Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Pocono 400
The Tricky Triangle just got a lot trickier to figure out. While the newly repaved surface at Pocono Raceway added a lot of grip to the track it may result in a race where the field battles over one groove and struggles to make passes. Thankfully the testing sessions and pre-qualifying practice will offer up a lot of data to evaluate. Owners should also put a lot of emphasis on the results from qualifying given the uncertainty on how things will play out on the brand new surface.
Testing sessions: Wednesday, June 6 at 4:00 pm ET, Thursday, June 7 at 1:00 pm ET
Drivers to keep an eye on
Last year, Earnhardt was one of six drivers to record top-10 finishes in each Pocono race. Despite qualifying midpack for both starts he held an average running position of 10th and ninth, respectively. Earnhardt has been a model of consistency in 2012 as the only driver to finish on the lead lap for all 13 races held thus far. He's yet to record a result outside of the top 20 and should notch his 11th top-10 of the season, one shy of his entire total from a year ago.
With an average running position of sixth or better with a minimum of 19 laps led in each of the last five Pocono races, Hamlin is one driver that is probably disappointed to face a repaved surface. Despite excellent runs in each start last year, Hamlin finished 19th in the spring with tire and brakes issues prior to a pit crew mistake in the fall that caused him to finish 15th. Hamlin is the triangle master and figures to lead on the charge once again.
With a respectable career average running position of 16.7, Truex is a solid performer at Pocono. In the last three Pocono races, Truex has finished 12th or better despite qualifying outside of the top 25 on two occasions. Truex is in the midst of a career year with four top-fives thus far, more than any single season since 2007. Look for things to keep rolling through Long Pond.
After decent but unspectacular performances for much of his career at Pocono, Harvick has broken through with three top-fives in the last four races. Harvick is coming off a runner-up performance at Dover International Speedway, his first top-five since late March. While he's been solid for much of the season, Harvick could use a big performance this week to springboard his championship aspirations.
Thanks to exchanging information with Hamlin's No. 11 team, Busch finally got things going at Pocono in recent years. Over the last four races, he's finished as the runner-up twice with a third-place finish in last year's spring race. Prior to blowing an engine at Dover, Rowdy had finished inside the top-five in four straight races this season. Last year, Busch used the extra track time from the test sessions at Kentucky Speedway to destroy the field from the pole. If his team gathers information that well this week Busch can also thank his teammate for his first Pocono victory.
In 10 Pocono starts since 2007, Bowyer has collected nine finishes inside the top 20. He returns to the site with a streak of five straight finishes of 13th or better this season. Bowyer has qualified fifth and fourth, respectively, in the last two races which could aid him greatly on a new surface that may need time to develop more than one groove in which to race on.
Newman is still seeking his first top-10 finish since winning at Martinsville Speedway back in early April. He's been very solid at Pocono with seven straight top-15s, including a ninth and fifth last year. While he hasn't been running very well for much of the season, Newman enters with a pair of top-15s and is a driver to monitor throughout the week.
From the spring of 2009 through the spring of 2011, Montoya's average running position improved race after race at Pocono. In that span of five starts he registered four top-10s but struggled mightily last fall. JPM has been a non-factor in 2012 but if he appears near the top of speed charts during the Pocono testing sessions don't pass it off as a fluke.
Temper your expectations
Since 2008, Kenseth has only managed two top-10s in eight starts at Pocono. While they've all been top-20 finishes on the lead lap his overall level of performance isn't what fantasy managers are looking for. Kenseth is a much better option on many other tracks and should be kept in reserve in allocation formats despite his remarkable consistency this season.
Over the last two years, Kahne has not recorded a top-10 finish at Pocono. Even though he owns a win from the fall of 2008, Kahne has been erratic at the site with seven finishes outside of the top 20 in 16 career starts. After an awful start to 2012, Kahne has torn off seven straight top-10s but his history at Pocono could very well bring that streak to an end.
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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