Race Preview for Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono

July 31, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

Pocono 500

Coming off of a terrible weekend at Indy, you can bet that NASCAR’s feeling the pressure to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible at Pocono this weekend, and if the trip here back in June is any indication, then things should be just fine. It’s also a big weekend for the teams, as Pocono is only the second track on the schedule that the series has already traveled to once before this season, and this is about the time of year that you really begin to see how much some of these groups have been able to learn from the first six months of the season. More importantly, however, is the fact that there are now only six races remaining before NASCAR determines their top-12 competitors that will go onto compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Recent Winners:
2008 - Kasey Kahne
2007 - Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon
2006 - Denny Hamlin (x2)

Recent Polesitters:
2008 - Kasey Kahne
2007 - Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman
2006 - Denny Hamlin (x2)

The Usual Suspects:
All the top drivers in our sport have that track that they seem to “own”, and if that’s the case, then Denny Hamlin owns Pocono. 2 of his 4 career victories came at Pocono when he swept there during his rookie campaign in 2006, and since then he’s ran a staggering 6th, 3rd, and 3rd. With those numbers, he holds far and away the best average finish and highest driver rating here amongst all active drivers.

Jeff Gordon has four wins at Pocono, which runs second to only Bill Elliott for the series lead. The no. 24 team has had their share of struggles this season, but a 5th place run last weekend at Indianapolis may have given Gordon’s group enough momentum to improve on the 14th place run they had here back in June. Gordon had three consecutive Poncono finishes inside the top-five prior to that race.

Kurt Busch is a guy that you’ve always got to watch out for when we come here. He’s a two-time winner at the track, and absolutely dominated this race last Fall when he set the record for leading the most laps (175) at Pocono. He also has five finishes of 8th or better in the last six Pocono races, five of which are finishes of 1st or 2nd. He finished 8th here in June.

Kasey Kahne came into the June race with one top-20 finish in the previous six Pocono races, but absolutely dominated that race. He took the pole, led the practice sessions, and then went onto lead the most laps en route to picking up his first Pocono victory ….. Jimmie Johnson, fresh off an Indy win, is also a two-time Pocono winner with an average finish of 10.3 and 7 top-ten’s in his last 9 visits to the track. He finished 6th in the June race ….. After winning here in the Spring of 2003, Tony Stewart’s Pocono numbers took a dive as he rattled off four consecutive finishes of 29th or worse. Since then, however, he’s managed to turn things around with five straight top-ten’s before a pit road misque ruined a perfectly good day for Smoke after running near the top-five all day in the June race, which resulted in a 35th place finish.

the Unusual Suspects:
It’s beginning to get hard to keep thinking of Brian Vickers as a sleeper pick - especially considering that he’s not even eligible for the Sleeper in my own Six-Pack Challenge - but, until he’s able to get a couple W’s on the board, or at least put together a series of runs near the top-five, that’s exactly how he’ll continue to be treated. Regardless, Pocono is not only one of his better tracks, but he’s also one of the better drivers here. He’s earned 4 top-five’s in the last 7 Pocono races, which culminated in a 2nd place run here in June.

Bobby LaBonte is a 3-time Pocono winner, but his move to Petty Enterprises a couple seasons back has relegated him out of the weekly contenders list and into the occasional sleepers group. But, the team’s been able to gain some momentume with Bobby behind them, as was evidenced with a solid run last week. They also ran good at Pocono in the June with an 11th place finish.

If you’re looking for a true sleeper pick this week, though, look no further than AJ Allmendinger. AJ’s been a steady hand behind the wheel ever since he got his driving duties handed back to him over at Team Red Bull, and he’s made the most of it. He also earned his first career top-ten last week at Indy, but he looked as though he was going to accomplish that feat earlier in the year right here at Pocono. But, alas, he faded in the closing segments of the race and wound up 12th. Still, the team’s getting better each and every week, so don’t be surprised to see AJ walk away with another top-ten this weekend.

the Unusual Slackers:
Though he does have two top-ten’s at Pocono to his credit, Pocono has also presented its share of challenges for Clint Bowyer. The third year driver for Richard Childress Racing finished 21st and 41st in his first two starts here back in 2006, but was able to rebound with a pair of top-ten’s last season. He finished 39th here in June.

