This weekend’s Overton’s 400 takes place at Pocono Raceway, both of which should sound familiar; Overton’s was the race sponsor for the Loudon race two weeks ago and the Cup Series raced at Pocono just last month. Therefore, we have a great base to go off of this week by analyzing that race, as well as last weekend’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis–although we need to look at more than just finish from that wreck-fest. One thing that is new this weekend is the timing of qualifying: this is the first test of NASCAR’s same-day qualifying, as they will set the lineup on Sunday morning, a few hours before the scheduled start of the race.
I will post my final roster for Pocono 2 on Twitter after practice is over on Saturday. Please follow me there: @FanRacingOnline
PLEASE NOTE: We will obviously have a very small window of time between the end of qualifying and the start of the race. Therefore, there will be no second Yahoo! post by me this weekend. Instead, I will update the rankings and my picks in this post after qualifying. Be sure to check back.
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Pocono 2
Martin Truex, Jr. (6 starts remaining) – Pocono Raceway is a track that requires a lot of horsepower and a good handling race car, and no team has been better at accomplishing those two things this season than the #78 crew. When we were here last month, Truex qualified 2nd and ended up finishing 6th. With that being said, he had a much better car than that, but because of how good Kyle Busch’s car was, the #78 team had to do a bit of an alternative strategy. Still, Truex posted 20 fast laps in that race (2nd-most), and he’s going to have another fast car this weekend. Martin went to victory lane here at Pocono back in 2015 and had the best car in this race last year but mechanical problems relegated the #78 Toyota to a 38th-place finish after leading 16 laps from the pole. Truex will be without two of his pit crew members this week due to suspension, but that shouldn’t make a significant difference.
Kevin Harvick (5 starts remaining) – Harvick has yet to go to victory lane here at Pocono Raceway, but his time is coming soon. If you remember back to the race here last month, “Happy” missed a shift and probably should have blown his engine, but it held on and he was able to come home with runner-up finish. That makes it five top 10s in the last six races here at “The Tricky Triangle” for Harvick, half of which were 2nd-place results. The #4 Ford is still lacking a little bit of speed right now, but that can be covered up here at Pocono with a good setup. With such a limited schedule with practice and qualifying this weekend, it’s going to be important for teams to hit on the setup early, and no team is better at that than Rodney Childers and the #4 crew.
Kyle Busch is still the #1 driver in the A Group this weekend, especially considering he was in a league of his own here last time around. With that being said, the #18 team is lacking execution right now, and you could say the same thing about Rowdy here at Pocono as well: he hasn’t finished better than 6th at “The Tricky Triangle” since 2011. It’s going to be hard to leave Kyle Busch off of the Yahoo! team this weekend, but if you’re like me and already down to 3 starts left, that makes it a little bit easier.
As far as the other Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Denny Hamlin used to be the best driver here at Pocono, but that all changed when it was repaved before the 2012 season. With that being said, the #11 Toyota has been very fast as of late, and if Hamlin can qualify up front this weekend, a top 5 finish is within reach. Matt Kenseth is starting to get into a groove and now has back-to-back top 5s after holding on for a 5th-place finish at Indianapolis last weekend. He wound up 10th here at Pocono last month and has finished inside that mark in four of the last five races at this track–including a victory in the 2015 summer race.
Joey Logano is another driver that survived this year’s Brickyard 400 and that now gives him four finishes of 12th or better in the last six Cup Series events. He won here at Pocono back in 2012 and has four finishes of 7th or better in the last eight races at this track. His teammate, Brad Keselowski, is about as solid as they come at Pocono, and hasn’t finished worse than 5th since the 2015 spring race. He’s also wound up 6th or better in six of the last eight races here. If the Blue Deuce looks solid in practice on Saturday, he’s probably going to end up on my Yahoo! roster for Sunday.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Martin Truex, Jr., (3) Kevin Harvick, (4) Brad Keselowski, (5) Matt Kenseth, (6) Joey Logano, (7) Denny Hamlin, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Post-Qualifying A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Martin Truex, Jr., (3) Kevin Harvick, (4) Denny Hamlin, (5) Brad Keselowski, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Jimmie Johnson, (8) Joey Logano, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
My Starter: Kyle Busch over Kevin Harvick
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Pocono 2
Chase Elliott (6 starts remaining) – The #24 Chevrolet went up in smoke last week at Indianapolis, but the chances of that happening two weeks in a row–in case you are worried about that–are quite slim. Yes, Pocono is another huge flat track that requires a strong engine underneath the hood, but it doesn’t quite have the long straightaways that Indy has. Additionally, Chase is a much better racer here at “The Tricky Triangle” than he is at The Brickyard; he led 51 laps and finished 4th in his first career Cup Series start at Pocono and wound up finishing 8th here last month after starting way back in 25th. Hopefully Elliott can qualify a little better this weekend and challenge for a top 5 finish on Sunday. He had the 6th-best average running position (9th) when we were here in June despite the poor qualifying effort.
Ryan Blaney (3 starts remaining) – The #21 Ford went to victory lane the last time we were here at “The Tricky Triangle,” thanks in major part to a late caution that allowed the rest of the field to get tires while race dominator Kyle Busch was stuck with an old set. With that being said, Ryan Blaney still had the 5th-best average driver rating in that race, so it’s not like the win came out of nowhere. Repeat winners in the same season at Pocono isn’t something that is incredibly common; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won both races here in 2014 and before that you have to go back to 2006 when Denny Hamlin swept. Jimmie Johnson also won both races here in 2004. What really should have you getting behind Ryan Blaney this weekend is his performance at Indianapolis last week: he finished 3rd in both Stages at The Brickyard and had a shot to win before all hell broke loose. This #21 Ford has a great engine under the hood and Blaney has finished 11th or better in all three of his Cup Series starts at this track. He should be at least top 10 good this weekend as well.
