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've completed 13 races of the 26 that determines the field for the Chase, we're on the downhill run towards NASCAR's playoff. The tricky triangle in Pocono makes a good, challenging track to mark the start of the second half in the Monster Energy Cup Series regular season. Since we will be racing the three-turn oval for the first time in 2018, the teams and drivers will
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've completed 13 races of the 26 that determines the field for the Chase, we're on the downhill run towards NASCAR's playoff. The tricky triangle in Pocono makes a good, challenging track to mark the start of the second half in the Monster Energy Cup Series regular season. Since we will be racing the three-turn oval for the first time in 2018, 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 Kansas 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 13 years or 26 races at Pocono Raceway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||15.5||701||150||166||1,912||85.2|
Pocono Raceway had been a NASCAR track up for grabs for years. Then with Jeff Gordon's victory here in 2012, we saw the Bowtie camp run away with six-straight victories at the Tricky Triangle. However, if the last three seasons are any indicator, we appear to be tilting back towards manufacturer parity here again. In August of 2015, Matt Kenseth stole a victory for the Toyota camp and broke that six-race winning streak Chevrolet had at Pocono Raceway. When the Monster Energy Cup Series last visited here in August of last year, Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team took that win to the bank. It was Toyota's second victory at the tri-oval since 2015. In this event one year ago, it was Ryan Blaney and his surprising Wood Brothers Racing Ford team that took the checkers. That made two victories in a row for Ford with Chris Buescher's 2016 win at the track. All three manufacturers have won at Pocono in the last four events. We should see that type of parity again this weekend.
Considering that Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota in general have been heating up the past couple races, it will be hard to keep any of their drivers out of victory lane at the Tricky Triangle. Joe Gibbs Racing stars Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are surging right now, and Busch is coming off the dominant victory in last weekend's Coca-Cola 600. Hamlin is a four-time Pocono winner 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 Charlotte (third-place), he is certainly trending north coming into the Pocono 400. Another Gibbs driver to consider this week would be Busch. He just grabbed his first-career Pocono win last August in the Overton's 400, and put aside years of heartache and near-misses at the 2.5-mile triangle. Their Gibbs' teammate, Erik Jones, showed a real expertise racing at Pocono last season, and the timing could be right for the driver of the No. 20 Toyota to finally win. All three drivers are trending north right now, and should not be overlooked in weekly fantasy lineups.
Toyota's largest threat going into the weekend has to be Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford team. Harvick had his two-race (three if you count the All-Star Race) win streak snapped at Charlotte this past weekend. He's never won at this facility, but he's finished runner-up in the last two Pocono races, and he's finished runner-up in four of the last seven events at the Tricky Triangle. Harvick has to be viewed as a major threat for victory lane. If Chevrolet hopes to wrestle control of this unique oval back from the competition, those hopes will largely ride with young aces Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. The two are racing the best for this manufacturer from their respective teams, and will no doubt be mixing it up at the front Sunday afternoon. 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 Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Kyle Busch – Busch struggled for many seasons at Pocono Raceway. Somewhere around 2010 the Joe Gibbs Racing star had the "switch" flip on at Pocono and he started sporadically collecting runner-up and Top-3 finishes. After 26 starts at the facility, it finally culminated in last August's Overton's 400 where Busch won the pole, led 74 laps, held Kevin Harvick at bay and finally collected his first-career Pocono win. 2017 was a dominant display for the No. 18 Toyota team at the Pocono tri-oval. Busch led 174 combined laps between the two races, won both poles, took one victory and two Top-10 finishes. His career resume is still lacking from an average standpoint, but make no mistake about it, Busch is finally clicking at Pocono Raceway and the victories will start to pile up.
Kevin Harvick – While Harvick may not have the best loop stats or finishing stats at Pocono Raceway, we have to give a huge fantasy racing endorsement this weekend to the strong Stewart Haas Racing driver. He finished runner-up in both Pocono races last season, and now has four runner-up finishes in his last seven starts at the Pennsylvania race track. Harvick has lacked the laps led at this facility to make him an obvious top contender, but often times, he's the next best driver on the track at Pocono. He'll look to erase that distinction and nab his first-career Pocono Raceway win this Sunday afternoon. Harvick comes into Pocono 400 weekend riding one of the biggest hot streaks of his career. Just 13 races into this season he already has five victories, and he's on pace to shatter his career-best season victory mark.
Martin Truex Jr. – The driver of the No. 78 Toyota has looked much improved over the last three events. Truex has just 13 laps led, but he has two runner-up and one fourth-place finish in the last three events. He'll ride that momentum into Pennsylvania this weekend. Pocono Raceway should be yet another strong outing for the Furniture Row Racing star. Truex has one pole position and two outside poles in his last three visits to the Pocono tri-oval. He's turned that good speed into a third-, sixth- and 38th-place finish. Over that three-race span he's led over 50 combined laps. Pocono used to be one of his worst ovals on the circuit, but that has been rapidly changing since 2015. Truex is heating up coming into the Pocono Mountains this weekend, and there's little doubt he's one of the top drivers to beat in the Pocono 400.
Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is the statistical leader in a lot of categories at Pocono Raceway and he boasts the second-best driver rating of the field in the last 26 races at the three-turn oval. He has led close to 700 laps and owns four victories at the track in his Monster Energy Cup career. With a Top-5 rate of around 42-percent at Pocono, Hamlin is among the elite drivers in the series at this facility. The No. 11 Toyota team has been incredibly improved over the past three weeks, with finishes of seventh-, fifth- and third-place at Dover, Kansas and Charlotte. The Joe Gibbs Racing star appears to be gathering momentum since he's riding a three-race Top-10 streak, so Hamlin should be excited about the prospect of visiting one of his better ovals this weekend. He makes an excellent sleeper candidate for the win.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Kyle Larson – The speed of the No. 42 Chevrolet team each week is undeniable. The luck and skill at closing races is the only thing in question at this point. After near brushes with victory at Bristol and Kansas, Larson comes to Pocono looking to put a notch in the win column. This oval may be the perfect set up for the young driver to do so. Larson has one-career pole at the track (2014) and he has four Top-10 finishes in eight starts. Two of his last three trips to the Pocono Mountains have netted Top-10 finishes. In this event one year ago, Larson qualified seventh, led 9 laps and finished seventh. That's been pretty typical of the Chip Ganassi Racing star at this facility. He should be a steady Top-10 fantasy racing play with lots of upside at Pocono Raceway.
Brad Keselowski – The Pocono book shows a driver that had mixed results at this facility for several years, but things have been improving dramatically over the last three seasons. Keselowski now owns nine Top-10 finishes in 16 starts, but he's been on an absolute tear of late to boost that career rate to its current 56-percent. The Penske Racing start rides a five-race Pocono Top-5 streak into Sunday's action. Keselowski has been quite impressive over that recent span. He's nabbed two runner-up finishes and led close to 30 combined laps. This makes the perfect venue for the No. 2 Ford team to visit given their current performance status. Keselowski has tremendous upside in this Sunday's 400-mile race at Pocono Raceway.
Kurt Busch – The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has had an up-and-down season in 2018, although it has trended better in recent weeks. His eighth-place finish at Charlotte this past weekend has given the No. 41 SHR team a four-race Top-10 streak coming to Pocono Raceway. Busch will look to extend that streak to five races after Sunday's Pocono 400. There's more than a reasonable chance for Busch to finish well this week at the Pocono tri-oval. The Pennsylvania track has yielded three wins and 19 Top-10 finishes over the years to the veteran driver. His most recent victory came in this event two years ago. Busch sports a strong 58-percent Top-10 rate at Pocono Raceway. He should keep his Pocono excellence going in Sunday's Pocono 400.
Erik Jones – The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster had quite an impressive debut at the Pocono triangle last season. Jones led 24 combined laps in the two races, and nabbed third- and eighth-place finishes. Those were eye-opening performances for the then-rookie driver. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota saw a potential Top-10 finish evaporate late in last weekend's Coca-Cola 600, so you know he'll be motivated coming to Pocono Raceway this weekend. Jones clearly likes racing at this challenging tri-oval, and he's had the speed to compete with the leaders most weekends this season. We believe it will all add up to yet another Top-10 finish for Jones at Pocono Raceway.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Pocono who can provide a solid finish
Ryan Blaney – The Penske Racing driver has had some fast cars of late, but he's also had some tough luck. Still, it's hard to look past his undeniable speed at both Kansas and Charlotte recently, despite the DNF's. In this event one year ago, Blaney made the Pocono start for his former race team at Wood Brothers Racing. That Sunday afternoon in June saw the young driver out duel both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch to capture his first-career Cup Series victory. For that reason, Pocono Raceway will always be special to Blaney. With first-, 10th-, 11th- and 30th-place finishes in his first four starts at the tri-oval, we're certain Blaney is eagerly anticipating his first Pocono start with his new No. 12 Ford team.
Chase Elliott – As we come out of the Charlotte race weekend, we gain a renewed appreciation for the No. 9 Chevrolet team and young driver Elliott. He's been heating up over the last six weeks, but not as hot as he'd like to be to say the least. This will be his fifth-career start at Pocono Raceway so Elliott and the team should be starting to show some results from the data collected to this point. He's led 51 laps and grabbed three Top-10 finishes in those four prior Pocono starts. The Hendrick Motorsports youngster clearly loves racing at this facility, and his team has been improving their new Camaro each week. We're willing to bet another Pocono Raceway Top-10 finish is in the offing this Sunday afternoon.
Aric Almirola – A driver with an opportunity to completely buck his career stat line at Pocono Raceway this weekend is Almirola. This is a bit of a fantasy racing gamble, so be aware of the risks. Almirola has made 11-career starts at the Tricky Triangle, and has never cracked the Top 15, and only cracked the Top 20 three times in those efforts. His average finish sits at a bloated 27.5 over the last six seasons. We really want to believe that making the move to the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 team will be the nudge that he needs to finally crack the Top 15 at Pocono and possibly the Top 10. Almirola is on pace for about 14 Top-10 finishes this season and that smashes his previous career-best mark of seven. It's going to be a "different" driver climbing behind that wheel this Sunday at Pocono than the Almirola of the past.
