Pocono 400 Preview: The Tricky Triangle

Pocono 400 Preview: The Tricky Triangle

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

With the conclusion of the Charlotte race, we're now past the mid-point in the run up to the Chase for the Cup as the series will pay a visit to Pocono Raceway for the first of two races at the track this summer.  The three-turn oval located in the mountains of Pennsylvania is unlike any other oval track on the circuit.  Pocono has been referred to many times over the years as the oval that races like a road course.  The extremely long straightaways and the three distinct corners are the primary reason why we have more of a road course feel.  You can't hit the set up on your stock car to optimize all three turns, so the crew chiefs have to make their cars as comfortable for the drivers as possible.  This usually means making the car easier to turn in two of the three corners and sacrificing the other.  

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 2019, the teams and drivers will

With the conclusion of the Charlotte race, we're now past the mid-point in the run up to the Chase for the Cup as the series will pay a visit to Pocono Raceway for the first of two races at the track this summer.  The three-turn oval located in the mountains of Pennsylvania is unlike any other oval track on the circuit.  Pocono has been referred to many times over the years as the oval that races like a road course.  The extremely long straightaways and the three distinct corners are the primary reason why we have more of a road course feel.  You can't hit the set up on your stock car to optimize all three turns, so the crew chiefs have to make their cars as comfortable for the drivers as possible.  This usually means making the car easier to turn in two of the three corners and sacrificing the other.  

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 2019, 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 14 years or 28 races at Pocono Raceway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Denny Hamlin12.69664656933,534104.0
Chase Elliott12.02585165840103.2
Kurt Busch12.41,0283805453,492102.8
Jimmie Johnson13.11,0972884653,522100.4
Erik Jones11.31552935542100.2
Kevin Harvick10.01,1052511873,30297.7
Brad Keselowski11.75991631791,80394.7
Kyle Larson11.839628661,19894.3
Kyle Busch16.49402443253,32992.7
Ryan Newman12.81,10338593,35089.6
Ryan Blaney11.7190172163489.6
Joey Logano17.56621082751,86288.7
Daniel Suarez12.0125173044987.8
Martin Truex Jr.14.97701851972,21387.1
Clint Bowyer14.883543962,23881.8
William Byron12.07511020280.5
Austin Dillon17.323391068975.5
Paul Menard23.0425901,03264.3
Aric Almirola25.71813240861.3
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.22.7149121424860.4

Pocono Raceway had been a NASCAR track up for grabs for years.  With Jeff Gordon's victory for Chevrolet here in 2012, we saw the Bowtie camp run away with six-straight victories at the Tricky Triangle.  Ever since, Pocono has developed mostly into a track of manufacturer streaks.  When the Monster Energy Cup Series last visited here in July of last year, Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team took that win to the bank.  It was Toyota's third-straight victory at the huge tri-oval and second in the string for Busch.  In this event one year ago, it was Martin Truex Jr. and his now-defunct Furniture Row Racing team that took the checkers.  Sandwiched in between Busch's wins, it has made for three consecutive Pocono victories for Toyota.  With the ball squarely in this camp's court, this weekend is a timely visit to Pocono Raceway for drivers of this brand.  Toyota drivers have won two of the last three and five of the last seven events leading up to this weekend.  We'll see if they can stay hot at the Tricky Triangle.

Considering that Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet drivers in general have been heating up the past several races, it will be hard to keep some of their drivers out of victory lane at Pocono Raceway.  Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson and William Byron have done a lot in recent outings to put an end to Chevrolet's woes.  None of the four have ever won at the Tricky Triangle, so visiting victory lane here will be a tall order.  However, all four drivers are trending in the right direction, 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 has had good speed the past couple weeks, and his urgency to post his first win of the season is building.  He's never won at this facility, but he's finished runner-up in two of the last four Pocono races, and he's a ridiculous five-race Pocono Top-5 streak into Sunday's action.  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, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott.  The trio 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.  It's finally culminated in his last two seasons at the Tricky Triangle where Busch has nabbed two of the last three victories at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has led a whopping 239 combined laps in his last four Pocono starts.  Busch has clearly worked his way into being the driver to beat each time we visit this Pennsylvania track.  His career-long stats at Pocono Raceway pale by comparison to some other veteran drivers, but don't let that fool you.  Busch is clearly the top choice this Sunday for the Pocono 400.

Martin Truex Jr. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has looked much improved over the last five events.  After a somewhat slow start to the season, Truex has grabbed three wins and over 400 laps led during this recent span.  He'll ride that momentum into Pennsylvania this weekend.  Pocono Raceway should be yet another strong outing for the Joe Gibbs Racing star.  Truex has one pole position and two outside poles in his last five visits to the Pocono tri-oval.  He's turned that good speed into a victory and three Top-6 finishes.  Over that five-race span he's led 83 combined laps.  Pocono used to be one of his worst ovals on the circuit, but that has been rapidly changing since 2015.  The two-time Pocono winner is heating up coming into this weekend, and there's little doubt he's one of the top drivers to beat in this 400-mile battle.

