This weekend the Sprint Cup Series heads back to Pocono Raceway for the second and final race at the triangular oval for this season. The Pocono races are the closest back-to-back races in the schedule aside from the All-Star Challenge and Coca-Cola 600 back-to-back weekends. This short, eight-week interval between races affords the competitors with a unique, quick turnaround from their first race at this facility. So, it's not unreasonable to expect those drivers who performed well the first time around to have a decent shot at repeating their success since they'll likely be unloading the same chassis and running a similar if not identical race set-up. Given this vital information, it's not unusual to see season-sweeps or repeat winners at this 2.5-mile triangle. Repeating one's success at Pocono Raceway is more likely to happen than at almost any other track that the Sprint Cup Series visits.
Given that this is the second race of 2011 at Pocono Raceway this weekend, we need to take a quick look at the fresh loop stats for this unique facility. This track is so unlike any other on the circuit that we'll really need to focus on the last race and recent performances at Pocono for this weekend's drivers. Current trends at this track, including the race this past June, should hold pretty true to form this weekend. As you'll see in the loop stats below we have an easily identifiable group of drivers that love to race on the three-turn Pennsylvania track. The loop stats shown below cover the last six years or 13 races at Pocono Raceway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUAL. PASSES||# of FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||DRIVER RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||15.6||341||33||4||957||82.0|
|Juan Pablo Montoya||17.2||300||19||43||904||81.8|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||19.9||409||26||9||1,314||80.7|
Season sweeps are not common at Pocono, but they're not unheard of either. Twice in this decade we've seen drivers sweep the season at Pocono Raceway. Jimmie Johnson did it in 2004 and Denny Hamlin pulled out the broom in 2006. We can certainly learn a lot from looking at the race just a few short weeks ago. It's a better predictor of what could happen this weekend as opposed to recent history or even last season. The "sweep watch" will fall on Jeff Gordon this Sunday afternoon. The Hendrick Motorsports star took control late and led 37 of the final 41 laps at Pocono in June to collect his fifth career win at the tri-oval and second victory of the season. It was a great effort from the No. 24 Motorsports team, and Gordon was able to overcome strong challenges from Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya. We expect this same group of drivers to unload fast race cars again this weekend. Two drivers who were expected to make a big splash in June's Pocono 500 were Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. Both had really high expectations, but mechanical failures regulated both to very poor finishes. These two should certainly rebound given their good historical stats at Pocono and how well both performed last weekend at Indianapolis. The one other thing to note about June's Pocono 500 is that NASCAR changed the rules to where the drivers are now shifting again at Pocono Raceway. Generally this favored the more seasoned competitor and was a major reason why we saw the veterans throughout the Top 10 finishing order. This theme should remain well in place for Sunday's Good Sam RV Insurance 500. Considering the recent race at Pocono Raceway and past history of the track, here are the drivers that should give you the edge in winning your league this weekend.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin is the recent statistical leader at this oval going into this weekend's Pocono race, but he's not really been in race winning form this season. The four-time Pocono winner has only one victory this season and it came a few weeks ago at the huge oval in Michigan. Hamlin led 76 laps earlier this season at Pocono Raceway, but poor pit strategy foiled his attempt to visit victory lane and he finished 19th. The No. 11 Toyota seems to run up front every time the series visits here and we can't see that changing on Sunday.
Kurt Busch -
The two-time Pocono winner narrowly missed his third victory at the huge tri-oval in June of this year. Busch won the pole, led 37 laps, but ended up finishing second to Jeff Gordon that day in the 5-Hour Energy 500. The Penske Racing star should easily be able to recapture the effort that nearly thrust him into victory lane in his last Pocono visit. Busch's near 40 percent Top 5 rate at Pennsylvania triangle is second only Jeff Gordon for best in the series. If the No. 22 Dodge doesn't roll into winner's circle on Sunday afternoon, it won't be for lack of effort or excellence.
