Mash The Gas: Pocono Preview

The field comes to the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. [Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to one of the most unique race courses on the circuit as the Pocono Raceway hosts the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 Sunday afternoon.

The Pocono Raceway is a shaped similar to a triangle with three turns connected by long straightaways giving each turn different characteristics. Turn one is modeled after the now defunct Trenton Speedway while the “Tunnel Turn” in turn two reflects the characteristics of a turn at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the third and final turn mirrors the Milwaukee Mile.

Such different configurations mean that it is nearly impossible for teams to set up the cars to handle flawlessly through each of the turns, often times having to sacrifice handling in one corner for performance in another.

“The Tricky Triangle” at Pocono is 2.5 miles around and is relatively flat which brings fuel mileage into play as well.

It’s the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 Sunday afternoon from the Pocono Raceway and here are some drivers to watch …

Martin Truex Jr. (Dan Margetta)
No team is more dominant on than Martin Truex Jr. and the #78 Furniture Row Racing group and they showcased that dominance last weekend in Charlotte, leading all but eight laps of the Coca-Cola 600. They follow up that performance with a trip to one of their best tracks in Pocono where last year, Truex won this race and then ran out of gas while leading in the fall event. Truex also led the most laps between the two Pocono races a year ago and is a heavy 9-2 odds on favorite to win again on Sunday. This team has consistently been the team to beat on the tour despite having many great finishes ruined by bad luck or self-inflicted mistakes. They put it all together last week and should now carry that momentum into Pocono. It’s looking like it could be another Martin Truex kind of day on Sunday at Pocono in the Axalta 400.

Joey Logano (John Wiedemann)
Eight drivers have won in the Sprint Cup Series so far this season and it is a bit of a surprise that Joey Logano isn’t on that list. That’s right, the All-Star win doesn’t mean much at this point. While he is still having a “good” season, it doesn’t look at this point that Logano will match his six victory 2015 season or five win 2014 season. Although there is still time. At this time last season Logano only had one victory, Daytona, and didn’t win again until August at Watkins Glen. I just have a feeling that this will be the season breakout race for Logano and you may just see Team Penske go on a roll. I’m picking Logano for the win.

Jimmie Johnson (DM)
The only driver to keep Martin Truex in sight all night last week was Jimmie Johnson who briefly took the lead late in the race at Charlotte. Johnson is also pretty good at Pocono where he has three wins to go along with eleven top five finishes and nineteen top ten results. He has also put together a nice string of strong finishes at Pocono finishing sixth or better in his most recent starts here, including results of third and sixth in 2015. His average finishing position of around 9th isn’t too bad either. Johnson is listed at 7-1 odds to win this weekend and should be about ready to find victory lane again. This team has been consistently strong of late and it could be a matter of time before they land in the winner’s circle again in 2016. Sunday’s race at Pocono presents a great opportunity to accomplish that.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (JW)
It has been a pretty good year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. so far this year. Junior is positioned solidly in the Chase standings and just needs a victory to cement his spot in the playoffs. I don’t think that win will come this weekend, but it could. Statistically, Pocono is a very good track for Earnhardt. In 32 starts at the track, Earnhardt has a 14.8 average finish with two victories and 10 top five finishes. Interestingly he also has an identical 14.8 average starting spot, so Junior may just finish in the same spot he qualifies this weekend. Look for Junior to be in contention this weekend and I am predicting another top five finish for him at Pocono.

Kyle Busch (DM)
Kyle Busch failed to check Charlotte of the list of tracks he has yet to win at after hitting the wall late and finishing 33rd in the Coca-Cola 600 but he has another opportunity this week to grab a victory at a track he is winless at. Busch does not have a Pocono victory but did come very close to erasing that blemish here last fall when he ran out of gas within sight of the win. Busch should be strong this weekend as well however, lately the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have not been as dominant as they were earlier and some have speculated it is due to the recent NASCAR mandate disallowing cooling fans in certain areas of the cars. Kyle Busch is listed at 8-1 odds to win this weekend and the team should be motivated to not only win at Pocono for the first time but to also prove to the rest of the competition they are still one of the teams to beat. If all goes well in the pits and the team can get the fuel strategy right, Kyle Busch could check Pocono off his list from victory lane.

Greg Biffle (JW)
Roush Racing and Greg Biffle in particular will be interesting to watch this weekend. While the drivers have been doing better this season, the performance still isn’t near where Roush Racing used to be. Youngsters Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne have made slow progress but the senior driver, Greg Biffle, is far from where he would like to be running. After the defections of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, Biffle has been left behind. Team Penske has taken the reigns as the lead Ford team. Where does that leave Roush Racing and where does that leave Greg Biffle? Pocono was a good track for Roush Racing in the past and Biffle has done well at the triangle track. After rumblings of discontent from the lead driver this weekend it will be interesting to see what happens. Will they fold and fall to the back of the pack or rally and charge to the front? This will be a team to watch as the season continues.

Brad Keselowski (DM)
Brad Keselowski has a single Pocono victory which came back in 2011 and he does have a decent record here with four top five finishes and five top ten results. He also has finished second in two of his last four races including the last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series raced here in August. Keselowski is listed at 10-1 odds to win this weekend and the Penske #2 team has a stout history of running well on flat tracks like Pocono. This team is also one of the better ones at implementing a race strategy and Keselowski understands well his role in the plan which should make him a driver to watch on Sunday at Pocono. Keselowski’s win and strong finishes here have come at the expense of other teams whose race strategies and fuel mileage calculations fell apart and that makes the #2 team strong contenders in the Axalta 400.

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