Fantasy NASCAR race preview: 5-hour Energy 500
Pocono Raceway is one of the few independently-owned tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule and hosts two events per season. Known as the Tricky Triangle, Pocono's three distinct turns are all banked differently and inspired by other race tracks: the defunct Trenton Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and The Milwaukee Mile. Finding a setup that will play well in all three turns can be a quite a challenge.
Once again, owners facing pre-qualifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practice sessions prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.
Location: Long Pond, Pa.
Drivers to keep an eye on
In the four Pocono races from 2008-09, Edwards held an average running position of at least eighth in each start, picking up his second career win at the site in the process. In addition, he spent more than 90 percent of his laps running in the top 15 on three occasions. While Edwards was not as strong a year ago, in terms of loop data statistics, he still managed a third-place result in the August event. Now this season's Mr. Consistency, Edwards has only finished worse than seventh in three of the 13 races held thus far while leading laps in 11 events.
Over the last 11 races at Pocono, Stewart has only finished outside of the top 10 once. In just the last two years, he recorded win No. 2 at the site while also banking second- and third-place results. Those playing in formats that reward qualifying efforts will want Stewart in their lineup as he has won the pole on two occasions in that same period of time. After matching a season high average running position of fifth last week, Smoke is poised to continue his march through Pocono.
It took Hamlin no time at all to solve the Tricky Triangle. In his first two starts at the site, Hamlin won from the pole in each race of 2006. Across the next eight races, he's only finished worse than sixth on two occasions while winning two of the last three. After an uneven start to the season, Hamlin has posted an average running position of ninth or better in four of his last five starts and is clearly running well heading to one of his top tracks.
While Gordon has only picked up four top-10s this season, each has been a result of fifth or better, including a win at Phoenix International Raceway. Despite his apparent boom-or-bust performance, Gordon should be a safe bet this week. The four-time Pocono winner has recorded a top-10 in four of the last five while consistently qualifying well. Last August, Gordon held a career best average running position of third while never dropping below 14th at any point in the race.
After finishing eighth or better in three straight races at Pocono, highlighted by a runner-up performance in 2009, Montoya finished a disappointing 16th after qualifying on the outside pole last August. Don't be discouraged by that, as JPM held a career high average running position of seventh while spending 95.5 percent of the race running in the top 15. In addition, he led his first five laps ever at Pocono.
Although Pocono is one of only three active tracks where Martin has not managed to record a Cup win at, he has remained a reliable performer. Over the last four starts, Martin's average running position has been ninth or better on three occasions and 12th or better in six of the last seven. Although he has been a total non-factor over the last two weeks, Martin is one of the top middle-tier drivers to monitor during the practice sessions.
A medical condition resulting in blood clots cut the season short for Vickers last year prior to running either of the Pocono races. However, value-minded fantasy owners are hoping he picks up where he left off. Outside of a pair of poor finishes in 2007, Vickers has held an average running position of 13th or better in eight races. In fact, since loop data was introduced in 2005, Vickers’ career average running position of 12.1 at Pocono is eighth best among active drivers.
After three seasons running full time with Penske Championship Racing, issues with performance and sponsorship dollars left Hornish without a Cup ride. Now in a limited Nationwide Series schedule, he'll get another chance in Cup action this week as a sub for Travis Kvapil, who is running the Truck Series race in Texas. With three straight finishes of 11th or better, Pocono is by far Hornish's best track. While some of those finishes were aided by pit strategy, Hornish is a worthy bottom-tier start, albeit a risky one, and a friendly cash saver in salary cap formats.
Temper your expectations
Aside from finishing second in June of last year, Busch has struggled to cash in on good runs at Pocono. Since moving to JGR in 2008, Busch has only one finish better than 16th despite holding an average running position that has not dropped below 14th. With so many other top-shelf drivers holding more impressive and safer resumes at Pocono, it's hard to find a reason to gamble on Rowdy this week.
It’s not that Newman is a bad pick for Pocono, he’s just not a very exciting one. Since 2008, he owns an average finish of 12.8 with only one top-10. In addition, his average running position has only topped 13th once. After a streak of four top-10s earlier this season, Newman has only managed one such result over the last eight starts.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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