Jeff Gordon -
Gordon's career numbers at Pocono Raceway are purely awe-inspiring. The five-time winner at the Pennsylvania oval picked up his fifth career trophy in this June's 500-mile event. That win ties him with Bill Elliott for the all-time lead in wins at Pocono Raceway. When Gordon isn't getting a post-race victory shower, he's not far off the point. The Hendrick Motorsports star cracks the Top 5 at an astounding 45 percent rate and the Top 10 and 70 percent. You can't go wrong with this veteran driver and team at Pocono.
Carl Edwards -
Edwards has been trying to find his race-winning form all season long. The victory early in the year at Las Vegas is the only time we've seen the Roush Fenway star perform a back flip off the lid of the No. 99 Ford. Pocono Raceway has been a very successful venue for Edwards during his brief NASCAR career. Edwards has led well over 200 laps for his career at the triangular track and has picked up two victories. If he is to break out with a surprise win it could likely be this Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning
Tony Stewart -
The two-time Pocono winner will return to the mountains of Pennsylvania this weekend and attempt to post his first victory of the season in the Good Sam RV Insurance 500. Stewart has quite a resume at this three-turn oval, and his second- and third-place finishes here last season shows the owner/driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet knows how to run up front at this facility. Smoke has an astounding 72 percent Top 10 rate at the 2.5-mile tri-oval, so we're used to seeing him race up front in almost every event here. Stewart has finished 97 percent of his laps at this facility with only two career DNF's, and that's real peace of mind.
Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson hasn't won at Pocono Raceway since 2004. Still, you can't count out the No. 48 team any race weekend. Since that last win the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion has reeled off a steady string of Top 10's at Pocono. Johnson is a two-time Pocono winner and he's led significant laps in five of his last seven visits to the Pennsylvania tri-oval. A Top-10 finish in the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 goes without saying, and if the breaks go the team's way Johnson could visit victory lane.
Kyle Busch -
Pocono Raceway has been a boom-or-bust track for Busch during his colorful NASCAR career. There are signs that this situation is improving though. The No. 18 team have turned in two of their best performances at the huge triangle in the last three trips to the Mountains of Pennsylvania. The team unloaded a fast race car right out of the hauler and Busch went on to capture the pole and finish second here June of last season. He collected another Top 5 with his strong third-place finish in this season's 5-Hour Energy 500. Signs point to another strong effort for the Joe Gibbs Racing star.
Kevin Harvick -
The Richard Childress Racing star was woeful at Pocono Raceway earlier in his career, but he's really come on at the huge triangle in the last few seasons. He's riding a three-race Top-5 streak at Pocono entering this weekend's event. Harvick and the No. 29 Chevrolet team have figured something out about this three-corner track since 2006, and it's quite apparent when looking at his career numbers at the facility. The veteran driver should make good on extending his Pocono streak this Sunday afternoon.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Pocono who can provide a solid finish
Juan Pablo Montoya -
After fuel mileage conspired against Montoya at Indy last weekend, the EGR driver is still looking for his first win of the season. While it won't likely happen at Pocono, he should have a good finish in store. Montoya enters this event with four Top 10's in his last five starts at Pocono Raceway, including a seventh-place finish in the recently completed 5-Hour Energy 500. We look for the No. 42 Chevrolet team to unload another fast car this weekend.
Kasey Kahne -
Strong and surprising is the way to describe Kahne's No. 4 Toyota team lately. He's been a threat to win on a couple occasions of late, including his dominating performance at Indianapolis this past weekend. Kahne is likely to bring home an acceptable finish with little risk this weekend. The Red Bull Racing driver is a two-time pole winner and a one-time race winner at Pocono Raceway and he's led 150 laps for his career at the unusual oval. Kahne flirted with a Top 10 in June's 5-Hour Energy 500 before poor pit strategy relegated him to a 12th-place finish.