Clint Bowyer – With 15th- and 12th-place finishes the last two events, Bowyer's hot season has suddenly cooled just a bit. However, there's little reason to fear for the No. 14 Ford team. Pocono Raceway presents a great opportunity for this veteran driver and team to crank things back up. Bowyer owns 10-career Top-10 finishes and a very respectable 14.7 average finish across 24 starts. That equals a lot of racing on the lead lap and absolutely zero DNF's. Those are the type of stats you look for when it comes to fantasy racing consistency. Bowyer brings the upside of a possible Top 10, but he also presents the safety net of finishing the event running on the lead lap.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The Roush Fenway Racing driver has been quietly amassing some good finishes this season on the larger ovals. Stenhouse rides a string of fifth-, 11th- and 10th-place recently at Talladega, Kansas and Charlotte coming to Pocono this week. He's been piling up the points and has moved from 20th- to 15th-place in the driver standings over the last six events. Stenhouse has only finished outside the Top-15 once in the last six races. That's an impressive streak. Pocono Raceway has presented its challenges to the driver of the No. 17 Ford. In 10-career starts Stenhouse has managed no Top-10 finishes and only three Top-15 finishes. Still, we think this time around will be different for the veteran driver. Stenhouse finished a career Pocono-best 11th in this event one year ago, and he should post a similar mark in the Pocono 400.
Matt Kenseth – The Roush Fenway Racing veteran is just two races into his return to Cup action, and there are already some signs of improvement at the No. 6 Ford team. After a pitiful 36th-place finish at Kansas to start things off, Kenseth rallied last weekend at Charlotte to nab a respectable 17th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. That is a big step for this struggling team, and signs that Kenseth can turn things around. Pocono Raceway is a driver's track, and that plays well to this veteran's strengths. Kenseth owns one victory and 15 Top-10 finishes at Pocono Raceway over the years. That checks in at a respectable 42-percent mark. While the triangular oval isn't his best track on the circuit, it's far from his worst. Another borderline Top-15 finish should be in order this Sunday afternoon.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Jimmie Johnson – Pocono Raceway isn't one of Johnson's best tracks, but in his 16 years of racing the Pennsylvania tri-oval he's collected three victories and 19 Top-10 finishes. The seven-time Monster Energy Cup champion has had a frustrating season thus far in 2018. Although Johnson did shine a glimmer of light on it this past weekend with a fifth-place finish at Charlotte. However, the Hendrick Motorsports star's recent outings at Pocono Raceway have to speak louder than most anything else this weekend. With only two Top 10s in his last seven trips to the Pocono Mountains, we have to be concerned. Four of those last seven starts have turned into DNF's for the No. 48 Chevrolet team. Nothing in fantasy racing is more devastating than a DNF driver. There are huge risks associated with Johnson this weekend.
Joey Logano – Despite being a one-time Pocono winner, Logano is another star driver to be wary of this weekend. The Penske Racing star won this event in 2012, but since then it's been a terribly mixed bag of results. Only five of the 11 starts at Pocono Raceway since that victory have netted a Top-10 result (45-percent), and it's turned far worse in more recent outings. Logano's last three results at Pocono are 37th-, 23rd- and 27th-place. Those efforts have lowered his career Top-10 rate at Pocono Raceway to a lowly 33-percent. While we're very high on Logano for the remainder of the 2018 season, this may just be a very good opportunity to bench him in weekly lineup leagues, and save those starts for elsewhere.
Jamie McMurray – Despite cracking the Top 10 this past weekend at Charlotte, we're not ready to say that McMurray's struggles are completely over this season. While the sixth-place Coca-Cola 600 finish will go a long way towards turning this team around, there could still be some more rough water ahead. Pocono Raceway has been exceedingly tough for the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet in recent outings. McMurray has failed to crack the Top 10 there in his last five starts, and his 37th- and 26th-place finishes last season at Pocono Raceway were a disaster. His career Top-10 mark at the Tricky Triangle sits at just 23-percent (seven in 30 starts), so this is far from McMurray's best track on the circuit.
William Byron – Byron's flame-out and 39th-place finish at Charlotte this past week has tumbled the rookie driver to a season-low. He now has three DNF's in the last four races, and has fallen to 21st-place in the driver standings. Pocono Raceway isn't exactly the race track where a rookie driver just hits the reset button on a tough season. Byron will be making his first-career Monster Energy Cup Series start at the 2.5-mile triangle this weekend. While he does have one each Xfinity and Truck Series starts at Pocono, the track will largely be unfamiliar to him in a Cup car this Sunday. That's not an encouraging scenario from a fantasy racing perspective. It could be another long afternoon this Sunday for the No. 24 Chevrolet team.