Pocono Raceway is one of the few independently-owned tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule and hosts two events per season. Known as the Tricky Triangle, Pocono's three distinct turns are all banked differently and inspired by other race tracks: the defunct Trenton Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which just hosted its annual race last week, and The Milwaukee Mile. Finding a setup that will play well in all three turns can be a quite a challenge.
Owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practice sessions prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.
Location: Long Pond, Pa.
Length: 2.5 miles
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
Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
After a few years of mostly mediocre runs at Pocono, Harvick has become on the most consistent performers at the site. He's collected three consecutive top-five results with an average running position that has not dropped below 11th. Harvick is coming off an 11th-place result at Indy where he snapped a mini-slump, by his standards, of two finishes outside the top 15. Look for Harvick to make a seamless transition from one flat, 2.5-mile track to another.
Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Thanks to advice from teammate Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team, Busch is rapidly approaching his first career Cup win at Pocono. In last year's June race, he finished as the runner-up after qualifying on the pole. This June, Busch rallied from starting 34th to finish third. In fact, over the last six Pocono races his average running position has been no worse than 14th. Now that the finishes are starting to match, it's clear Rowdy is primed and ready for victory.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Since 2009, Gordon's average running position at Pocono has been 10th or better in five starts. In each of the last two, he led 39 laps while spending more than 99 percent of his laps in the top 15. Gordon won back in June but is also coming off an impressive runner-up performance at Indy where he undoubtedly had the best car. After beginning the season with inconsistent performances, Gordon has now finished 11th or better in eight of the last nine races. Consider him an elite start thanks to masterful runs on each of the flat, 2.5-mile tracks this season.
Ryan Newman | No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
If you are looking for a safe play at Pocono, they don't come much safer than Newman. Since 2007, he's only finished outside of the top-15 once in nine starts. Among all drivers, Newman's career average running position of 11.5 at Pocono ranks sixth. Despite spending just 7.5 of his laps in the top 15 at Indy, Newman managed to finish 12th. While he may not challenge for a win, Newman is a solid middle-tier driver this week.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Back in June, Hamlin looked as strong as ever at Pocono while leading 76 laps until suffering a flat tire on lap 161 and then losing his brakes on lap 176. While he still managed to finish 17th, his average running position of sixth indicates Hamlin's day should have been far more rewarding. Don't let the bad luck steer you away, Hamlin hasn't come close to losing his expert touch at Pocono. His career average running position of 8.6 is tops among all drivers, in addition to his 5.9 average starting position and 9.2 average finish.
Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Over his last four Pocono starts, Montoya has improved each time out in average running position. In June, he recorded a seventh-place finish while running fourth, on the average, and leading 38 laps. That gives JPM four top-10 results in his last five at the site. While Montoya ran well at the Brickyard, he finished 28th as was one of several drivers that got burned by those that made it on fuel mileage. Now sitting 20th in points, Montoya will likely need wins to get into the Chase. With Pocono and a road course next on the docket, he’ll need to strike now.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
With two straight top-10 finishes at Pocono, Truex has the makings of a sleeper, albeit a very risky one. Despite currently ranking 16th in average running position this season, Truex is 22nd in points. That's that kind of bad luck that's been following him for quite some time now. However, if Truex performers well in the practice sessions, the gamble could pay off for adventurous managers.
Regan Smith | No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing
After qualifying fifth at Pocono in June, Smith went on to finish 15th with an average running position of 18th. He returns to the site coming off a third-place result at Indy and an average running position of 19th or better in four straight starts. Among bottom-tier drivers, Smith is very capable of another good performance.
Temper your expectations
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
While Earnhardt finished sixth at Pocono back in June, snapping a streak of five straight starts at the site without a top-10, he's been in free fall since. In the last six races, Earnhardt has yet to finish better than 15th and has dropped from third to 10th in points. While many of drivers that finished in the top-10 at Pocono earlier in the season appear safe bets to do so again, Earnhardt is certainly not one of them.
Mark Martin | No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Although Martin enters with an eighth-place result at Indy, his first top-10 in five races, he appears unlikely to notch his fifth consecutive top-10 in the August race at Pocono. Martin finished 18th in June with a career-worst average running position of 24th. With crew chief Kenny Francis recently making his move to Hendrick with Kasey Kahne official, one has to wonder how long the uncompetitive No. 5 team will remain as is.
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.