Fantasy NASCAR preview: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500

by C.J. Radune on July 29, 2009 @ 01:00:00 PDT


Pocono Raceway is as long as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, but it is not as fast because of the flat banking and the existence of three, instead of the usual two, sets of turns. Additionally, each turn is very different from another, so teams are forced to compromise their setups. Perhaps more so than any other track, Pocono's corners are very unique, meaning a car will rarely handle ideally through an entire lap. Like the other flat tracks, though, downforce is very important and will force teams to be very precise with splitter settings. The turns aren't banked heavily, which creates a bigger need for mechanical grip through the suspension package as well.

Engine problems are relatively common at Pocono because of the extremes the engines are put through in rpm. Cars gear way down in the sharp corners and then approach 200 mph on the front stretch, forcing engines to their limits. The best way to pass is to beat another driver to the gas coming out of the turns and drive past them on the straights.

The last Pocono race turned into a fuel mileage game, which was won by Tony Stewart. Stretching the fuel to make it to the end without a splash-and-go can be common at Pocono. As a result, the fastest car may not necessarily take the day, depending on where the cautions fall. Pit strategy and strong fuel conservation may swing the pendulum towards this weekend's winner.

Location: Long Pond, Pa.
Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 2.50 miles
Laps: 200
Turn 1: 14 degrees
Turn 2: 8 degrees
Turn 3: 6 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Hamlin is sixth in NASCAR Sprint Cup points and trying to move further up the ladder. Pocono may be a perfect place for Hamlin to gear up for the Chase. While the Pocono 500, just a few weeks ago, ended in disappointment for Hamlin, he still ran as high as fifth before faltering. Hamlin has been a dominant driver on the Pennsylvania track (10.7 average finish in seven career starts), and there is no reason to think that the rough luck he has seen in the last two Pocono races is anything more than the result of unfortunate circumstances. Hamlin can get the job done and should be a driver in your fantasy lineup in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Edwards scored three straight top-10s in the last three races at Pocono Raceway. Two of those three were top-two finishes. Simply put, Edwards has been strong on the flat tri-oval. He led 103 of the 200 laps in June's Pocono 500. Edwards has nine career Pocono starts with two victories, four top-fives and five top-10s. His average finish in that time is 12.9. Edwards is definitely a driver worth reserving a roster spot for when the series visits Pocono. Look for him to run strongly and score another good Pocono finish if he steers clear of trouble throughout the day.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

If Harvick can't get the job done in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, it might be time to cut him loose for the season. It hasn't been a good year for Harvick or Richard Childress Racing. Harvick's average finish in his last five Pocono starts is 13.8, but he did score a top-five in last year's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. The good news is that he finished on the lead lap in each of those races. He puts himself in position to contend for a strong finish at Pocono, and that has a history of paying off. Look for Harvick to run well at Pocono this weekend. He should be a safe bet despite his season struggles.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 47 Toyota | JTG Daugherty Racing

Ambrose will drive the same car that he finished sixth with in his last visit to Pocono Raceway. That is his only start at the Pennsylvania track to date, and it turned out to be quite a run for the Tasmanian. He worked his way forward in the grid with a solid car throughout the day and scored one of his five top-10 finishes this season. Granted, Ambrose was helped a bit by some fuel mileage issues of other competitors, but he was 13th with 20 laps to go. He also ran as high as fifth during the race. He has an average finish of 9.0 in three superspeedway starts in his career. Look for another solid Pocono run from Ambrose this weekend.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Logano has steadily been stepping up his performance as the season progresses. He scored his first win, not an easy task even with Joe Gibbs Racing, in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. In the Pocono 500 Logano ran as high as 10th and spent 14 laps running in the top 15 throughout the day. He ended the race in 20th but learned a lot about a long Pocono race. He won his maiden outing at the track in an ARCA RE/MAX car and will be looking to translate that success to the Cup side. Logano is a quick learner and has shown flashes of great speed. Consistency and leveraging what he learned last month should pay off for him this weekend.

Temper your expectations

Elliott Sadler | No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Sadler led two laps the last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited Pocono Raceway. He only spent six laps in the top 15 throughout the day. Sadler's finishes have not been great at the Pennsylvania track despite his ability to make a rare cameo near the front of the field. His average finish in his last five Pocono starts is 27.8, while his career average finish in 21 starts is 20.9. Two top-10 finishes out of those 21 career starts is indicative of Sadler's inability to finish strongly at Pocono. Steer clear of using him on a fantasy roster this weekend.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Montoya probably should have won the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard last Sunday. He had the field covered and may have been challenged down the stretch but was discounted by a pit road mistake. Montoya isn't automatically a contender at Pocono Raceway again this weekend, though. His record at the track improved with a top-10 in the last race there, but that was helped by fuel issues of other cars. Montoya's average finish in his five Pocono starts is 24.4, and that isn't an average fantasy owners should be looking for. Don't bank your fantasy team on another strong run from Montoya this weekend.

Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Busch had a miserable day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but hopes to rebound this weekend as the series visits Pocono Raceway for the second time this season. In nine career starts at the track Busch earned just one top-five and two top-10s. His average finish in that time is 22.0. Those certainly aren't the statistics we are used to seeing come out of Busch's camp. Fantasy owners should be wary of relying on him this weekend as a result. While Busch is a hard charger and usually someone who will be mixing it up near the front, Pocono just doesn't seem to be the best use of his talent.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Biffle hasn't seen the Pocono success that some of his teammates have experienced. His average finish in his last five tries at the track is 18.4. He finished 11th in the Pocono 500 last month but was never truly a factor. While he consistently leads a handful of laps and scores top-20 finishes, he isn't the standout driver one would want anchoring a fantasy side. There is always a possibility that someone like Biffle will pull a surprise out of the bag, but it isn't likely when considering his past results at Pocono. It would be best to rely on other drivers for solid fantasy points this weekend.

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 DeWalt Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Last week long-time sponsor DeWalt announced that it would not be renewing its support of Kenseth given the harsh economic environment. That wasn't the news Kenseth wanted to hear, but he persevered and scored a top-10 at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Some of the distraction from that announcement may hurt Kenseth as he comes to Pocono, a track where he has already experienced some inconsistency. His average finish from the last five Pocono races is 11.4, but his career average finish is 14.3 in 19 starts. He has a history of leading a handful of laps at the track here and there, but it's nothing like the domination seen from other drivers. Kenseth shouldn't rise to the top of fantasy rosters this week.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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