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NASCAR Sprint Cup Pocono Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, August 03, 2012

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Joey Logano was allowed to win the June race at Pocono in an effort to save his career
TRIANGLE: a noun. a geometrical figure having three angles and three sides. Any three sided or three cornered figure, area, object, part etc.

POCONO RACEWAY. a noun. An asphalt covered triangle with three rounded sides connected by three straightaways. Potential bad news for engine builders, crew and car chiefs. A physical endurance test for anyone attempting to drive 400 miles on it.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be making their second visit of the season to the Pocono Raceway for Sunday's running for the Pennsylvania 400. The track is known as the tricky triangle because of its unique, three turn, shape. It's also known for its high speeds that often makes entering one of its three tricky turns rather treacherous. A track like Pocono is often a huge headache for crew chiefs and car chiefs. The high speeds often creates a major strain on engines and transmission gears. Making this track even more tricky is the fact that  the final result of a race there is often determined by how much Sunoco Racing Fuel is left in the car's tank.   

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

There are a few major NASCAR story lines that will highlight the coverage of the Pocono weekend. Certainly the first one will be Wednesday's announcement from NASCAR team owner Roger Penske that said embattled driver A J Allmendinger has been released after failing two tests administered by NASCAR's Substance Abuse Program.

This was a move that was basically expected by Penske even though the decision was likely made with a heavy heart. It's been well known that Penske Racing, like many Sprint Cup organizations, utilizes its own in house substance abuse testing program, with a zero tolerance policy. It's also well known that any Penske employee who violates this policy is subject to immediate release. No matter what personal feelings Penske has for Allmendinger, and it appears that he really did hold him in high regard, he had no choice but to follow the guidelines of his own company policy.

The official release of Allmendinger, from the Shell-Pennzoil #22 Dodge, has now officially amped up NASCAR's 2012 silly season and that's another story line you'll be hearing a lot about during the Pocono weekend. Since the driver's suspension by NASCAR, Penske Racing, NASCAR Nationwide Series, driver Sam Hornish Jr has been performing double duty by also driving the #22 Cup car. It's an arrangement that is expected to continue until the end of this season. Hornish appears to be a prime consideration for taking over that Cup ride next year.

Hornish's racing weekend will be as tricky as the Pocono Raceway triangle. He's currently competing for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship where he's ranked fourth in the standings. That, of course, means racing on Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately, there's some rather tricky logistics involved here. The Nationwide Series race is being held at Newton-Iowa. The Sprint Cup Series race is being held in Long Pond-Pennsylvania. The problem here is not so much a case of making the two races. It's making the practice sessions and the very important qualifying at both locations. It's going to mean a lot of logistics and at least two round trips across the country. Fortunately, Roger Penske owns a private jet. 

According to the silly season rumor mill there are other candidates, and free agents, who could be taking over this ride for the 2013 season. The name Joey Logano keeps coming up. The rumor mill also indicates that former Penske Cup driver Ryan Newman is on the list and, with Penske Racing switching from Dodge to Ford next year, the name Trevor Bayne is now being mentioned.

Remember, there's a reason why they call it silly season and nothing is official until all involved start hosting official press conferences.

Another huge NASCAR story line, that you will hear a lot about during the Pocono weekend, involves the two wild card berths for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. Going into Sunday's race, Kasey Kahne's two wins has him as the front runner for the first wild card while Kyle Busch owns the second berth based on his previous one trip to victory lane. However, right behind them are Ryan Newman and Joey Logano with one win each. Another win Sunday would change the current wild card standings. Let's not overlook the fact that Logano won the first race at Pocono held earlier this year.

THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

So, which driver is going to figure out the fastest way around the Pocono Raceway's tricky triangle? To help us determine that we again turn to the number crunching professionals from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).

The WSE Pocono rankings begins with driver Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. Rated at 6 to 1 odds, both drivers are excellent wager considerations. Johnson is fourth in the points standings with three wins. That makes him Chase safe and free to go after all the wins he can get to help him get the best seed position possible when the Chase line up is announced after the September 8th race at Richmond. He has extremely good numbers at Pocono that includes two wins, nine top five finishes, 15 top ten finishes and a series high 8.8 average finish ratio, (AFR). Also, don't overlook the fact that he's riding high from the momentum of last Sunday's dominant win at Indianapolis.

Denny Hamlin is ranked fifth in the points with two wins and is also considered to be Chase safe. He's a Sprint Cup hot shoe at Pocono and has very strong numbers there that includes four wins, eight top fives, nine top tens and a 9.3 AFR.

Kyle Busch is rated at 7 to 1 for this Sunday. He's going to be a driver to watch at Pocono. That's because he's 11th in the points but not even close to moving into the top ten which would guarantee him a Chase berth. At present he has one win and is lined up to claim the second wild card berth spot for the Chase. A second win will definitely help that cause. But there's a little problem here; Pocono is not exactly his favorite place to race. In 15 starts he only has four top five finishes there and a very high 18.3 AFR.

Tony Stewart is rated at 8 to 1 for Sunday's race and is also a very good wager consideration. He's ranked eighth in the points with three wins and that also makes him Chase safe. He's a two time winner at Pocono with ten top fives, 19 top tens and a healthy 11.5 AFR.