Kevin Harvick While Harvick may not have the best loop 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 in 2017, and he claimed a pair of fourth-place finishes at the oval in 2018.  Harvick led a combined 119 laps in those two starts last season, so we saw the No. 4 Ford at the front a lot at Pocono last year.  The veteran driver now rides a strong five-race Pocono Top-5 streak into Sunday's action.  While we're still waiting on Harvick's first-career win at this oval, it shouldn't be much longer.  He's been incredibly close to winning at Pocono many times since the 2014 season.        

Denny Hamlin Hamlin is the statistical leader in a lot of categories at Pocono Raceway and he boasts the top driver rating of the field in the last 28 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 39-percent at Pocono, Hamlin is among the elite drivers in the series at this facility.  The No. 11 Toyota team has been mired in a slump the last month, but this is the track that should give Hamlin a way to break his bad luck streak.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star is simply too good at Pocono Raceway, and he brings that upset potential to the table.  He makes an excellent sleeper candidate for the win this weekend.

Solid Plays – Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

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 month, riding a four-race Top-5 streak into Pocono.  This will be his seventh-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 65 laps and grabbed five Top-10 finishes in those six prior Pocono starts.  The Hendrick Motorsports youngster clearly loves racing at this facility, and his team has been steadily improving each week.  We're willing to bet another Pocono Raceway Top-10 finish is in the offing this Sunday afternoon. 

Brad Keselowski The Pocono history book shows a driver that had mixed results at this facility for several years, but things have been improving dramatically over the last four seasons.  Keselowski now owns 10 Top-10 finishes in 18 starts, but he's been on an absolute tear of late to boost that career rate to its current 56-percent.  The Penske Racing star rides six Pocono Top 5's in his last seven starts into Sunday's action.  Keselowski has been quite impressive over that recent span.  He's nabbed two runner-up finishes and led close to 40 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.   

Alex Bowman This is more of a hot-hand selection than a Pocono historical selection.  Bowman has just six-career starts at the Tricky Triangle, but it's what he did in his last start that catches our attention the most.  Last July he piloted the No. 88 Chevrolet to a brilliant third-place finish in the Gander Outdoors 400.  It was a truly impressive performance given his 34 quality passes and 154 of 164 laps spent racing inside the Top 15.  Bowman returns to Pocono a more polished and experienced driver this weekend.  He has three runner-up and one seventh-place finish in his last four starts entering this weekend.  The Hendrick Motorsports youngster is on fire coming to Pocono Raceway, and he should pick up where he left off last July.    

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 Dover 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 five Top-10 finishes in 10starts.  Three of his last five trips to the Pocono Mountains have netted Top-10 finishes.  In this event one year ago, Larson qualified 13th and finished runner-up in that installment of the Pocono 400.  That's been pretty typical of the Chip Ganassi Racing star at this facility.  He tends to do better in his first start of the season at the Tricky Triangle than his second.  Larson should be a steady Top-10 fantasy racing play with lots of upside at Pocono Raceway.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Pocono who can provide a solid finish

Erik Jones  The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has had quite an impressive first two seasons of racing at the Pocono triangle.  Jones led 20 laps in his debut at the facility two seasons ago and collected a surprising third-place finish.  That was an eye-opening performance for the then-rookie driver.  Jones has gone on to add two more Top-10 finishes since then.  He now has three Top 10's in four-career starts at Pocono Raceway.  In his last start, last July, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota led 11 laps and finished fifth in the Gander Outdoors 400.  This race should be the perfect setup for a rebound after his crash and DNF at Charlotte last weekend.

Kurt Busch The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has had kind of an up-and-down last six weeks.  His 27th-place finish at Charlotte this past weekend was preceded by a strong seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway.  Busch is looking to put together another four-race Top-10 streak like he had earlier this season.  There's more than a reasonable chance for the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet to finish well this week at the Pocono tri-oval.  The Pennsylvania track has yielded three wins and 20 Top-10 finishes over the years to the veteran driver.  His most recent victory came in this event three years ago.  Busch sports a strong 57-percent Top-10 rate at Pocono Raceway.  He should keep his Pocono excellence going in Sunday's Pocono 400. 