Brad Keselowski -
One of the hottest drivers in the series the last month or so has been Keselowski. Since his big win at Kansas, the driver of the No. 2 Dodge has gone on to pick up three Top 10's in the last five races. Before this streak, Keselowski finished a mere 23rd at Pocono Raceway in June. We believe things will be much different this time around. Keselowski showed his flat track racing prowess at Indy this past weekend by leading 17 laps and finishing a respectable ninth. The Penske Racing driver is poised to collect a career-best Pocono finish on Sunday afternoon.
Paul Menard -
Coming off his first ever Sprint Cup Series win, how can we not like Menard this weekend at Pocono? The Richard Childress Racing driver used brilliant pit strategy and good moves to hold off Jeff Gordon last weekend at the Brickyard. The No. 27 team should carry the momentum from that win right into the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 this weekend. Menard's last three Pocono Raceway starts have yielded 16th-, 13th- and 14th-place finishes. He may be better than just steady in this event. Menard may post his first career Top 10 at the 2.5-mile triangle.
Regan Smith -
Smith made us look foolish last weekend by cracking the Top 5 at Indy after our flops list endorsement. We'll correct that error by taking a closer look at the No. 78 team this weekend at Pocono Raceway. Smith presents very mediocre stats at this facility, but it was his career-best 15th-place finish in this season's 5-Hour Energy 500 that we want to focus on here. The last Pocono outing was his best finish since last week's Top 5 at the Brickyard. That likely means that the Furniture Row Racing driver will carry a lot of confidence to the three-turn oval this weekend.
David Ragan -
Ragan's impressive season shouldn't see any slowing down this weekend at Pocono Raceway. The driver of the No. 6 Ford has had an eventful few weeks. Ragan has won a pole, a race, and collected a pair of Top 10's in the last four races. That's some pretty stellar productivity for someone that is likely on the end of a lot of fantasy racing benches. Ragan has posted a pair of Top-20 finishes in his last two Pocono starts, so he should be more than capable of collecting a good finish this Sunday afternoon.
Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs
Jamie McMurray -
Color us unimpressed after the Top 5 at the Brickyard last weekend. The Top-5 finish was nice, but was due in large part to the pit strategy of the No. 1 team and not the speed of McMurray's Chevrolet. We believe we'll be proven correct that the Brickyard outing was a flash in the pan after the Good Sam RV Insurance 500. McMurray has a woeful three Top 10's in 17 starts at this Pennsylvania track. His last three outings at Pocono Raceway have seen the EGR driver fail to crack the Top 20.
Greg Biffle -
Despite his Top 10 at Indianapolis this past weekend, we're still recommending you bench Biffle this week at Pocono. Despite winning this event one year ago, the veteran driver has terrible career numbers at this facility. When the Sprint Cup Series visited the huge triangle in June, the No. 16 Ford looked terrible and finished a lowly 27th in that event. With only three Top 10's in 17 career starts at Pocono Raceway, there is better fantasy racing options than Biffle out there this weekend.
Marcos Ambrose -
One would think that road racing expert Ambrose would have good numbers and love racing at Pocono, but it's very much the opposite. After cracking the Top 10 in his first career start at the 2.5-mile oval, the Richard Petty Motorsports driver has failed to crack the Top 25 in his last four races at Pocono with two DNF's in that span. Coming off a woeful 34th-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this could be a terrible time for Ambrose to visit the Pocono Mountains. It's best to lay off the No. 9 team this weekend and come back to him when the series travels to Watkins Glen.
Mark Martin -
This season has been a real puzzle for the veteran Hendrick Motorsports driver. Martin has barely scratched for six Top 10's thus far this season through 20 races. While he sports a stellar 67 percent Top 10 rate for his career at this tri-oval, we have to overlook him due to his recent struggles. Martin finished an uninspiring 18th at Pocono Raceway in June's 5-Hour Energy 500. Despite his Top 10 at Indy this past weekend, we have to overlook the No. 5 Chevrolet team this week.