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Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on August 1, 2012
Well it seems like we were just here a little bit ago, but the boys of the Sprint Cup Series are back at Pocono Raceway this weekend for the Pennsylvania 400. This time–hopefully–we shouldn’t have the pit road speeding penalties like we saw back in June. People often compare Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway now with the re-pavement, so it’s convenient that the Brickyard was last weekend. Last time we were at The Tricky Triangle, it was a good opportunity to use some sleeper picks, so be sure to keep that in mind this week.
During The Last Race At Pocono…Joey Logano led 49 of the 160 laps and bumped Mark Martin out of the way for his first Cup win of the season. The #20 Toyota was super fast all weekend and even won the pole for that event. Martin finished 2nd and then it was Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson who followed him to the line. Finally, the “Pocono Master,” Denny Hamlin, rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…We’re back to a normal schedule this weekend, thankfully. There’s two practice sessions scheduled for Friday, with the first starting at noon and Happy Hour beginning at 3:30 pm. Then, on Saturday, the starting lineup will be set, with qualifying beginning at 10:30 am on ESPN2. The Pennsylvania 400 should start around 1:20 pm on Sunday. All times are in Eastern. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, you won’t have to lock down with your rosters until Saturday morning, so at least we get to see the cars on the track before making a decision.
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Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Pennsylvania 400:
1. Jimmie Johnson – Saying that the #48 team is ‘hot’ is a complete understatement right now. Over the last two months of Sprint Cup action, Johnson is averaging 37.4 points per race–and that’s including his 36th-place finish at the second Daytona race! As I said before, some people are starting to compare Indianapolis to Pocono, and if Johnson starts up front Sunday I think we could see the second dominating performance in a row out of this team. Back in June here at the Tricky Triangle, Five Time started mid-pack, had two speeding penalties, and still finished 4th. He had one of the best cars that weekend–if not the best–and I expect the same to be true this time around. I consider the #48 a lock for a top 5 and I haven’t even seen the cars on the track yet. Oh, and one more thing: Johnson has the best average finish here of anyone in the series (8.8).
2. Denny Hamlin – I personally consider Denny Hamlin the king of Pocono right now and for the past few years. He’s understood this track since his rookie year and his stat line is super impressive: thirteen career starts, four visits to victory lane, and eight top 5s. He has led 660 laps at this track, which is second only to Jeff Gordon, who has 957. However, Gordon also has twenty-six more starts than Hamlin. When you look at the last six events here at Pocono, the #11 has been P1 for at least 19 circuits in all of them, and has never had a driver rating less than 105.7. It also helps that Hamlin had a great run last weekend in Indianapolis, and has been pretty hot over the last two months (four top 6 finishes in seven Sprint Cup races). He’s going to be a favorite pick among fantasy racers this weekend, and for good reason; Denny Hamlin is just that good here at Pocono.
3. Jeff Gordon – Gordon finished 19th here in June, but really had a better car than that for most of the race (just check out his Yahoo! race chart). That was the time when this team was still trying to get out of the slump that they were in, and navigating away from the bad luck. They’ve definitely turned things around, though; with his 5th-place finish in Indianapolis last weekend, Jeff Gordon has now finished 6th or better in five of the last six Sprint Cup races, and the lone exception was Daytona where he ended up 12th. Jeff is a five-time winner at Pocono and has came home with twenty-seven top 10 finishes in thirty-nine starts (69.2%). You just can’t go against this team right now (or any of the Hendrick bunch for that matter).
