Pocono Fantasy Forecast

Pocono 500, Sunday June 8, 2008

NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers head to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this weekend for the running of the Pocono 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, California and Phoenix, then adding momentum into the mix by including results from the last month of racing.

1) 24 Jeff Gordon
2) 18 Kyle Busch
3) 11 Denny Hamlin
4) 99 Carl Edwards
5) 48 Jimmie Johnson
6) 20 Tony Stewart
7) 2 Kurt Busch
8) 8 Mark Martin
9) 17 Matt Kenseth
10) 31 Jeff Burton
11) 12 Ryan Newman
12) 29 Kevin Harvick
13) 1 Martin Truex Jr.
14) 07 Clint Bowyer
15) 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
16) 16 Greg Biffle
17) 83 Brian Vickers
18) 43 Bobby Labonte
19) 6 David Ragan
20) 42 Juan Pablo Montoya

While the first four months of the 2007 and 2008 season may be known as ‘The Tale Of Two Starts’ for Jeff Gordon, Sunday’s Pocono 500 could find the four-time series champion in the same place – Victory Lane. A year ago, Gordon arrived at Pocono having led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for nine consecutive weeks. He departed with his fourth victory of 2007, still firmly out front.

Gordon began 2008 with a 39th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and has yet to win, clawing through the standings toward Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility. But Gordon has jumped from 14th to sixth in the last four weeks. He returns to Pocono as the defending race champion and with momentum after last week’s fifth-place finish at Dover. Add to that four wins, two poles, 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 30 career starts at Pocono, and you’ve got yourself a contender.

Then there’s Kyle Busch. One weekend, three races, at three separate racetracks, with three different teams. And one driver – running in all three events. That’s Kyle Busch’s assignment as he prepares to compete in Friday’s Craftsman Truck Series event at Texas Motor Speedway, Saturday’s Nationwide event at Nashville Superspeedway and Sunday’s Sprint Cup event at Pocono Raceway. This is unprecedented to say the least. No driver has ever attempted to run in all three NASCAR national series on one weekend at three different tracks. And that’s after participating in Wednesday’s fourth annual Old Spice Prelude to the Dream at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway – a Victory Junction Gang Camp fundraiser hosted by track owner and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart.

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)
? Four wins, 15 top fives, 21 top 10s; two poles
? Average finish of 10.2
? Average Running Position of 11.1, fifth-best
? Driver Rating of 97.5, fifth-best
? 422 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
? 796 (71.7%) Laps in the Top 15, seventh-most
? 225 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota)
? Two wins, three top fives, four top 10s; two poles
? Average finish of 2.8
? Series-best Average Running Position of 4.6
? Series-best Driver Rating of 133.1
? 172 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
? Series-fastest Average Green Flag Speed of 160.242
? Series-best 93.9% (663 total) Laps in the Top 15
? 138 Quality Passes (average of 34.5 per race), ninth-best average

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
? Two wins, four top fives, seven top 10s; one pole
? Average finish of 10.7
? Average Running Position of 12.5, ninth-best
? Driver Rating of 93.8, ninth-best
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.305 mph, fourth-fastest
? 788 (71.0%) Laps in the Top 15, eighth-most
? 204 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota)
? One win, five top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole
? Average finish of 12.4
? Average Running Position of 10.5, fourth-best
? Driver Rating of 103.2, third-best
? 36 Fastest Laps Run, tied for sixth-most
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.357, third-fastest
? 879 (79.2%) Laps in the Top 15, third-most
? Series-high 266 Quality Passes

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)
? Two wins, seven top fives
? Average finish of 14.6
? Average Running Position of 7.5, second-best
? Driver Rating of 116.6, second-best
? Series-high 207 Fastest Laps Run
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.711 mph, second-fastest
? 920 (82.9%) Laps in the Top 15, second-most
? 190 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet)
? 19 top fives, 29 top 10s
? 10.7 average finish
? Average Running Position of 11.9, seventh-best
? Driver Rating of 95.2, eighth-best
? 28 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.155, eighth-fastest
? 831 (74.9%) Laps in the Top 15, fourth-most
? 193 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Ryan Newman (No. 17 DEWALT Ford)
? One win, five top fives, six top 10s
? 13.6 average finish
? Average Running Position of 8.6, third-best
? Driver Rating of 101.9, fourth-best
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.226, sixth-fastest
? Series-high 931 (83.9%) Laps in the Top 15
? 249 Quality Passes, second-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet)
? One top five, four top 10s
? Average finish of 16.4
? Average Running Position of 12.0, eighth-best
? Driver Rating of 95.5, seventh-best
? Average Green Flag Speed of 159.030 mph, ninth-most
? 829 (74.7%) Laps in the Top 15, fifth-most
? 239 Quality Passes, third-most

Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota)
? Three top fives
? 14.4 average finish
? Average Running Position of 11.8, sixth-best
? Driver Rating of 97.0, sixth-best
? 66 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
? 810 (73.0%) Laps in the Top 15, sixth-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 60 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 and Jeff Gordon (two each) are the only repeat pole winners there since 1995.
? 27 different drivers have won races at Pocono, led by Bill Elliott with five victories.
? There have been 12 different race winners in the 15 races since Bobby Labonte swept in 1999. Jimmie Johnson swept 2004 and Denny Hamlin 2006, while 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.
? 43 of 60 Pocono races have been won from a top-10 start; 12 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.
? Denny Hamlin won his first two appearances at Pocono Raceway, claiming both victories from the pole. Hamlin finished sixth and third in his second two races for an average finish of 2.8 in four races – the all-time best of any driver at the Pennsylvania track. He also led 283 of the 706 laps raced in the four races (40 percent).

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