Party in the Poconos 400 Race Preview
|Jeff Gordon's win at Pocono last August was the difference|
maker in qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. (Getty)
After 12 weeks of cruising through the season with the top 12 drivers serving as the defacto Chase contenders, Stewart's win is a stark reminder that the final two spots will be decided by wins, not points. The message for drivers moving forward is that it's all about taking the checkered flag. If you can't finish in the top-10, you still might go chasing if you can find victory lane a few times in the final 13 races of NASCAR's season.
That's significant this week at Pocono, as five of the last six races winners at the track (including Stewart) currently sit outside the top-10. Here are the drivers to watch for as you set your Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing lineup:
Pocono's nickname is the Tricky Triangle. It's just that, a triangle. Not a tri-oval, nor a D-shaped oval, nor a quad-oval, nor whatever other term is used to distinguish a six one-way, half-dozen the other difference in intermediate oval layouts. This track only has three turns. At 2.5 miles, it's one of the series's largest tracks, albeit not necessarily the fastest due to the on-the-gas, off-the-gas nature of the flatter, triangular layout.
The shape of this track typically leads to lengthy, caution-free runs. The long straightaways tend to spread the cars out, and it puts a lot of emphasis on having a fast car that can keep up with the leaders. It also puts some emphasis on pit strategy. If you end up near the back on a restart and a long green flag run ensues, the leaders are probably going to be long gone by the time you weave your way through the slower, middle of the pack.
With fewer cautions and the cars being spread out over 2.5 miles, it's less likely that a good car gets swept up in bad luck. The good drivers in the fast cars should definitely be in lineup this week.
- #11 Denny Hamlin - He's looked fast since returning from his injury and has won four times at Pocono in 14 races. I've said all along that I think he'll win enough races to make the Chase, and this is a week he needs to do that.
- #24 Jeff Gordon - We saw this ho-hum pace from Gordon last year as well (he's currently 11th in the standings), and he used an August win at the Tricky Triangle to leverage a Chase berth. It was his second win in four races at the track and sixth of his career (a track record). He has an impressive 28 top-10s in 40 Pocono starts.
- #48 Jimmie Johnson - He was well on his way to a win at Dover before jumping the final restart and getting black flagged, but that will likely only fuel the team's competitive fire. The No. 48 has been very good this year, and its driver has a series-best 9.0 average finish at Pocono.
- #5 Kasey Kahne - My pick for the 2013 championship has put together a strong season, but ran into some bad luck last week when his tire went down and he hit the wall. Kahne has only six top-10s in 18 Pocono races, so I'm not anticipating a bounce back this week.
- #22 Joey Logano - His win in this event last year was his only top-10 in eight Pocono races to date, but he's been much better this season than he ever was with Joe Gibbs Racing.
- #39 Ryan Newman - What a dumb move to take out himself and David Gilliland last week; he owes his team one after that. With 11 top-fives in 28 Tricky Triangle starts and an 11.3 average finish, it could be a good week for the No. 39.
- #55 Mark Martin - Fifty-two Pocono starts, zero wins. That's Mark Martin for you. Despite the dubious statistic, he has 20 top-fives and his average finish of 11.1 tops the B-list drivers.
- #99 Carl Edwards - If you're burning through his starts like I am, then you're probably looking for an excuse to take him out. Let me put it this way: Pocono isn't his best track, but he's the only driver on the B-list with at least six top-10s in the last 10 races there, so this might be a decision based on available allocations.
- #16 Greg Biffle - In recent months, The Biff has finished outside the top-10 for the last seven races; that's not good at all. He won at Pocono in August of 2010, but it was his only win at the track and he has just one other top-five in 20 starts. Things aren't looking good for the No. 16.
- #18 Kyle Busch - Like Edwards, you should approach each week looking for an excuse not to start Busch. By that, I mean that this is the time of year you start realizing you don't have enough allocations left to start the driver at all the tracks you should, so you can't waste any starts on lesser tracks. The choice on Busch is easy this week as he has a 19.2 average finish at the Tricky Triangle.
- #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - It's scary to use a precious start at a self-proclaimed "tricky" track when Stenhouse has no history at Pocono. The Nationwide Series doesn't help either, as it's never raced at that track. The only reason I suggest him is that there are few other options on the C-list.
- #51 AJ Allmendinger - He has appeared in just four races this year, and none since April 27. The No. 51 car has been reliable in most races this season, so he's a safe start and a smart pick to spell allocations on a driver like Stenhouse.
- #13 Casey Mears - At some point, Mears is probably going to be a necessity when allocations run low on Stenhouse and the No. 51's stable of drivers. This isn't the week, though, as his 24.2 average finish at the Tricky Triangle provides no comfort.
Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.
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