Pocono Fantasy Forecast

Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, Sunday August 3, 2008

NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers head to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this weekend for the running of the Pennsylvania 500. This 2.5 mile triangular superspeedway sports three long straightaways and three unique turns, each patterned after different tracks. Turn one has 14 degrees of banking and was inspired by the now defunct Trenton Speedway at the former state fairgrounds in Trenton, New Jersey. Turn two, also known as the “Tunnel Turn”, has 8 degrees of banking and resembles the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Turn three is a sweeping 6-degree turn comparable to the Milwaukee Mile in Wisconsin. As a cross between a road course and an oval, it’s often referred to as a roval.

As I see it, the following drivers have the best chance of pulling out a top finish this Sunday. I have compiled my ranking by analyzing drivers’ success at this track and other relatively flat tracks such as Indy, Phoenix and New Hampshire. I also factored in drivers’ practice results from their last visit to Pocono, and threw momentum into the mix by including results from the last month of racing.

1) 11 Denny Hamlin

2) 48 Jimmie Johnson

3) 2 Kurt Busch

4) 8 Mark Martin

5) 24 Jeff Gordon

6) 99 Carl Edwards

7) 20 Tony Stewart

8) 18 Kyle Busch

9) 29 Kevin Harvick

10) 83 Brian Vickers

11) 31 Jeff Burton

12) 1 Martin Truex Jr.

13) 17 Matt Kenseth

14) 12 Ryan Newman

15) 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

16) 07 Clint Bowyer

17) 16 Greg Biffle

18) 43 Bobby Labonte

19) 9 Kasey Kahne

20) 19 Elliott Sadler

21) 84 A.J. Allmendinger

He’s a Richmond Virginia area native who claims Richmond International Raceway as his home track, but if any driver boasts a “home away from home”, Pocono Raceway is it for Denny Hamlin. He won there from the pole the first time he saw the place in 2006. Not only that, Hamlin was the victor in Pocono’s second race that season, also from the pole. So, fitting that his 100th series start comes in Sunday’s race. “I’ve had the benefit of great equipment, having the same crew chief and crew for three years and having FedEx as a sponsor from the beginning,” Hamlin said. “As a young driver coming into the series, I know I have been really fortunate to have that consistency all around me.” In five Pocono starts, he has two poles, two wins, five top-10 finishes and an overall average finish of 2.8.

One win doesn’t launch a trend, but Jimmie Johnson’s victory last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway might be considered a salvo. The reigning and two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion heads into this week’s race on a mini-surge – one that might boost his seeding status for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. That, in turn, could boost Johnson’s quest for a third consecutive series title. Now with two victories in 2008, Johnson is fourth in the series standings and in a three-way tie in the Chase bonus points battle. And if last year’s numbers repeat, he’ll improve both those statistics.

Drivers get 10 bonus points for each win in the first 26 races, and Chase seeding is done according to bonus-point totals. Which means a total of 60 bonus points remain until the ’08 Chase – or six events, beginning this weekend in Pocono. Standings leader Kyle Busch holds the top spot with seven wins – 70 bonus points – but in Johnson’s last two races, he finished as runner-up to Busch at Chicagoland Speedway before winning at Indy. He’s also won at three of the remaining six tracks in the Race to the Chase and swept Pocono in 2004.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota)
? Two wins, four top fives, five top 10s; two poles
? Average finish of 2.8
? Series-best Average Running Position of 5.6
? Series-best Driver Rating of 130.4
? 193 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
? Series-fastest Average Green Flag Speed of 160.024
? Series-best 92.6% (839 total) Laps in the Top 15
? 192 Quality Passes (average of 38.4 per race), tied for fifth-best average

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
? Two wins, four top fives, eight top 10s; one pole
? Average finish of 10.3
? Average Running Position of 11.8, sixth-best
? Driver Rating of 97.3, sixth-best
? 45 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.236 mph, third-fastest
? 954 (72.8%) Laps in the Top 15, fifth-most
? 238 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)
? Two wins, seven top fives, eight top 10s
? Average finish of 14.2
? Average Running Position of 8.4, second-best
? Driver Rating of 113.5, second-best
? Series-high 208 Fastest Laps Run
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.436 mph, second-fastest
? Series-high 1,074 (82.0%) Laps in the Top 15
? 244 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet)
? 19 top fives, 30 top 10s
? 10.7 average finish
? Average Running Position of 11.9, seventh-best
? Driver Rating of 95.3, seventh-best
? 31 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
? Average Green Flag Speed of 158.998, fifth-fastest
? 987 (75.3%) Laps in the Top 15, fourth-most
? 229 Quality Passes, tied for ninth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)
? Four wins, 15 top fives, 21 top 10s; two poles
? Average finish of 10.3
? Average Running Position of 12.1, eighth-best
? Driver Rating of 94.9, eighth-best
? 535 Green Flag Passes, third-most
? Average Green Flag Speed of 158.876 mph, seventh-fastest
? 869 (66.3%) Laps in the Top 15, eighth-most
? 256 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota)
? One win, five top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole
? Average finish of 13.6
? Average Running Position of 10.7, fourth-best
? Driver Rating of 102.2, third-best
? 42 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.190, fourth-fastest
? 1,032 (78.8%) Laps in the Top 15, second-most
? Series-high 300 Quality Passes

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet)
? One top five, four top 10s
? Average finish of 16.1 in 15 races
? Average Running Position of 13.7, 10th-best
? Driver Rating of 91.6, ninth-best
? 473 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most
? 867 (66.2%) Laps in the Top 15, ninth-most
? 259 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota)
? Four top fives
? 13.0 average finish
? Average Running Position of 11.8, fifth-best
? Driver Rating of 97.9, fifth-best
? 68 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
? 951 (72.6%) Laps in the Top 15, sixth-most

Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge)
? One win, five top fives, six top 10s
? 13.9 average finish
? Average Running Position of 9.8, third-best
? Driver Rating of 98.7, fourth-best
? 468 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
? Average Green Flag Speed of 158.894, sixth-fastest
? 1,027 (78.4%) Laps in the Top 15, third-most
? 292 Quality Passes, second-most

? Opened in 1968 as a .75-mile track, Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile oval in 1971.
? There have been 61 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway since the first race there in 1974, which was won by The King, Richard Petty.
? There have been 21 pole winners in the last 25 races. Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne (two each) are the only repeat pole winners there since 1995.
? 28 different drivers have won races at Pocono, led by Bill Elliott with five victories.
? There have been 14 different race winners in the 17 races since Bobby Labonte swept in 1999. Jimmie Johnson swept 2004 and Denny Hamlin 2006. Kurt Busch won the July race in 2005 and 2007.
? There have been six season sweeps at Pocono, including two of the past four seasons.
? 45 of 61 Pocono races have been won from a top-10 start; 13 by the pole winner.
? Rick Hendrick leads all other car owners with 11 Pocono victories.
? There have been eight car owner season sweeps, including three of the past four seasons (two of the car owner sweeps were with different drivers).
? Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Brian Vickers and J.J. Yeley are the active drivers that have finished on the lead lap in all of their races.

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