After an unpredictable day in Dover, NASCAR heads to the Tricky Triangle for the 14th event on the schedule. This unique 3-turned track is notorious for long runs and bad weather. Qualifying was washed out for this weekend’s race and the field will be set by owner’s points putting Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards on the front row. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with wins at Pocono (6) with his most recent being last August. Jeff needs a win badly after a dismal start to the season and this may be the place he gets it if all goes well Sunday.
Besides Jeff Gordon, who else will be tough to beat this weekend? His name is Denny Hamlin and he is desperate for a victory. Hamlin has won at Pocono four times and his first two Cup wins came at this very track. After a rough week at Dover, he knows that he has to go hard this weekend if he wants to salvage his season and make the chase. After Denny’s back injury, he came back guns loaded ripping off two top 5’s and two poles in his last three starts. Another Toyota that will certainly be strong at Pocono is the No.55 of Mark Martin. He has never won at Pocono but he’s finished 2nd seven times! His most recent close call with victory lane was last year when young Joey Logano booted him out of the way with just four laps remaining. The only thing that may keep these two out of contention is the TRD engine issues that are looming over the JGR and MWR camps.
This next driver wrecked while leading this race last August opening up the door for his teammate Jeff Gordon to steal the win. It’s Jimmie Johnson and he is fired up after the restart controversy that stopped him from winning for a record setting 8th time at Dover. In 22 starts at Pocono, he’s only finished outside the top 15 once and has finished inside the top five nine times. He will definitely be up front and I expect him to be in the mix as the race winds down. Tony Stewart is another driver that has a good record at Pocono winning twice and holding an average finish of 11.3; the 5th best among active drivers. In his 28 starts, he’s almost always inside the top 10 with 71% of his results being 10th or better. He has a lot of momentum after his surprise Dover win which is historically one of his worst tracks so don’t make the mistake of counting him out this weekend.
Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard are having great seasons so far but don’t be surprised if they lose some ground after this race. In 22 combined starts at Pocono, they don’t have a top five between them and just six top 10’s.Their average finishes are awful and 18 of those 22 combined starts have been finishes of 20th or worse. They come into this race 9th and 19th in points and I expect them to give up a couple spots unfortunately. McMurray’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya on the other hand has had a decent record here so look for JPM to have a solid weekend. Kyle Busch has had a tough time finding success at Pocono as well. He seems to either be right up in the front of the pack or way down leader board if not parked in the garage. Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle don’t have a stellar results at this track either despite each of them winning here once.
You can expect fuel to be a factor at the end of this race and many long green flag runs. Since this is Pocono, you can never count rain out as being a possible factor in determining the outcome of the race either. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin are the drivers to beat in my opinion while guys such as McMurray, Menard and Kyle Busch will most likely have a rough race. You can see my final predictions for the race below and feel free to give me your thoughts on who you believe will take the checkered flag Sunday!
Race Favorite: Denny Hamlin
Dark Horse: Mark Martin
Possible Upset: Juan Pablo Montoya (Although I’m finding it increasingly difficult to look at him as a “upset” with how well he’s performed in 2013…)