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NASCAR Pocono Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, July 30, 2009

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Tony Stewart, winner of the June race at Pocono
For the second time since June 7th the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams will again be taking on the challenge of the mammoth Pocono Raceway for this Sunday's running of the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. This unique track places a lot physical stress on engines and transmissions and it can be equally demanding on the drivers as well. It's also a severe challenge for crew chiefs. There is no one definitive car set up that will allow maximum performance through the trio of turns and straightaways. When it comes to pre race prep at Pocono a crew chief  has to pick the one portion of the track where he thinks his car and driver is going to need the most help.

THE TRACK BREAKDOWN

The 2.5 mile Pocono Raceway's uniqueness lies in the fact that it's shaped like a triangle and features three virtually flat turns linked by three straightaways.

Turn one is only banked 14 degrees. Turn two, also known as the dreaded "tunnel turn" is extremely challenging because, with only 2.8 degrees of banking, it's almost as flat as a pancake. Turn three is also virtually flat with only six degrees of banking.

The bulk of the raceway's massive speed capability is based on the long straightaways. The front stretch measures 3,740 feet and allows the drivers to run flat out. The second straightaway, known as the Long Pond straight, measures 3.055 feet and is located between turns one and two. The shortest of the three straights is the north stretch measuring 1,780 feet. It's located between turns two and three.

The raceway currently has seating for approximately 100,000 fans.

The Pocono Raceway was opened in 1968. The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event was held there in 1974 and was won by Richard Petty. Since that time NASCAR has sanctioned 63 races there with 28 different winners visiting victory lane. Twenty drivers has won a Pocono race more than once.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 is a grueling 200 laps long.

The defending race winner is Carl Edwards who started the August 2008 race from the 15th position. Edwards is also a race winner from 2005. The most recent winner from this past June 7th is Tony Stewart who won the race from the pole position after qualifying was rained out. The Stewart victory was based on extreme fuel mileage measures which is often a factor during a Pocono race.

The weather has often played a major role in a race weekend at Pocono. There has been times in the past when qualifying was rained out as well as occasions when rain forced officials to shorten the race distance. The forecast for Long Pond-Pennsylvania calls for thunder storms on Friday followed by cloudy skies and a cool 76 degrees on Saturday and Sunday.

NASCAR Sprint Cup icon Bill Elliot holds the track record for the most wins at Pocono with five. Elliot shares the record with veteran Ken Schrader for the most pole positions with five each. Elliot, and his Wood Brothers Ford team, is not entered in Sunday's race. The team chose to run a part time schedule this year on 1.5 mile super speedways where Ford has a good track record.

The track qualifying record, 172.533 MPH, was set by Kasey Kahne back in June of 2004.

Pocono Raceway records indicate that the competitive levels often run from one extreme to the other. For example, the track record for lead changes in a race is 56 set back in 1979. The record for race leaders is 16, set during the course of three different events, with the most recent occurring in 2004. In direct comparison a 1998 Pocono race only had 10 lead changes while a 1985 event only had four leaders.

The element of caution flags also runs the extreme gamut at Pocono Raceway. The record for the most cautions there is 13 set two times in 1990 and 2005. In June 2004, 57 caution laps consumed the race that year which remains a record. At the opposite end of the yellow flag spectrum is the Pocono race from June of 1978 which had a record setting one caution flag and only three caution laps.

A rain shortened race in June of 2007 set a record for the most finishers on the lead lap at 36. That same event also set the record for the most cars still running at the end of the race at 42. On two different occasions, the most recent being in 1982, there were only two cars on the lead lap at the end of the race. The all time attrition record at Pocono was set that same year when only 18 cars were running at the finish.

The record for the most laps led by a race winner was set in August of 2007 when Kurt Busch scorched the competition by leading 175 of 200 laps. In direct comparison Bobby Labonte only had to lead four laps to win the race in July of 2001.

The Pocono Raceway has been very kind to the bowtie brigade over the years. Chevrolet leads the manufacturer's win list with 24. This race track has also been very kind to Hendrick Motorsports whose drivers has visited victory lane for a record setting 11 times.

Qualifying and track position is crucial at this race track. During the previous 63 NASCAR Sprint Cup events held there 23 of the race winners started from the front row. 14 of those race winners started from the pole position. 45 of the 63 winners started from within the first five rows of the starting grid.

The pit road speed at Pocono is 55 MPH and, after last Sunday's race at Indianapolis, someone needs to make sure that Juan Pablo Montoya is aware of this.

The race has 44 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. Nine of those entries are on the "go or go home" list meaning they are outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points and must earn their starting berth based on their qualifying speed. If qualifying for Sunday's race gets rained out, and it's possible, then the #75 team with driver Derrick Cope will be eliminated from the starting field.

Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 will be broadcast live by ESPN at 1pm eastern time. Scheduled re-broadcasts are set for Monday morning, 3 am eastern, on ESPN2, Monday afternoon, 1pm eastern, on ESPN Classic and again on Wednesday, 12pm eastern, on Speed.

THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based WSE, World Sports Exchange, states that Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson is favored to win Sunday's race and they have ranked him at 5 to 1 odds. Current Sprint Cup points leader Tony Stewart, who again won the race there last June, is right behind Johnson at 6 to 1.

A most promising wager could turn out to be Mark Martin. The Sprint Cup's reigning "old man" is ranked at 7 to 1 this Sunday. While Martin is still looking for that first Pocono win he does own the track's consistency records with his 19 top five finishes and 31 top tens.

Denny Hamlin, who has visited Pocono's victory lane in the past, could also turn out to be a good bet at 8 to 1 odds. The same goes for Jeff Gordon, a four time winner at this track, and Carl Edwards who has two wins there. Gordon and Edwards are ranked at 9 to 1 odds for Sunday.

One really interesting aspect to this week's Las Vegas report is Kyle Busch who has been ranked by the WSE at 10 to 1 for the Pocono race. All season long Busch has either been rated at the top, or very close to it, as a heavily favored race winner. However recent on track problems has seen this team slide from tenth to 14th in the championship standings and it appears that this week's WSE rating is a reflection of that slide.

Other noteworthy WSE ratings this week include the trio of  Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle at 14 to 1 while Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers are ranked at 22 to 1. Juan Pablo Montoya, who was so strong last Sunday at Indianapolis, comes in at 25 to 1 while Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr's odds are set at 28 to 1.

Again NASCAR officials would like to remind you that these numbers are for entertainment purposes only and they neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events.

But for those of you are willing to risk this month's car payment you may as well have the latest numbers in order to make an informed decision. It's by far more scientific than throwing darts.

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