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NASCAR Pocono preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, August 04, 2011

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Jeff Gordon won the June Cup race at Pocono.  Can he win again?
The tricky triangle to the second power simply means that NASCAR's Sprint Cup teams will be making their second visit of the year to one of the most challenging tracks on their schedule: the Pocono Raceway and Sunday's running of the Good Sam RV Insurance 500.

Located in Long Pond-Pennsylvania, this 2.5 mile three turn, triangular shaped, speedway can easily tax the patience of both the drivers and the crew chiefs. For the drivers, 500 miles around this track is physically demanding.

Over the years there has been well versed opinions among the Sprint Cup drivers that said the distance of the two annual Pocono events should be shortened to 400 miles. The other element the drivers will have to deal with on Sunday is the unique shape of the track. It has one extremely long straightaway with two shorter straights in between the nearly flat three turns.

The Pocono Raceway is equally tough on crew chiefs because the track's massive size and unique shape will be extremely demanding on their car's engines and transmissions. A proper gear selection is a must for these crew chiefs because they're only going to have one shot getting it right. The crew chiefs will also have to deal with handling issues all day long because it's virtually impossible to get a car's set up perfect for the entire track. They will have to decide which part of the track where their drivers will need superior handling and where handling sacrifices may have to be made.

Track position is always going to be important at any NASCAR Sprint Cup venue. On a massive 2.5 mile track this element is going to be crucial. Drivers will have to push their cars to the edge during qualifying to gain the best starting position and best pit stall selection possible. During the race there will be additional pressure on the pit crews to get their driver out as quickly as possible in order to gain track position.

Any one of the drivers and teams who can master all of these elements, and get them as close to perfect as the track will allow, will develop "Pocono Power" and will have a genuine shot at parking in victory lane. For the teams who struggle with these elements it could turn out to be a long day in Long Pond.

THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

This week we turn to the professionals from "The Las Vegas Insider", (LVI), to take a look at their numbers so we can determine who may have "Pocono Power" and who may have that unfortunate long day in Long Pond.

To no real surprise Jimmie Johnson, and the #48 Hendrick Motorsports team, tops the LVI list this week at 4 to 1 odds. Johnson is second in the current championship standings only 11 points away from first and is also a previous race winner. With only six races remaining, before the cutoff date that determines the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, his starting berth in the Chase seems to be assured and his determination to win a sixth, consecutive, championship also appears to be on track. This is also a racing organization that will arriving in Pennsylvania this week with "Pocono Power." Johnson's numbers there are very strong and includes two wins, seven top five finishes, 13 top ten finishes and a very healthy average finish ratio, (AFR), of 9.3.

Second on the LVI list this week is another Hendrick Motorsports driver. Jeff Gordon, at 5 to 1 odds, is literally loaded with "Pocono Power." He's a five time winner at the tricky triangle and, over the years, has collected 17 top fives, 26 top tens along with an AFR of 10.3. His Chase status also appears to be locked in. He's a two time race winner this year and is currently seventh in the championship standings. Like his team mate, Johnson, he's a rock solid wager consideration.

Denny Hamlin is ranked third by the LVI this week and backed with 6 to 1 odds. Despite a surprisingly rough start to the 2011 season, Hamlin worked his way to tenth in the points standings only to fall back to 11th following a disappointing outing at Indianapolis last Sunday. He's a previous race winner this year and if he can find a second win it could possibly lock him into the top ten and a Chase berth or at least guarantee him one of the two wild card berths. That could happen this Sunday because Hamlin also has "Pocono Power." He's a four time winner there with seven top fives, eight top tens and a healthy AFR 9.2.

At 7 to 1 odds you will find Tony Stewart. A top ten last Sunday moved him to ninth in the points standings but he needs that elusive first win of the season to make a Chase berth a little more secure. That could happen at Pocono because he's a two time winner there and has nine top fives, 18 top tens and his AFR is 11.9. Stewart is a very solid wager consideration this Sunday.

At 8 to 1 odds is current points leader Carl Edwards who is another previous race winner this year who also has "Pocono Power." His driver stats there includes two wins, five top fives, six top tens and a 14.3 AFR. One might think that Edwards may be somewhat distracted by the drama of his contract status and what team he's going to drive for in 2012. But it appears that whenever he puts his racing helmet on the distraction goes away. At 8 to 1 he's a solid wager consideration.

In the LVI's 10 to 1 group you will find the tandem of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick both, of whom, are three time race winners this year and certainly are bound for the Chase line up. Kyle Busch's numbers at Pocono are not that strong. He's still looking for his first win there, only has three top five finishes and a marginal AFR of 18.6. The difference maker here is this driver's talent and that's why he's ranked at 10 to 1. Harvick is also seeking his first Pocono win. In the past he's logged five top five finishes and has an AFR of 14.0. Both of these drivers are very good long shot wager considerations.

The LVI has Kurt Busch ranked at 12 to 1 odds for the Pocono race and he could also become a good long shot wager. At sixth in the points standings, with a win, his Chase standings appear to be solid and he's free to concentrate on collecting more wins. His "Pocono Power" includes two wins, eight top fives, 11 top tens and a 16.1 AFR.