4. Kyle Busch – This team was nowhere on my radar for Indianapolis (early in the week anyway) but I’m not letting that happen at Pocono this weekend. Kyle’s stats here aren’t great at all (18.3 average finish and only five top 10s in fifteen starts) but I really think this team is hitting on something, and they’re going to need to find victory lane soon to lock themselves into the Chase this year. It seems like Rowdy really got ahold of this place after his fourth season in Sprint Cup. Since then, Kyle has finished 2nd or 3rd in three of his last five Pocono starts, and he started 4th here in June but ended up 30th after an engine problem. Barring any mechanical failure, though, I expect the #18 to challenge for a top 10 finish at least on Sunday.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Hey, did you hear? Junior is leading the Sprint Cup points! ESPN only mentioned that forty-seven times during the race last Sunday. Anyway, like Kyle Busch, NASCAR’s favorite driver doesn’t have a great history here at Pocono, but he should still be a good pick for fantasy owners come Sunday. Back in June, the #88 led 36 laps and should have challenged for a top 5 but they played the conservative route with fuel and took an 8th-place finish in the end. Earnhardt has been a 4th-place machine here lately, finishing there in three of the last four Sprint Cup races, including last weekend in Indianapolis. He’s on a three-race streak of top 10s here at the Tricky Triangle and should easily make that four straight once the checkered flag waves on Sunday. Heck, it wouldn’t even surprise me to see Junior standing in victory lane.
6. Tony Stewart - Somehow Smoke was able to salvage a top 10 in his home state last weekend, and I think that says a lot about this team right now. Stewart now has just one finish worse than 12th in the last seven Sprint Cup races, and that exception was at Daytona, so I’m not sure it really counts. At Pocono specifically, Tony has made twenty-seven starts and has visited victory lane two separate times, the most recent in 2009. He came home 3rd here in June and could easily challenge for a top 5 this Sunday.
7. Matt Kenseth – Coming off his worst finish of the season last weekend in Indianapolis (35th), Kenseth should be looking to gain some points here in Pocono this weekend–well, in ESPN’s mind, anyway. Matt seemed pretty disinterested in points on Sunday, probably because he’s virtually guaranteed a spot in the Chase this year, barring some kind of epic meltdown that we’ve never seen before. Anyway, Kenseth has a 13.9 average finish in twenty-five career starts at this track, and he always seems to run better here in the summer than in the fall. In the last two August races at the Tricky Triangle, Matt has finished 16th and 18th, and in the last two June races he has finished 7th and 8th. That’s worth noting, so if the #17 looks slow in practice, you may want to go with someone else.
8. Kevin Harvick – “Happy” has five straight finishes of 14th or better at Pocono and I’m expecting something of the same here on Sunday out of the #29 team. What’s worth noting (to me anyway) is that Harvick’s car was junk for most of last weekend and the team still worked on it all day and was able to walk out of Indy with a 13th-place finish. Kevin has made twenty-three starts here in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, and has an average finish of right around 14th. He’s only led 5 laps, believe it or not, and those all came in the 2010 June race. This team hasn’t been able to finish better than 8th in the past two months of Sprint Cup racing, and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Sunday.
9. Greg Biffle – The Biff eventually lost an engine here last time around so don’t get too concerned about his 24th-place finish. What you should remember from that race is that he led 19 laps and was inside the top 10 for pretty much the whole day before he lost a cylinder. Biffle won this race two years ago, and if his performance last weekend at Indianapolis is any indicator, he might have something to say for the field in Pocono on Sunday. However, here’s something to consider: in nineteen career starts at the Tricky Triangle, The Biff has just four top 10s. The good thing is that two of those have come in his last four starts. Right now I’m penciling the #16 in for a top 10 finish on Sunday.
10. Kasey Kahne – Back in June, the #5 Chevy was at least a top 10 car but Kasey Kahne was trying to get more out of it than he could and eventually put it into the wall and finishing 29th. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again this time around, but you never know. Kasey’s stat line at Pocono isn’t the greatest: seventeen starts, 17.7 average finish, and just five top 10s (the most recent coming in 2009). He does have a win here at the Tricky Triangle, though. In the June 2008 race, Kahne started on pole and led 69 laps en route to his second win of that season. He finished 12th at Indianapolis last weekend.
