This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
These factors make this track race not like an oval at all, but more like a road course due to the relatively flat banking and three distinctly different turns. Now that we're 13 races into the 26 that determines the field for the Chase, we're on the downhill run towards NASCAR's post-season. The tricky triangle in Pocono makes a good, challenging track to mark the start of the second half in the Sprint Cup Series regular season. The new rules package for the current stock car will be a bit of a wildcard this Sunday afternoon. Since we will be racing the
These factors make this track race not like an oval at all, but more like a road course due to the relatively flat banking and three distinctly different turns. Now that we're 13 races into the 26 that determines the field for the Chase, we're on the downhill run towards NASCAR's post-season. The tricky triangle in Pocono makes a good, challenging track to mark the start of the second half in the Sprint Cup Series regular season. The new rules package for the current stock car will be a bit of a wildcard this Sunday afternoon. Since we will be racing the three-turn oval for the first time in 2015, the teams and drivers will be in information gathering mode. The lessons learned in this race will be quickly employed in the second race of the season at Pocono, which is just a few short weeks away. As has been the case this year, the drivers with a good historical record at a track usually are the ones to quickly hit the ground running on a race weekend. We expect to see our historical Pocono drivers unload fast cars right off the hauler at Pocono Raceway.
Since we'll be racing for the first time this season at Pocono Raceway we need to take a quick look at the loop stats for this unique facility. Coming off the races at Dover and Charlotte, we could see some shakeup in our driver group for this event. This track is so unlike any other on the circuit that we'll really need to focus on recent races at Pocono for this weekend's drivers. Current trends at this track should hold pretty true to form for this race, and we'll factor in the current hot streaks as needed as a predictive modifier. As you'll see in the table below we have an easily identifiable group of drivers that love to race on the three-turn, 2.5-mile Pennsylvania track. The loop stats shown below cover the last 10 years or 20 races at Pocono Raceway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||15.9||727||102||89||2,286||92.6|
|Martin Truex Jr.||15.9||531||36||11||1,316||80.4|
Pocono Raceway has been a venue up for grabs in the past few seasons. We've seen as much manufacturer parity at Pocono as any place the Sprint Cup Series races. However, there are indications that this may be changing. Chevrolet teams have risen above the fray and taken the last five straight events at the Pennsylvania triangle. That bowtie dominance includes Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s sweep of the oval in 2014. Prior to that, Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne took the other three victories at this facility. When the Sprint Cup Series visited here in this event one year ago, Earnhardt and his No. 88 team took the lead from Brad Keselowski on the final green-flag run to capture the victory at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. The defending Pocono champion faces tough odds to repeat as his teammate, Johnson and the No. 48 team are coming off victories and Dover and Kansas in the last three events. Considering the roll and hot streak that he is on right now, Johnson has to be a heavy-odds favorite to rediscover victory lane at the Tricky Triangle.
Penske Ford drivers have also fared very well at the Pennsylvania track in the last few years, and we expect those teams to be racing with the leaders on Sunday afternoon. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano captured 2011 and 2012 victories at Pocono Raceway. Both have proven lately that they're in good enough form to challenge for the win. Both have visited victory lane in 2015, so it's not unreasonable to imagine either driver stealing this win and replacing Chevy with Ford atop the Pocono heap. Joe Gibbs Racing star Denny Hamlin has been searching for his second victory of the season, so we're visiting Pocono Raceway at a very good time for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin is a four-time Pocono winner at this track and his No. 11 team sports some of the most dominant loop stats of any driver in the series at this triangular oval. Considering the performance Hamlin just turned in at Dover, he is certainly trending north coming into the Axalta We Paint Winners 400. Another Gibbs drivers to consider this week would be Carl Edwards. He is a two-time Pocono winner, and looking to pick up his first win of 2015 entering this weekend. Considering how the No. 19 Toyota team is still trying to build momentum and performance entering this weekend, Edwards will be a long-shot at career win number three at this facility on Sunday afternoon. However, it's clear that this team and driver are heading in the right direction after a slow start to the season. We'll examine the recent trends as well some historical stats at Pocono and give you the drivers that you need to dominate this weekend in the Axalta We Paint Winners 400 at Pocono Raceway.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Jimmie Johnson – Pocono Raceway isn't one of Johnson's best tracks, but in his 13 years of racing the Pennsylvania tri-oval he's collected three victories and 17 Top-10 finishes. The six-time Sprint Cup champion had an up-and-down season at the three-turn oval last year. Johnson led only 5 laps and claimed only one Top 10 in the two races here last season. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet enters the weekend red-hot with two victories in the last three events after his big win at the Monster Mile this past week. This is the trademark of this driver and team over the years. Wins come in bunches and when Johnson gets on a roll he's tough to beat. There's no other name you need in your fantasy racing lineup this weekend for the Axalta We Paint Winners 400.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – The Hendrick Motorsports teams have enjoyed tremendous success at Pocono Raceway in recent years, and Earnhardt's No. 88 team has been no exception. He swept both races here in 2014, and he rides a four-race Top-10 streak at the Tricky Triangle into this weekend's 400-mile event. That's more success than Earnhardt had in several seasons earlier in his career at this facility. Now that the NASCAR icon has this challenging oval figured out, we have to take him very series each time the series visits the Pocono Mountains. He hasn't looked terribly impressive in the last couple weeks, but the No. 88 team should jump to life this weekend.
