Mash The Gas – Pocono Preview

The second half of the regular season for Sprint Cup Series racers begins on Sunday at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, PA. Now more than ever is the time for drivers to begin to position themselves to qualify for the Chase to the Championship.

Last year’s winners at the track included Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski. Gordon led three times for 39 laps, including the final 19 on his way to taking the checkers almost 3 seconds in front of Kurt Busch. Keselowski’s win in the second Pocono race of the season came just days after a practice crash in which he broke his left ankle. Leading twice for 19 laps, including the final 16, Keselowski beat Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch to the checkers.

The Pocono Raceway is one of the most unique tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. It’s triangle-like shape makes for three distinct turns, making it difficult for crews to set-up their cars as usually handling is sacrificed for one of the corners to make up for the car driving well in the other two. These three turns are connected by long fast straightaways making horsepower a key element to success at Pocono. The “Tunnel-Turn” here is one of the most treacherous corners in NASCAR and drivers need to be extremely careful when racing side by side through it. The track was recently paved and this will be the first race on the new faster and smoother surface. Drivers have had two full days of testing on Pocono’s new surface prior to the normal weekend activities.

The Pocono 400 will kick off 160 laps of racing on the unique 2.5 mile tri-oval when the green flag waves at 1:18pm Eastern.

#11-Denny Hamlin
Dan Margetta: I still think Hamlin is the best flat-track racer on the circuit and he has scored four wins at Pocono in relatively few starts. Hamlin has this track figured out and it looks like the new pavement hasn’t changed the track’s characteristics so Hamlin should be considered the favorite this week.

John Wiedemann: Hamlin has great stats for Pocono. The question is how his notes from the previous races fare with the new surface. He has stated that all previous notes can be thrown out an all drivers are starting fresh. That may be just racer talk. Besides, he adapted to the track quickly in his first two starts, sitting on the pole and winning both races. Notes or not, Hamlin will be just fine.

#24-Jeff Gordon
JW: Now, if you are looking for someone who has the stats, look no further than than Jeff Gordon. In 38 starts Gordon has 5 wins, 17 top 5 and 27 top 10 finishes. A black cloud has been following the 24 team all season long and Pocono is a good place for Gordon to run away from it. For Gordon to turn his season around, it’s going to take wins and there is no track better than Pocono to get started.

DM: The story remains the same for Jeff Gordon Win and you’re in as far as The Chase is concerned. Gordon is now poised to enter the top 20 in points and be eligible for the Wildcard slots if the team can manage to find victory lane. He won here last season and his five wins at Pocono are tied for the most in history.

#2-Brad Keselowski
DM: Keselowski won the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race held here and the Penske Dodge’s have shown to have plenty of horsepower to get the job done at Pocono.

JW: Brad hasn’t hurt anything this week. Can he win if he’s healthy? Last year’s win at Pocono has to be one of the most gutsy performances fans have seen. A broken left ankle, among other injuries, was ignored by Keselowski as he charged to the checkers. A healthy Keselowski on a fast track could be the ticket to another Penske win at Pocono.

#18-Kyle Busch
JW: Kyle Busch’s best finish at Pocono is second and has finished in the top five in three out of the last four races at Pocono. Following a win in Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream race this week, Busch may be ready for a summer surge. I still think he will put together a string of a couple wins, and I think that string is going to start soon. Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma… There you go Kyle, three in a row.

#48-Jimmie Johnson
DM: Johnson is a favorite almost everywhere he goes and that doesn’t change this week as he averages a 9th place finish at Pocono. The 48 team is bringing the car that won earlier this season at Darlington and also found victory lane last fall at Kansas. Johnson is on a roll lately and that should continue at Pocono especially now that arch-rival Kurt Busch won’t be there to be a thorn in his side like he was at this track last August.

JW: Hendrick Motorsports is definitely on a hot streak. Wins by Johnson and Kasey Kahne have wrapped around solid finishes by Dale Earnhardt Jr., including a win in the Sprint Showdown, and a glimpse that Gordon can turn the season around. Any one of the Hendrick drivers could end up in victory lane this weekend at Pocono. When faced with a change, such as the repaving of Pocono, no team responds better than Hendrick. They remain the class of the field.

#22-AJ Allmendinger
DM: The Penske cars ran very well at Pocono last season and Allmendinger’s strong suit is flat race tracks. This is the guy most will overlook and he’s my long-shot pick this week as all the elements are there for a successful run.

JW: AJ is the one and only driver that I thought would pick up his first win this year in the Cup Series. I still think he will find a win, but I’m hesitating a little bit. Right now, it looks like Aric Almirola could find victory lane first… And do it in Almendinger’s old ride. It seemed like the combination of Allmendinger’s talent would fit right in with the superior equipment at Penske and produce great results. It just hasn’t happened yet. Guess I need to be more patient.

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