At 10 to 1 odds you will find Hendrick Motorsports team mates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon's 2012 season has been well documented. It's a story of how terrible racing luck can hold back a championship caliber team. He's 15th in the points and win less. Numerically it's not possible for him to make the Chase via the conventional top ten method. He's will have to get there via a wild card berth and, in order to make that happen, he needs two wins and he needs them now.

Earnhardt is currently the series points leader but, even with an impressive 2012 season, he's not necessarily a solid wager consideration for the Pocono race. He's still seeking his first win there and only has five top fives with a rather high 16.7 AFR. Pocono will likely be a good place for this team to consider doing some good old fashioned points racing.

The WSE has the tandem of Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle rated at 11 to 1. Kahne is currently 13th in the points with two wins and that has him holding down the first wild card berth opportunity. He's also a previous winner at Pocono with three top fives and a 17.7 AFR. He may turn out to be a driver to keep an eye on next Sunday.

Biffle is third in the points standings with a win and appears to be well on his way to another Chase appearance. He's also a previous winner at Pocono with a pair of top fives and a 17.6 AFR.

At 12 to 1 odds are Roush Fenway Racing team mates Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. Edwards will definitely be a driver to watch at Pocono because his Chase hopes are in a do or die situation. He's still seeking his first win of the season and is currently 12th in the points. He needs two wins right away to be eligible for a wild card berth. Pocono might be a good launching pad for Edwards. He's a two time winner there with five top fives, seven top tens and a 13.6 AFR.

Kenseth is ranked  second in the points with a win and is also regarded as being Chase safe. He's still seeking his first Pocono win but does have three top fives, nine top tens and a healthy 13.9 AFR there. 

At 15 to 1 odds is the duo of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Keselowski is ninth in the points but has three wins and that makes him Chase safe. He's the defending race winner at Pocono and has a 16.6 AFR. He always a driver to keep an eye on during a Sprint Cup race.

It's somewhat of a mystery as to why Harvick hasn't found victory lane this year. He's finishes have been consistent and he's currently sixth in the points. At Pocono, he's also looking for his first win. He has five top fives there and a 14.0 AFR.

Mark Martin is ranked at 18 to 1 at Pocono. He's also seeking his first win there but does have a series high 20 top fives, 34 top tens and a healthy 11.1 AFR. He came very close to winning the first Pocono race last June and could make an interesting long shot wager.

Turning now to the WSE's lower tier Pocono rankings, the quartet of Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr, Clint Bowyer and Joes Logano are rated at 25 to 1. Newman could become a long shot winner here. He has a previous race win this year and a second trip to victory lane would make him a serious candidate for a wild card berth. He has good Pocono numbers that includes a win, seven top fives, nine top tens and a healthy 12.7 AFR.

Truex is still seeking his first win of the season, but his consistent finishes has him ranked at seventh in the points. However, that first win of the season may not happen at Pocono. He only has one top five there and a 15.7 AFR.

Bowyer is tenth in the points with a win this season but he's not Chase safe. He needs some strong finishes, such as a win, to fortify his Chase hopes. However, like his team mate Truex, he only has one top five at Pocono and also has a 15.7 AFR.

For Logano it's a clear cut case of all in. He's a possible wild card contender with his one win which came at Pocono this past June. As previously noted his current Sprint Cup status with Joe Gibbs Racing is a little unclear at the moment and may be dependent on the availability of sponsorship. A second season win along with making the Chase would seriously help that cause.

The WSE's Pocono ratings closes with drivers Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya rated at 60 to 1. If you do not see the name of your favorite driver listed, it means they are covered under the WSE's all others category at 10 to 1 odds.

Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events.

But if you're going to do it anyway, and some of you already have, the World Sports Exchange has given you plenty of information to consider.

Now for the personal opinion: it appears that Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski are your primary considerations. The long shot drivers appear to be Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman because of their everything to gain status. The shot in the dark driver, meaning don't bet too much because you're probably going to lose it, appears to be Joey Logano.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Pennsylvania 400 is 160 laps/400 miles around the Pocono Raceway's massive 2.5 mile tri oval.

The race has 44 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. Nine 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 speeds to make the race.

Qualifying may turn out to be a problem due to weather. The Long Pond-Pennsylvania forecast calls for scattered thunder showers throughout the weekend including a 40% chance of rain on race day Sunday.

The defending race champion is Brad Keselowski. Joey Logano won the first Pocono Cup race of the year last June. There has been 69 NASCAR Sprint Cup races held at Pocono that has sent 31 different winners to victory lane. Richard Petty won the first ever Cup race there. Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon leads the Pocono winners list with five each. Hendrick Motorsports leads the team wins with 12. 14 of the 69 Cup races at Pocono have been won from the pole position.  The track qualifying record, 179.598 MPH, was set by Joey Logano in June of this year.

The Pocono Raceway's tricky triangle has 14 degrees of banking in turn one, also known as the Tunnel Turn. There are eight and six degrees of banking in turns two and three. The front stretch measures 3.740 feet long. The Long Pond straight, between turns one and two is 3,055 feet long while the North straight, between turns two and three is 1,780 feet.  The raceway has grandstand seating for 100,000 fans. Believe it or not, the Pocono Raceway opened in 1968 as a three-quarter mile oval. It became a massive 2.5 mile triangle in 1971. The track was repaved late last year and that's why qualifying and race speeds are expected to again be very high.

Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network beginning at 12 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, August 8th, on SPEED beginning at 12 pm eastern.

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