Kevin Harvick – While Harvick may not have the best loop stats or finishing stats at Pocono Raceway, we have to give a fantasy racing nod of approval this weekend to the strong Stewart Haas Racing driver. He claimed a runner-up finish the last time the series visited Pocono with his second-place effort in last August's Gobowling.com 400. That was the veteran driver's best effort in recent memory at the three-turn oval. Harvick has only 10 career Top-10 finishes at the raceway tucked away in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. That works out to a lowly 36-percent rate. However, all drivers have their day eventually at their toughest tracks. This could be a weekend to remember for Harvick and the No. 4 team at Pocono Raceway.
Martin Truex Jr. – The driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet has looked like a world-beater over the last three events. Truex has one outside pole, over 350 laps led, one Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes during this span. While he's yet to taste the thrill of victory lane this season, he's been painfully close the last month. Pocono Raceway could be the event where Truex finally breaks through. He owns six-career Top-10 finishes at the facility in 18 starts. That's a not-so-impressive 33-percent rate. However, we need to focus more on the current level of performance for the No. 78 team in contrast to his Pocono record. The Furniture Row Racing veteran finished a respectable ninth in this event one year ago, and we think he'll way outperform that in Sunday's Axalta We Paint Winners 400.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Brad Keselowski – The Pocono book shows a driver that has had mixed results in his brief Sprint Cup career at the three-turn oval, but it has been trending north the last couple seasons. Keselowski owns only four Top-10 finishes in 10 starts, but those have all come in his last seven starts at the facility. In this event one year ago the No. 2 Ford team led 95 laps and looked like a sure winner until Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s late-race pass for the win. The runner-up finish in the Pocono 400 will surely be a motivating factor for the Penske Racing star this weekend. Coming off Top 10s in two of his last three starts, Keselowski is settling into a nice groove. He has a lot of upside in this Sunday's 400-mile race at the Tricky Triangle.
Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is the statistical leader in a lot of categories at Pocono Raceway and he boasts the best driver rating of the field in the last 20 races at the three-turn oval. He has led close to 670 laps and owns four victories at the track in his Sprint Cup career. The No. 11 Toyota was incredibly fast at the Monster Mile last weekend, but Hamlin didn't get the finish he deserved in the FedEx 400. The Joe Gibbs Racing star appears to be gathering momentum since his big at the All-Star Race so Hamlin should be excited about the prospect of visiting one of his better ovals this weekend.
Kurt Busch – The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has had a pretty good season considering how things started with the suspension. After missing the first three races, he's claimed a win and five Top-10 finishes and climbed all the way to 15th in the driver standings. There's more than a reasonable chance for Busch to finish well this week at the Pocono tri-oval. The Pennsylvania track has yielded two wins and 15 Top-10 finishes over the years to the veteran driver. Of late, Busch has claimed Top 10s in three of his last four visits to Pocono, despite racing for a couple different teams over those starts. He should keep his Pocono mojo going in Sunday's 400-mile race.
Ryan Newman – The Richard Childress Racing veteran needs a good performance to turn around some recent struggles and challenges. He posted a subpar 18th-place finish at Dover this past weekend with interim crew chief Todd Parrott, but he should have high hopes this week since he's visiting one of his better ovals. Newman owns 14 career Top-10 finishes at the big triangle for an impressive 54-percent rate. That includes seven of his last eight starts at Pocono Raceway. While his No. 31 team is dealing with some current issues, that shouldn't stop the veteran driver from extending his Pocono Raceway success this weekend in this 400-mile race.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Pocono who can provide a solid finish
Joey Logano – Another driver who is performing well of late and likely to keep it going this week at Pocono is Logano. With fifth-, 13th- and 11th-place finishes in his last three races, we have to upgrade the Penske Racing driver for the Axalta We Paint Winners 400. Logano has two-career pole positions, 123 laps led, one victory and four Top-10 finishes in his Pocono starts. In his last start at the Tricky Triangle last August, Logano qualified on the outside pole, led 30 laps and finished an impressive third in the GoBowling.com 400. The young driver has this track figured out, and we're willing to bet Logano hasn't forgotten his recent lessons in success at the Pocono tri-oval.