11. Ryan Newman – It would only make sense that when I start mentioning Ryan Newman’s lackluster performance all year is when the team heats up a little bit, wouldn’t it? With his 7th-place finish in Indianapolis last weekend, The Rocketman now has three-straight top 10s in Sprint Cup action and could easily make that four in a row on Sunday here at Pocono. In the last eight events at this track, Newman hasn’t finished worse than 14th and has been about as consistent as you can be. He ended up 12th in the June race here this season and I’m expecting something similar out of the #39 team on Sunday, maybe a little bit better. Newman’s average driver rating of 92.1 over the past five Pocono races is tenth-best in the series.
12. Mark Martin – As I said earlier, Martin finished runner-up to Joey Logano here in June, but this team has fallen off a little bit from where they were a couple months ago, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the #55 Toyota still has speed every week, but it’s more like ‘possible top 10′ speed than ‘possible top 5′ speed. Still, Martin should be a good pick come Sunday as long as he keeps his mileage down during practice. A good thing for the engines this weekend, though, is that it is only supposed to be in the lower 80s during the Pennsylvania 400 on Sunday. Pocono is Mark’s third-best track on the circuit, and although he has never won here, he has finished inside the top 10 in 66.7% of his starts (34-for-51). Also, one more thing worth noting is that in the last five fall races at this track, Martin has compiled four top 10s and a worst finish of 13th.
13. Brad Keselowski – Bad Brad won this event last season, but other than that his performance at Pocono has really been mediocre to say the least. It’s nothing terrible, but not great either: in his four other starts here (excluding the win), Keselowski hasn’t finished better than 18th, but he also hasn’t finished worse than 23rd. So at least he’s consistent, I guess? The Blue Deuce came home 9th last weekend in Indianapolis–making it four straight top 10s for Keselowski in Sprint Cup action–but I’m expecting more of a teens finish from Keselowski at Pocono on Sunday. You also can’t look past the fact that he has just one finish worse than 13th in the last nine Sprint Cup races. As I’ve said a couple times before this season, BK is truly proving himself as a championship contender in NASCAR’s toughest series.
14. Paul Menard - The #27 should be good for a top 15 this weekend, just like he was the entire month of July. His stats here at the Tricky Triangle aren’t great by any means–21.6 average finish in eleven starts–but Menard brought his Chevy home in 9th here in June and has now finished 16th or better in each of the last five events here. He ended up 14th last weekend in Indianapolis and had the 11st-best driver rating in this year’s Brickyard. If he starts up front, Menard would be a great option for a “start saver” in allocation leagues like Yahoo! He qualified 3rd here a month-and-a-half ago.
15. Martin Truex, Jr. – Truex just wasn’t that good here in June, so it will be interesting to see how he fares this time around. If I remember correctly, he was without his crew chief that weekend, which I think made a major difference. He did score an impressive 8th-place finish last week in Indianapolis, though, so hopefully that momentum can carry a couple states over for this #56 team. One thing that’s a little promising about picking Martin this week is that he had three straight finishes of 12th or better at this track before the spring race this year. He’s not firing on all cylinders like he was early on in the season but Truex should be good for a top 15 finish on Sunday with a shot at a top 10.
Those To Avoid Entering The Pennsylvania 400:
Joey Logano - Surprised? This is a weak ‘avoid’ ranking, but it’s still an avoid. For whatever reason, Logano usually isn’t very fast here in the fall race. In the last three summer races, Joey has picked up finishes of 1st, 11th, and 13th at the Tricky Triangle, compared to 26th, 25th, and 27th-place results in the last three fall events. One thing you have to pay attention to with this team is whether they’re fast off the truck. If that’s so, Joey could be of great value to fantasy owners (the #20 was very fast off the truck here last time around).
