With his win from the pole at Pocono in June, Joey Logano
became the 14th consecutive driver to win after starting inside the top 20. In fact, only four drivers have managed to find Victory Lane after failing to start in the top 20 since the Cup Series began visiting the track in 1975. Track position will be a talking point throughout Sunday's race, and crew chiefs will employ a variety of strategies to help their driver get near the front. Of course, the easiest way to do that is to put down a fast lap in qualifying.
Granted, a strong qualifying effort isn't a requirement to finish near the front at Pocono, but it's tough to deny the correlation between the two. In the June event, five of the drivers that started in the top 10 finished there, and eight of the top-10 qualifiers finished 16th or better. Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne were to two exceptions, and Busch lost an engine early in the event while Kahne cut a tire and hit the wall after spending most of the race in the top five.
Looking at the top 10 qualifiers for Sunday's race, fantasy owners will find a nice mix of big names and potential sleepers. Four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin qualified on the outside of the front row, and he has to be considered one of the favorites. Last week's winner Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10, and after three straight fourth-place finishes at Pocono, he also looks like a strong option. Point leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start eighth, and he can be thrown on the short list of favorites, as well. He has three straight top-10s at the track, and he led the second-most laps of any driver in the June event.
Juan Pablo Montoya headlines the list of sleeper candidates after he grabbed the pole for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400. Although he has had a few strong runs at Pocono in his career, his pole-winning run was a bit of a surprise given his struggles in 2012. Unless you are desperate to try to make up some ground in your fantasy league, Montoya's risk probably outweighs the potential reward.
A safer option is Paul Menard. After wrecking his primary car in practice Friday, he struggled to get the backup dialed in. However, the No. 27 bunch appears to have things straightened out, and Menard qualified third. He started third in the June race at Pocono, as well, and parlayed it into a career-best ninth-place finish at the track. Menard has actually finished in the top 15 in four straight starts at Pocono and had back-to-back top-10s. Another solid run should be on tap.
One big name to avoid might be Tony Stewart. Even though he has been one of the most-consistent options at the track over his career, "Smoke" was average in practice and qualified a dismal 28th. A bad qualifying effort wouldn't be as concerning if not for his recent struggles at flat tracks. Stewart had to salvage decent finishes at both New Hampshire and Indianapolis, which are both tracks where he is generally a contender for the win. It looks like the defending series champ might be playing damage control again this weekend.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.