The LVI's middle tier is led by Matt Kenseth at 15 to 1. He's fifth in the points with two wins meaning he's also virtually free to pursue victory lane without worrying about his Chase status. Kenseth is still seeking his first Pocono win but he does have three top fives there and a 14.1 AFR.

Listed at 18 to 1 odds are drivers Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer who are 13th and 12th respectively in the points. Biffle is the defending race champion. However, he's still win less this year and if he's going to make the Chase he needs a win right now. In fact two wins over the next six races would be a big help. The same scenario applies to Bowyer.

At 25 to 1 you will find the trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray. Earnhardt's free fall from third to tenth in the points has been well documented. He badly needs a win, or at least a very strong finish, to insure he doesn't fall out of the top ten and hamper his Chase position. Unfortunately Pocono may not be the track for him. He's winless there but does have five top finishes. His Pocono AFR is 17.4. Newman is in much better shape in terms of the Chase. He's eighth in the standings with a previous win. He also has good Pocono numbers that includes a win, six top fives, eight top tens and a 13.1 AFR

In the next LVI group is Joey Logano at 30 to 1. At 35 to 1 are a quarter of drivers featuring Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton and Kasey Kahne who is a former Pocono winner. From this group Mark Martin stands out as being the most interesting. He's never won at Pocono but he has finished second there six times. He also holds the series records for most top five finishes at 19 and most top tens at 33. This is backed with a healthy 11.2 AFR. If you have a tendency to stretch your wager budget to include a legitimate long shot then Martin is your driver.

In the bottom tier of this week's LVI rankings you will find drivers David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr, David Ragan and A J Allmendinger at 40 to 1. All by himself, at 50 to 1, is Brad Keselowski who will be playing hurt on Sunday. Keselowski was at Road Atlanta on Wednesday for a test session when he slammed nose first into a retaining wall, without a SAFER barrier, at approximately 100 MPH. Penske Racing engineers said an apparent brake failure was responsible for the incident. He was airlifted to an area hospital with abrasions and a badly swollen right foot. The X-rays on the foot were negative. Keselowski said he will be in the car at Pocono on Sunday.

Closing out the list this week is Paul Menard, last Sunday's first time winner, at 60 to 1 followed by Marcos Ambrose at 80 to 1, Bobby Labonte at 100 to 1 and Regan Smith at 150 to 1. If you don't see the name of your favorite driver on this listing that means the LVI has placed them in their all others category at 50 to 1 odds.

Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants to remind you that these posted numbers are for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their events. But if you're going to do it anyway, and many of you are, then you at least have the opinions of the professionals from the "Las Vegas Insider" to help you make an informed opinion.

If you do change your mind about placing a wager, then you might want to consider sending a contribution to NASCAR Nationwide Series veteran Morgan Shepherd and his Faith Motorsports team. The word from the garage says that, unless something turns around within the next two races, Shepherd may have to put his team up for sale. This 69 year old inspirational man should leave NASCAR racing because he decided to retire and not because he was forced to quit.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Good Sam RV Insurance 500 is 200 laps/500 miles around the Pocono Raceway's mammoth 2.5 mile triangle shaped track.

The race has 47 entries. 12 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a start in the race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speed to earn a berth in the starting lineup.

Believe it or not, the Pocono Raceway opened in 1968 as a three quarter mile oval. The mammoth facility we now today ran its first race in 1971.

The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held there in 1974 and was won by Richard Petty. Since that time there has been 66 Cup races at Pocono that has sent 29 different winners to victory lane. Bill Elliot holds the track record for most wins at five. Hendrick Motorsports holds the track record for most team wins at 11.

Track position is extremely important while racing on a facility of this size. The track qualifying record, 172.533 MPH, was set by Kasey Kahne back in June of 2004. Of the 66 Sprint Cup races held at Pocono, 13 of them have been won from the pole position while 47 of 66 has been won from staring positions within the top ten. Only four races has been won from starting positions outside of the top 20.

The Pocono Raceway is known as the tricky triangle but, if you look at an aerial photo of the track, it actually resembles a giant coat hanger. It's basically a three turn flat track. There's 14 degrees of banking in turn one, eight degrees in turn 2 also known as the tunnel turn and six degrees in turn three. The track's primary straightaway measures 3,740 feet. The Long Pond straight, between turns one and two, is 3,055 feet long while the North straight, between turns two and three, only measures 1,780.

The pit road speed is 55 MPH. The estimated pit window is 32 to 34 laps. The speedway presently has seating for 100,000 fans.

The weather could become an obstacle during the NASCAR weekend at Pocono. The Long Pond-Pennsylvania forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms on Saturday evening and a 40 percent chance of precipitation on race day Sunday. The Pocono Raceway has a fleet of ten jet dryers that can completely dry the track in about two hours.

The Good Sam RV Insurance 500 will be broadcast live by ESPN beginning at 1 pm eastern time. The re air will be Wednesday, August 10th, at 12 pm eastern on the SPEED Channel. 

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