Mash The Gas: Pocono Windows 10 400 Preview

[Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images]

By Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann


There’s not too much different this week on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour as on the heels of Indianapolis and the Brickyard 400, the drivers head to the Pocono International Raceway, a track with similar characteristics for the Windows 10 400.

Like Indy, Pocono features long straights which connect its unique “triangle” shape with three distinct turns. Typically those drivers who do well at Indy also enjoy success at Pocono as once again it’s horsepower under the hood that is key.

Also, pit strategy should come into play again this week with many teams opting for a “road course” type fuel strategy which should make the race intriguing.

The Sprint Cup cars go back to the older style of aerodynamic rules as the high drag Indianapolis experiment is in the books.

Here are some drivers to watch this week

Kyle Busch (Dan Margetta)
The winner of the past three NASCAR Sprint Cup races and four of the last five, Kyle Busch is the hottest driver on the tour and that momentum should carry on to Pocono. Busch has never won at Pocono but then again, he’s never been on a roll like he has been now. His last three wins have come using three different aero rules packages on three different race tracks so any past Pocono track record can be thrown out the window. Now just 23 points out of the Chase eligible 30th spot in the point standings, it’s hard to bet against Kyle Busch right now. Winning four races in a row hasn’t been accomplished since Jimmie Johnson did it in 2007, and at 6-1 odds, Kyle Busch is poised to keep right on winning. He finished ninth here in June in just his second race back from his injuries and his record here may be ll over the place, but until this team loses, it’s a good bet to ride the hot hand and pick Kyle Busch to win each week.

Jimmie Johnson (John Wiedemann)
Whether it was because of pit strategy or something else, Jimmie Johnson did not have a good Brickyard 400. Look for the 48 team to solidly bounce back into contention this weekend at Pocono. Johnson was third in the June race at Pocono and while he didn’t lead any laps, he was in the top ten almost the entire race. Nothing keeps the Hendrick team down for long and a return to a track where he has won three times and has the second best driver rating is just what Johnson needs. Currently the leader in the Chase Standings, until Kyle Busch makes it in), Johnson is looking to keep hold of that spot and a win this weekend will be mission accomplished.

Kurt Busch (DM)
Sitting at 8-1 odds for Pocono this week, Kurt Busch will look to past Pocono successes to build on his impressive 8th place finish last week at Indianapolis. He owns two Pocono victories to go along with 12 top five finishes and 16 top tens. He owns the third best driver rating at the unique triangle shaped track and now that he and the #41 team are locked into the Chase, it is time to start focusing on race wins with the points pressure off of them. The chassis Busch will pilot this weekend has already seen action at Atlanta, Texas, and earlier this year here at Pocono where Kurt drove it to a fifth place finish. After a somewhat quiet Brickyard 400, Kurt Busch and the #41 team will look to make some noise this weekend at Pocono and they should not be counted out.

Kevin Harvick (JW)
Currently without a win at the Pocono triangle, Kevin Harvick could be just the driver to derail the Kyle Busch train and finally find himself in victory lane at the tricky track. Harvick challenged Busch last weekend at Indy and spent most of the June Pocono race in the top three, leading the second most laps. My vote this weekend goes to Harvick, for the win. Harvick’s team continues to show speed week in and week out. With his success at Pocono in June and at the Brickyard last weekend, Harvick will definitely be in the mix and spending most of the time at the front. Second in the Chase standings and two wins behind Johnson (and Kyle Busch), Harvick needs nothing but wins, and that will happen this weekend.

Denny Hamlin (DM)
At one time Denny Hamlin was simply unbeatable at Pocono and while he enters this weekend at generous 12-1 odds, he still should be one of the drivers to beat on Sunday. He has strung together top five finishes in three of the past four races and with the horsepower resurgence across Joe Gibbs Racing stable, Hamlin should be looking forward to Pocono where he has four victories and nine top five finishes. He holds the best driver rating in the garage at Pocono and finished 10th here last June. Hamlin hasn’t been as dominant at Pocono since the track was repaved a few years ago, but last week’s fifth place effort at Indianapolis shows that Hamlin and the #11 team should not be forgotten and while teammate Kyle Busch is currently stealing the thunder, the #11 team and Denny Hamlin should not be forgotten about on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr. (JW)
Martin Truex Jr. returned to victory lane at the June Pocono race. After leading the most laps at a number of races without the desired result, Truex was able to lead the most laps and get the win. Returning to Pocono and looking for the sweep will be in the minds of Truex and his team, but a solid top ten finish may be just what the team needs. Prior to that June win, Truex was the hot driver in NASCAR. Always in the mix, Truex had just one finish outside the top ten in thirteen races. In six races since the win, Truex has had two top five runs and finishes of 2th, 17th, 38th and 42nd. The good news is that his top fives were at Michigan and Indianapolis, two tracks that have similar requirements for success as Pocono. Building on last weekends’ 4th place finish at Indy and getting back to consistency will be huge for Truex as the team readies for the Chase.

Jeff Gordon (DM)
Jeff Gordon will begin his final swing through many of the Sprint Cup tracks this weekend at Pocono and it will be with a sense of urgency as without a victory to date, his Chase position is in doubt. Gordon had a terrible Brickyard 400 where he finished a dismal 42nd after an early crash and lately his team has been having difficulty closing the deal to get good finishes. Gordon has a stellar record at Pocono so he can still get the job done and the team needs to respond now if they plan to be Chase contenders. In Jeff Gordon’s final year, the #24 team as a unit needs to pull together if they wish to accomplish their goal of sending Gordon off with a championship run. They are currently “safe” in points but the cliff is near and a victory would assure them a Chase spot instead of scoreboard watching the points. Gordon is listed at 12-1 odds for Pocono this weekend as the team tries to rebound from Indianapolis and start the final stretch run to the Chase.

Kasey Kahne (JW)
While Clint Bowyer is technically on the bubble for making the Chase, let’s just pretend that Kyle Busch makes the Chase (he will!) and look one spot higher in the standings. That would put Kasey Kahne on the bubble with six races left to go. Kahne is tied with Paul Menard heading into this weekends’ race and only five points behind Ryan Newman. While both of those drivers could do well this weekend, especially Menard, Kahne has the most upside. A two time winner at Pocono, this is the weekend for Kahne to make a big move in the standings. The scheduled races in between now and the Chase include tracks that Kahne can do well at, but Pocono should be the track that the team has circled on their calendar. Kahne was thirteenth at the race in June and led two laps, but this weekend he should be aiming for more. The bubble is not the place anyone wants to be.

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