Jimmie Johnson Pocono Raceway isn't one of Johnson's best tracks, but in his 17 years of racing the Pennsylvania tri-oval he's collected three victories and 20 Top-10 finishes.  The seven-time Monster Energy Cup champion is riding a two-race Top-10 streak into Sunday's Pocono 400, and that's a very good sign.  A sixth-place finish at Kansas and eighth-place finish this past week at Charlotte have boosted this team's overall performance.  Johnson currently sits 14th overall in the driver point standings, and looking to climb higher if he can extend his Top-10 streak to three.  The veteran driver's start in this event one year ago saw Johnson come from 15th on the starting grid to lead 2 laps and finish a respectable eighth in that Pocono 400.    

Clint Bowyer With three Top-10 finishes in the last five events, Bowyer's good season has continued from March into April and May.  There's little reason to be wary of the No. 14 SHR Ford team despite their poor finish at Charlotte this past weekend.  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 14.8 average finish across 26 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. 

William Byron Byron's season has suddenly heated up in May.  The young Hendrick Motorsports driver has meshed well with veteran crew chief Chad Knaus, and the duo have nabbed Top-10 finishes in two of their last three starts.  That includes their surprising pole position and ninth-place finish this past weekend in the Coca-Cola 600.  Byron made his debut at the Pocono triangle last season, and despite his 2018 struggles, earned respectable 18th- and sixth-place finishes in those efforts.  His performance last July stands out with 10 laps led and a brilliant sixth-place in the Gander Outdoors 400.  This is a driver and team that is trending in the right direction to follow up that good last start at Pocono Raceway.    

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has been quietly amassing some good finishes this season on the larger ovals.  Stenhouse rides consecutive 11th- and fifth-place finishes at Kansas and Charlotte coming into Pocono this week.  He's been piling up the points and has moved from 21st- to 19th-place in the driver standings over the last two events.  As for Pocono Raceway, Stenhouse has generally been a Top-15 finisher there more often than not.  Three of his last six starts at the Tricky Triangle have netted those Top 15's and respectable 16.0 average finish across that span.  As well as the No. 17 Ford team is running right now, this veteran driver could be looking at his career-best Pocono finish in Sunday's 400-mile battle.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Ryan Blaney The Penske Racing driver has had some fast cars of late, but he's also had some tough luck.  The last six weeks have been quite a rut for the No. 12 Ford team.  Blaney rides a five-race Top-10 drought into Pocono Raceway this Sunday afternoon.  He had good speed at Charlotte this past weekend, but things went wrong late in that 600-mile race and Blaney wound up a subpar 13th in the Coca-Cola 600.  Pocono has been a pretty good oval for the young driver.  He has one victory and three Top-10 finishes in six-career starts.  However, we feel his current slump is just too troubling to look past.  Blaney is an intriguing, but in our opinion an unsafe fantasy racing play in the Pocono 400.

Aric Almirola An unforeseen slump has hit the No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing team.  With just one Top-10 finish in the last six races, Almirola has tumbled from fifth in the driver standings to 12th-place after Charlotte.  The veteran driver will look to regroup this weekend at Pocono Raceway.  However, it may be a tall task given Almirola's lack of performance at this challenging oval during his career.  The driver of the No. 10 Ford has just one Top-10 finish in 13-career starts at this facility compared to four DNF's.  Despite Almirola's resurgent 2018 season, he didn't qualify well at Pocono last year, starting 34th on the grid in both races.  His last start at the oval ended in a disappointing 25th-place finish last July.  It's best to pass on Almirola this week until he can shake off his current slump.

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 six of the 13 starts at Pocono Raceway since that victory have netted a Top-10 result (46-percent), and it's turned far worse in more recent outings.  Logano's last five results at Pocono are 37th-, 23rd-, 27th-, ninth- and 26th-place.  Those efforts have lowered his career Top-10 rate at Pocono Raceway to a lowly 35-percent.  While we're very high on Logano for the remainder of the 2019 season, this may just be a very good opportunity to bench him in weekly lineup leagues, and save those starts for elsewhere.    

Darrell Wallace Jr. Despite his great performance recently on All-Star weekend, we have to recommend passing up Wallace and the RPM No. 43 team this week at Pocono Raceway.  This oval has thrashed the young driver in his first two seasons of action.  Wallace missed a shift here in this event one year ago and blew an engine despite showing very good speed.  The young driver returned to the Tricky Triangle last July and was rolled up in a late-race crash, and finished 33rd in the Gander Outdoors 400.  The three starts at Pocono Raceway to this point have been very forgettable.  Wallace has the opportunity to buck that trend in Sunday's Pocono 400, but we just can't see him finishing on the right side of the Top 25 this Sunday afternoon.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta
NASCAR Barometer:  William Byron Wins Rain-Delayed Daytona 500
NASCAR Barometer: William Byron Wins Rain-Delayed Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS:  Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: Daytona 500