-place Brad Keselowksi, eighth-place Joey Logano and 11th-place Kyle Larson.

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