Ryan Newman (8 starts remaining) – Here’s a trivia question for you: since the All Star Break, who has the best average finish in the Cup Series? If you automatically assumed Ryan Newman, sorry, that’s not right (it’s actually Denny Hamlin at 8.8) but The Rocketman is still one of the best: 5th-best to be exact, with an average finish of 12.7 in the last nine events. Now obviously Newman isn’t going out there and posting top 5 finishes every week, but the consistency is something that is actually quite valuable in the Fantasy NASCAR world–especially during a time like this, where there is barely any consistency at all among the front runners. Newman came home 14th here at Pocono last month and has finished inside that mark in sixteen of his last eighteen starts at this track. He won’t get you max points on Sunday, but he’s a safer pick than others right now.
Kurt Busch (4 starts remaining) – Kurt Busch is in a bit of a slump now–the #41 Ford has came home 29th or worse in three of the last four races–but Pocono Raceway is a great track for him to break out of it. In addition to finishing 4th here last month, Kurt has posted a top 10 finish in seven of the last nine Pocono races and top 5s in seven of the last twelve. There may be safer options in the B Group this weekend, but it’s hard to pass up a driver that has had the amount of consistency that Busch has had here at “The Tricky Triangle.” The Stewart-Haas Racing Fords aren’t lacking speed right now, they’re just lacking execution (and luck). That’ll change sooner rather than later.
Thankfully we get to see practice before lockdown this week, so we’ll know whether Kyle Larson has a dominant car or not. I’m down to 3 Larson starts left in Yahoo!, and those are reserved for races where he can dominate and win–not just win. With that being said, if for some reason you have plenty of Larson starts left, go ahead and roster him; in seven career Cup starts at “The Tricky Triangle,” Kyle has never finished worse than 12th and he has led in five of the seven. His teammate, Jamie McMurray, had a very hard crash here last month after a brake failure, and that makes it four straight race here at Pocono that McMurray has finished 15th or worse. We’ll also have to monitor the #1 Chevrolet during the practice sessions on Saturday to see if he’s worth rostering.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. posted a career-best finish of 11th here last month and it honestly wouldn’t be that surprising if the #17 Ford ended up near the top 10 this weekend. Flat tracks are Stenhouse’s strength, and he’s been a top 15 machine over the past two months. That won’t change this weekend. He makes a great start save option (as usual) in Yahoo! this weekend. His teammate, Trevor Bayne, has actually regressed a bit and turned back into his “normal self.” He has just one finish better than 19th in five career starts at Pocono so he’s not he best option this weekend.
Austin Dillon has actually been a pretty solid (and consistent) Fantasy NASCAR performer here at Pocono; in three of the last four races here, Austin has posted a 13th-place result, and over his seven career starts at “The Tricky Triangle,” he has just one finish worse than 19th. Last week’s surprise winner, Kasey Kahne, will be looking to translate that victory into some momentum, as that was the #5 team’s first top 10 finish since the Talladega race back in May. Kahne is a previous winner here at Pocono and has finished inside the top 15 in four of the last six races here. As far as trusting him in Fantasy NASCAR, though? That’s still at an all-time low.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Ryan Blaney, (3) Chase Elliott, (4) Kurt Busch, (4) Jamie McMurray, (5) Kurt Busch, (6) Clint Bowyer, (7) Ryan Newman, (8) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Kasey Kahne, (11) Paul Menard, (12) Trevor Bayne, (13) Chris Buescher, (14) A.J. Allmendinger, (15) Danica Patrick, (16) Aric Almirola
Post-Qualifying B Group Rankings: (1) Ryan Blaney, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Chase Elliott, (4) Clint Bowyer, (5) Jamie McMurray, (6) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (7) Kasey Kahne, (8) Ryan Newman, (9) Kurt Busch, (10) Austin Dillon, (11) Trevor Bayne, (12) Danica Patrick, (13) Chris Buescher, (14) Paul Menard, (15) A.J. Allmendinger, (16) Aric Almirola
My Starters: Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott over Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Pocono 2
Ryan Newman has the 5th-best average finish since the All Star Break, and surprisingly enough, Daniel Suarez is right behind him in 6th with an average result of 13.3 in the last nine Cup Series events. And while that does deserve some recognition, so does the fact that Suarez has been super consistent all season long, with an average finish of 15.5 for the 2017 season along with only four results outside of the top 20 in the first twenty races of the year. Suarez brought the #19 Toyota home in 15th the last time we were at Pocono and you should expect a similar result this time around as well. Erik Jones, on the other hand, finished 3rd in his first start at “The Tricky Triangle” and even led 20 laps in that race. He’s one of the most untrustworthy drivers in Fantasy NASCAR this year, but this #77 team has shown that they can put together a full race here at Pocono–who’s to say they won’t do it again? If you’re looking to go the start save route with Michael McDowell, he did have a solid 11th-place qualifying effort here last month, but at the end of the day, the #95 Chevrolet came home 24th. It’s just hard imagining McDowell cracking the top 20 without Sunday’s race turning into a major attrition event.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Cole Whitt, the rest
Post-Qualifying C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Michael McDowell, (4) Ty Dillon, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Cole Whitt, the rest
My Starter: Daniel Suarez over Erik Jones