Jeff Gordon – As we come out of the Dover race weekend, we gain a renewed appreciation for the No. 24 Chevrolet team. At this point we can confidently say that Gordon is doing everything he can to get this team back into race-winning form before his farewell tour is over. As stopover at the Pennsylvania triangle is just what the doctor ordered in that regard. Gordon has had a great deal of success at the 2.5-mile triangle with six victories and 31 Top 10s. Both marks are tops in the series among active drivers. He's won two races at this oval since 2011 and makes a good sleeper pick to challenge for the win in Sunday afternoon's Axalta We Paint Winners 400.
Kasey Kahne – Kahne is looking to hook up some momentum coming into this Pocono weekend. With only five Top-10 finishes for the season, he enters Pocono weekend a surprising eighth in the overall driver standings. The Hendrick Motorsports star has been a boom or bust driver at Pocono Raceway over the years, but when he booms he booms big. Kahne has two career wins at the Pocono oval, and four Top-3 finishes. Two of those have come in the last five races there. Coming off the Top-5 finish at the Monster Mile the No. 5 Chevrolet team carries a lot of momentum to Pocono Raceway this week.
Kyle Larson – The Top-5 finish at the Monster Mile last week has breathed life back into this slumping No. 42 team. While Larson has had anything but a consistent season, we have to pay him some respect at one of his better tracks. He had a great rookie season at Pocono Raceway. The young Chip Ganassi Racing driver claimed one pole position along with fifth- and 11th-place finishes at this facility in 2014. That's not bad for a rookie driver and really shows how quickly Larson adapted to racing at this unusual oval. Coming off the season-best performance at Dover, we have high expectations for Larson in this 400-mile event.
Jamie McMurray – Despite a poor record earlier in his career at this three-turn oval, McMurray has really picked up the pace in recent seasons. He's piloted the No. 1 Chevrolet to three Top 10s in his last six Pocono starts and an average finish of 12.2 over that span. That's an average that rivals some of the top stars in the series over their careers racing at this challenging oval. Those lessons learned were well employed last season at Pocono Raceway as McMurray forged 10th- and seventh-place finishes in his two starts at this facility. All signs point to a Top-15 finish as the ground level of expectations this weekend.
David Ragan – Since moving to the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 team, the going has been challenging for this veteran driver, but signs that he's catching on are starting to show. A respectable 13th-place finish at Dover this past weekend is a good sign that Ragan is starting to find his groove with his new race team. He has only one career Top 10 at Pocono Raceway, but he claimed a pair of Top-20 finishes with his old Front Row Motorsports team at this facility last season. Considering the upgrade in teams, Ragan should employee what he learned last year to good effect this weekend. He may be the top pick of the lower tier drivers at Pocono Raceway.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Kyle Busch – Busch has struggled for many seasons at Pocono Raceway. With only seven Top 10s as compared to 5 DNFs in his 20 starts at the Tricky Triangle it ranks as one of his least successful tracks on the circuit. Bad things just seem to happen to the No. 18 team when racing at this facility. Busch has two starts under his belt since returning from the injury that sidelined him for the first third of the season. After his poor finish at Dover last week it's pretty clear that he's not completely back to his 100-percent self. Having any fantasy racing expectations for Busch this week might be asking a lot considering his poor record at this oval and his current state of performance.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The young Roush Fenway Racing driver has a short Pocono Raceway resume, but it's quite troublesome regardless. In his four-career starts at the Pennsylvania raceway, Stenhouse has a pair of Top 20s and a pair of finishes outside the Top 25. Stenhouse has been anything but a world-beater in his third full season of Sprint Cup racing. With only one Top-10 finish to this point, he enters the weekend 27th in the overall driver standings. The trends aren't good, the history is questionable, and so it's best to pass on the young driver in Sunday's Axalta We Paint Winners 400.
Danica Patrick – While she's been racing pretty well this season, this facility is one that throws up all kinds of caution flags for the Stewart Haas Racing driver. Patrick has only four career starts at this difficult tri-oval. Those were the 29th-, 35th-, 37th- and 30th-place finishes. Since the Xfinity Series doesn't race at Pocono Raceway, Patrick missed out on the valuable exposure early on at this facility that would be helping her at this point in her NASCAR career. The Pocono oval is quite difficult and challenging. That coupled with her lack of success here make the driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet a no-go option for this race.
Matt Kenseth – The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been nearly a weekly play this season in most league formats, so if you're looking for a reason to bench Kenseth this would be it. Despite being 11th in the points coming into this event, this is a track where you're best to play it safe with the driver of the No. 20 Toyota. Pocono Raceway has not been a good facility for Kenseth over the years. He has no victories, 58 laps led and sports merely a 33- percent Top-10 rate at the Tricky Triangle. This weekend will likely be one of the few occasions this season when the No. 20 team is not a top team on a given Sunday. Give him a richly-deserved week off at Pocono Raceway.