Fantasy NASCAR preview: Pocono 500

by C.J. Radune on June 3, 2009 @ 01:01:09 PDT

 


Pocono Raceway is as long as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, but it is not as fast because of the flat banking and the existence of three, instead of the usual two, sets of turns. Additionally, each turn is very different, so teams are forced to compromise their setups.

Perhaps more so than any other track, Pocono's corners are very unique, meaning a car will rarely handle ideally through an entire lap. Like the other flat tracks, though, downforce is very important and will force teams to be very precise with splitter settings. The turns aren't banked heavily which creates a bigger need for mechanical grip through the suspension package as well.

Engine problems are relatively common at Pocono because of the extremes the engines are put through in RPMs. Cars gear way down in the sharp corners and then approach 200 MPH on the front stretch forcing engines to their limits. The best way to pass is to beat another driver to the gas coming out of the turns and driving past them on the straights.

Location: Long Pond, Pa.
Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 2.50 miles
Laps: 200
Turn 1: 14 degrees
Turn 2: 8 degrees
Turn 3: 6 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Hamlin, who sits seventh in Sprint Cup points, dominated Pocono Raceway in his rookie season. He started from pole and won both of his first two races at the track. The following races were not too bad, either. In his following three starts he scored two third-place finishes and a sixth. His last race at Pocono didn't live up to his high standards at the track, though. Hamlin finished 23rd in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 in 2008. Even though he ended that day 23rd he was still on the lead lap. Hamlin has been quietly successful in 2009 so far, and if there were any track where Hamlin could announce his presence with a splash, it is Pocono.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Vickers' 2009 season has been decent but quite inconsistent so far. At Pocono raceway, though, Vickers has been historically strong. This could be the week Vickers scores his third top-five or sixth top-10 finish of the year. In total, Vickers has taken home four top-fives and four top-10s from 10 career starts at Pocono. His last top-five finish at the track was in last year's Pocono 500. He finished second. Vickers has a good chance of finishing near the front, possibly leading laps and perhaps scoring his best finish of the year so far this weekend in the Pocono 500.

Mark Martin | No. 5 Kelloggs/CARQUEST Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Martin continued his solid run with Hendrick Motorsports at Dover International Speedway last weekend where he scored his seventh top-10 finish of the season. It gets even better for Martin when you look at his statistics at Pocono. In 24 career starts at the track he has only missed finishing in the top 10 six times. His average finish in his career at the track is an astonishing 10.8. Hendrick's recent surge in form along with Martin's consistency and past results at Pocono make him a very strong contender for the win in the Pocono 500.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Pennzoil/Shell Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

To say Harvick's 2009 season has stuttered so far would be an understatement. He and the team have struggled more often than not, and Harvick sits a disappointing 24th in Sprint Cup points. The good news is that Harvick has had some decent results at Pocono in the last few races there. In his last five starts at the track he has averaged a finish of 10th. Harvick and Richard Childress Racing may be desperate to turn their fortunes around, and perhaps Harvick could lead that charge in the Pocono 500. If he can't, the season may end up being a wash for the No. 29 team.

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

Some argue that Earnhardt's crew chief change has already worked as evidenced by his 12th-place result in the Autism Speaks 400. It was a more polished Earnhardt who was communicating with new crew chief Lance McGrew last week. We need to see them carry it on for more than one week, but the early returns are promising. Earnhardt's average finish in the last six Pocono starts is 14.6. Take away the 43rd-place result he suffered in the 2006 Pennsylvania 500 due to an accident and that average becomes 7.5. This will be a good barometer for Earnhardt and his new crew chief.

Temper your expectations

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

Busch hasn't dominated in 2009 as he did last year. Despite that, he still has three winner's trophies in his trunk so far. At Pocono, though, Busch tends to struggle. His average finish in his last five starts at the track is 22.2. He has only scored one top-five and two top-10 finishes in his eight career starts at the track. It is possible that Busch could borrow some of the success his teammate Denny Hamlin has had at Pocono, and Busch is rarely someone you want to leave on the sidelines, but don't expect the dominating performances we've come to expect from him this weekend.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

After a decent start to the 2009 season, Bowyer's results have fallen away. He currently ranks 16th in Sprint Cup points and hasn't found a top-10 finish since the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500. In six starts at Pocono Raceway, Bowyer's average finish is 20.8. He did take home three top-10s in that time, though. Unfortunately Richard Childress Racing has been outpaced by its competitors in 2009 so far. Bowyer has struggled to make the top-10, and that run of form doesn't seem likely to change this weekend in the Pocono 500. Fantasy NASCAR owners will probably focus their attention elsewhere this weekend.

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

After starting the Autism Speaks 400 strongly, Montoya faded and ended the day in 30th position. His goal of consistently finishing in the top 15 was missed in that race, and it could be in jeopardy again this weekend in the Pocono 500. Montoya's average Pocono finish in four tries is 28.5. While the poor finish in last week's race may just be a blip in his current form, Pocono could be more of the same. Montoya has been doing well this season, but his past statistics on this Pennsylvania track don't add up to a strong run this weekend. The potential upside of Montoya at Pocono doesn't outweigh his risks.

David Reutimann | No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Reutimann has been a hot property this week in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. He won his first Cup race in the Coca Cola 600 and then followed up the result with a pole at Dover International Speedway. He was a strong car at the start but then lost a handle on the changing track and faded as the race progressed. Reutimann's Pocono statistics are not good though. His average finish in four tries at Pocono Raceway is 32. His best finish at the track was 19th in the 2008 Pocono 500. It might be too much to expect more surprises from Reutimann in the Pocono 500.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Biffle had a very good outing in the Autism Speaks 400 and finished third, which puts him ninth in Cup points. Unfortunately Biffle's Pocono resume is not encouraging. He has started 12 races at the track with a best finish of fourth, which was in the 2004 Pennsylvania 500. His average finish in the last five starts is 21.0. That is an average we normally wouldn't expect to see with Biffle. For that reason he is a driver to lower your expectations of. He could have a great day in Pennsylvania, but don't expect the Biffle we saw last weekend at Dover.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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