Carl Edwards - This is, in no way, an “avoid like the plague” warning, but you probably won’t find Cousin Carl on my rosters this weekend for one basic reason: no momentum. Excluding Daytona a few weeks ago, the #99 hasn’t finished inside the top 10 since Charlotte at the end of May. This will be the second week that Edwards’ new crew chief, Chad Norris, will be on the pit box. One thing I liked to hear from Carl after Indianapolis was that this team is now in a “win-or-nothing” mode. That can be great for fantasy owners, but if a gamble doesn’t work out, it could be devastating. Edwards started on the outside-pole at Pocono back in June and had an early on-track incident with Denny Hamlin (I think). He battled back for an 11th-place finish.
Jamie McMurray – The only reason you should consider Jamie Mac this weekend is if he qualifies well and looks okay in practice. That was the story here last June and I rolled the dice with him in Yahoo!. Thankfully, Jamie ran solid all day and grabbed a 10th-place finish. Still, in the last six Pocono races, that is his only finish better than 20th. The same applies for his teammate, Juan Montoya.
Casey Mears - For those that were considering Mears as an option in allocation leagues this week, take notice to this: he will be start & parking at Pocono this weekend, racing at Watkins Glen, and then start & parking at Michigan in August. In other words, don’t pick him for awhile.
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on June 8, 2012
|Rank||Driver||Ten-Lap Avg (MPH)|
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on June 8, 2012
|12||Juan Pablo Montoya||18||177.214|
|23||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||39||176.177|
|32||Martin Truex Jr.||27||175.435|
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on June 8, 2012
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||11||178.809|
|12||Martin Truex Jr.||12||177.413|
|19||Juan Pablo Montoya||10||176.381|
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on June 4, 2012
Posted by: Jordan McAbee | on June 4, 2012
Those marked in red have to make the race on qualifying speed.
|1||Jamie McMurray||Chevy||Banana Boat|
|2||Brad Keselowski||Dodge||Miller Lite|
|5||Kasey Kahne||Chevy||Farmers Insurance|
|10||Dave Blaney||Chevy||Tommy Baldwin Racing|
|11||Denny Hamlin||Toyota||FedEx Express|
|14||Tony Stewart||Chevy||Office Depot / Mobile 1|
|15||Clint Bowyer||Toyota||5-Hour Energy|
|16||Greg Biffle||Ford||3M / Rite Aid / NextCare|
|17||Matt Kenseth||Ford||Roush Fenway Racing|
|19||Mike Bliss||Toyota||Humphrey Smith Racing|
|20||Joey Logano||Toyota||Home Depot|
|22||A.J. Allmendinger||Dodge||Shell Pennzoil|
|23||Scott Riggs||Chevy||North Texas Pipe|
|26||Josh Wise||Ford||MDS Transport|
|27||Paul Menard||Chevy||Menards / Sylvania|
|30||David Stremme||Toyota||Inception Motorsports|
|33||Stephen Leicht||Chevy||Little Joe’s Auto|
|34||David Ragan||Ford||Taco Bell|
|36||Tony Raines||Chevy||Tommy Baldwin Racing|
|38||David Gilliland||Ford||Mod Space|
|39||Ryan Newman||Chevy||Haas Automation|
|42||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevy||Target|
|43||Aric Almirola||Ford||Transportation Impact|
|47||Bobby Labonte||Toyota||Bubba Burgers|
|48||Jimmie Johnson||Chevy||Lowe’s / Kobalt Tools|
|49||J.J. Yeley||Toyota||American Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents|
|51||David Reutimann||Chevy||Phoenix Construction|
|56||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||NAPA Auto Parts|
|74||Stacy Compton||Chevy||Turn One Racing – Best Western|
|78||Regan Smith||Chevy||Furniture Row / Farm American|
|83||Landon Cassill||Toyota||Burger King|
|87||Joe Nemechek||Toyota||AM FM Energy|
|88||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevy||National Guard / Diet Mt. Dew|
|93||Travis Kvapil||Toyota||Burger King|
|98||Michael McDowell||Ford||Phil Parsons Racing|