Fantasy NASCAR preview: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500

by Eric McClung on July 28, 2010 @ 16:20:00 PDT


Pocono Raceway is one of the few independently-owned tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Known as the Tricky Triangle, Pocono's three turns are all banked differently and inspired by other race tracks: the defunct Trenton Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and The Milwaukee Mile. Finding a setup that will play well in all three turns can be a quite a challenge.

IMS just held the Brickyard 400 which could offer a preview of what to expect in the return trip to Pocono. They share the same length and are relatively flat. Getting around each track is quite different with Indy being the more technical of the two.

Location: Long Pond, Pa.
Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 2.5 miles
Laps: 200
Turn 1: 14 degrees
Turn 2: 8 degrees
Turn 3: 6 degrees
Frontstretch: 2 degrees
Backstretch: 2 degrees
Shortstretch: 2 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&Ms Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards
Edwards on a roll

Back in the June race at Pocono, the younger Busch brother was the only driver to record all 204 laps running in the top-15. Starting from the pole, Busch held an average running position of third and led a total of 32 laps. His runner-up performance was his first top-10 finish at the site since June of 2007. Denny Hamlin, the winner of the last two Cup events at Pocono, shared setup information and other tips to his teammates which clearly paid off. Throw the career average finish of 19.6 out the window, Busch got a peak behind the curtain and has a new approach to attacking Pocono.

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Thanks to parts from Kasey Kahne's team and the new Ford FR9 engine, the Roush Fenway drivers are starting to turn things around. Edwards has led the way with three straight finishes of seventh or better. After qualifying 26th at Pocono in June, Edwards rallied to finish a respectable 12th. He's a two-time winner at the site and was the runner-up in last year's June event. Now driving in perhaps the best equipment he's had all season, Edwards can get back to challenging for wins.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 The Hartford Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Since 2007, Bowyer has five top-10 finishes in seven starts at Pocono. Starting from the outside pole in June, he finished ninth with career highs in average running position (sixth) and percentage of laps running in the top-15 (97.5). Bowyer enters with two straight fourth-place finishes and would likely own a streak of five straight top-10s if not for late-race incidents at Infineon Raceway and Daytona International Speedway. Clinging to the final spot in the Chase by 62 points, Bowyer must keep pressing and has a great opportunity to create some separation at Pocono.

Joey Logano | No. 20 The Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Another beneficiary of Denny Hamlin's information sharing is Logano. After finishing 23rd and 27th last year at Pocono, Logano held an average running position of 11th with 95.1 percent of laps running in the top-15 during the spring race. He finished 13th but would have finished in the top five if not for being spun out by Kevin Harvick moments before Hamlin could take the white flag. Coming off a ninth-place result at Indianapolis, Logano could challenge for a similar result on another 2.5-mile flat track.

Sam Hornish Jr. | No. 77 PPG Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

A wreck on the very first lap at Indianapolis kept Hornish from ever competing at a site that he had success at late in his open-wheel career. Pocono has been his best track in the Cup series with three straight finishes of 11th or better. Hornish has been a bit of an overachiever with average running positions ranging from 16th to 20th. The team has used late-race strategy each time to stay out and sneak in those finishes but it's hard to argue with consistent success from a lower-tier driver.

Temper your expectations

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Struggling to keep up

It's been seven races since Kenseth finished in the top 10. He does have four straight finishes between 12th and 17th but has not looked as sharp has some of his Roush teammates. Perhaps the team is still catching up after Todd Parrott was replaced atop the box in late June. At Pocono, Kenseth has four finishes ranging from 11th to 17th. As one of the most started middle-tier drivers, Kenseth's mediocre runs over the past several weeks have him seriously overvalued. Keep him in the garage until he's at least on par with his stronger teammates.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Just when it looked like Earnhardt could sneak into the Chase, finishes of 23rd at Chicagoland Speedway and 27th at Indianapolis have started to dash those hopes. Things don't look promising for Pocono, either. Despite starting third in June, Earnhardt began to fade from the drop of the green flag to finish 19th with an average running position of 14th. More snarky chatter was heard over the No. 88 team's radio last week during practice at IMS. You have to wonder if Earnhardt is just bidding his time in hopes of getting another crew chief change now that his odds of making the Chase are about to go on life support.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Newman won at Pocono from the pole in July of 2003 and was the runner-up in June of 2007 after scoring another pole. However, starting position hasn't helped Newman lately. After starting ninth or better in four straight at the track, Newman has finished in 14th position on three occasions with only one top-10. With struggles in the last two races - 22nd at Chicagoland and 17th at Indianapolis - Newman is an unexciting option unless your format offers a reward for strong qualifying performances.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

After putting down the fastest lap in the final practice at Indianapolis, Truex had a top-10 finish wiped out after contact during a late restart caused front-end damage. Two separate issues during pit stops by his typically reliable crew did not help matters either. Truex's best finish at Pocono is only 15th since the summer race of 2007. The speed from Indy could carry over to Pocono, but Truex has struggled to put together a complete run over the course of an entire race this year.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Despite three straight finishes of eighth or better at Pocono, it's hard to consider Montoya this week. A four-tire call cost him track position and kept him from winning at Indianapolis, despite leading the most laps for the second straight year. Worse is how overly aggressive Montoya got after restarting seventh. Rather than trying to work his way into a strong top-five finish, the Columbian's temper got the best of him yet again and overdriving the corner put him into the wall. JPM now has three DNFs due to crash in his last four starts. Montoya is starting to look like a toxic asset in all fantasy formats.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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