Not that anyone’s likely to put too much stock into it, Kyle Busch has only 2 top-ten finishes through 7 races at Pocono, and hasn’t finished in the top-five since his first race here back in 2005. In fact, his average finish of 20.0 is actually worse than JJ Yeley’s average of 19.5. But, then again, some of Kyle’s best runs this season have come at some of his worst tracks - historically speaking, anyway.

Martin Truex Jr. appeared to be getting this Pocono thing down a little earlier in his career, finishing 24th, 10th, and 3rd in his first three Pocono starts, but has since ran 22nd and 17th ….. Kevin Harvick has only 2 career top-ten’s through 15 career starts at Pocono, but oddly enough, he also only has six finishes outside of the top-15. His average finish at the track is 16.1 ….. Greg Biffle hasn’t finished in the top-ten here since the Spring of 2006, and has finished 24th, 30th, 23rd, and 15th since then. He hold an average finish of 18.8 at Pocono.

Best Driver Ratings (from racingone.com):
1. Denny Hamlin - 130.4
2. Kurt Busch - 113.5
3. Tony Stewart - 102.2
4. Ryan Newman - 98.7
5. Brian Vickers - 97.9

Best Average Finish (from racingone.com):
1. Denny Hamlin - 2.8
2. Jeff Gordon - 10.0
3. Jimmie Johnson - 10.3
4. Mark Martin - 11.6
5. Brian Vickers - 13.0

Pocono Facts:
- 5 of the last 6 Pocono races have been won from the front row, with Jeff Gordon being the only exception when he won from the 18th starting position in the Spring of 2007. 35% of all the Pocono races have been won from the front row.
- The deepest starting position the race has ever been won from was Carl Edwards from 29th back in 2005.
- Jeff Gordon leads all full-time active drivers with wins at Pocono with four. Bill Elliott has the most all-time with five. Elliott is entered for the race, but will have to qualify on time, as he has no more past champions provisionals remaining.
- Mark Martin has 19 top-five’s and 27 top-ten’s at Pocono, but has never won a Sprint Cup race there.
- A Cup race at Pocono has finished with only 2 drivers on the lead lap on two separate occasions - most recently in 1982.
- There have been six season sweeps at Pocono in the past. Kasey Kahne will have an opportunity to make it seven this weekend.
- Hendrick Motorsports leads all teams with Pocono victories, counting 11 of them to their credit.
- Kurt Busch holds the record for the most laps led in a race at Pocono with 175 of them in the Fall of 2007.

Six-Pack Challenge:
Winner - Denny Hamlin
2nd Place - Kurt Busch
3rd Place - Jimmie Johnson
4th Place - Tony Stewart
5th Place - Brian Vickers
6th Place - Kasey Kahne

Lock of the Week - Denny Hamlin
Sleeper Pick - AJ Allmendinger
Steer Clear of - Kevin Harvick

Be sure to check out the Recap from the Pocono 500 held at Pocono Raceway back in June.

Also, check out the following video of the closing laps from the 2007 Pennsylvania 500:

BallHype: hype it up!

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Comments

4 Responses to “Race Preview for Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono”
  1. T.C. says:

    You mentioned Allmendinger as a sleeper pick for Pocono… I think he is definitely coming around as a driver, but I think the addition of Jimmy Elledge a few weeks back has really helped this team. Jimmy is a smart guy and a good crew chief, and didn’t deserve what he got at CGR. Look for Allmendinger and the #84 team to continue to improve.

  2. roc says:

    1.24
    2.48
    3.11
    4.88
    5.99
    6.31
    sl=8
    locl=11
    st=07

  3. Tim Zaegel says:

    TC, no doubt about it - Jimmy Elledge didn’t deserve what he got over at Ganassi, and I think he can bring an awful lot to the table for the no. 84 team. I’ve been impressed with Allmendinger these past few months.

  4. Tim Zaegel says:

    Wow, Rock … four drivers different this week, a different sleeper, and a different steer clear. Looks like Ku Busch, Stewart, Vickers, & Kahne for me against Gordon, Junior, Edwards, and Burton for you. Could be a big points day for one of us.

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