Fantasy NASCAR Race Preview: Party in the Poconos 400

by Eric McClung on June 5, 2013 @ 14:25:13 PDT


Pocono Raceway is one of the few independently owned tracks remaining 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.

Practice session: Friday, June 7, at 12 p.m. EDT; Saturday, June 8, at 10 a.m. EDT; 11:40 a.m. EDT
Qualifying: Friday, June 7, at 3:40 p.m. EDT
Race: Sunday, June 9, at 1 p.m. EDT
Location: Long Pond, Pa.
Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 2.5 miles
Laps: 160
Turn 1: 14 degrees
Turn 2: 8 degrees
Turn 3: 6 degrees
Straightaways: 2 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr.
Truex's Pocono record misleading

Johnson hasn't won at Pocono since a dominating 2004 sweep but has remained a contender nearly every time out. Over the last three years, he leads the series with an average finish of 6.8 there thanks to four top-fives and five top-10s.

He's coming off a week in which he dominated for 143 laps after an early call to short pit paid off. Things would spoil with 20 laps to go, however, when Johnson was flagged for jumping the restart, which relegated him to a 17th-place finish.

Matt Kenseth | No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Even with a mere two top-10s in the last nine Pocono races, Kenseth should still be near the top of the invitation list for this week's party. Last year he was the only driver to hold an average running position of seventh or better in each Pocono event. Kenseth just suffered his third DNF of the season; all were potential victories that saw him lead a combined 200 laps.

Toyota engines have resulted in poles and points all year but have also suffered from a rash of failures, elevating the risk somewhat.

Paul Menard | No. 27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Since 2010, Menard has finished 16th or better in all six Pocono races and has qualified third or better three of the last four. Last spring he set personal bests with an average running position of ninth and spent 99.4 percent of the laps running in the top 15 during a ninth-place performance.

Menard remains inside the top 10 of the 2013 standings despite no top-10 finishes in his last five starts. That mini-slump could end this weekend.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Of his last nine career victories, dating back to 2007, three have come at Pocono. It's the only track during that span at which Gordon pulled into victory lane on more than one occasion.

After a shaky and unlucky start to the season, Gordon has quietly finished 11th or better in four of the last five, including a pair of third-place performances.

Kurt Busch | No. 78 Furniture Row/Serta Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing

Busch is a two-time Pocono winner who landed two more podium finishes in both 2011 races after he held the best average running position each time. He competed in only one Pocono race last year and crashed shortly after the halfway point.

Busch has held an average running position of 11th or better in five straight races this season and continues to stay within striking distance of the better-armed competition.

Joey Logano | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford | Penske Championship Racing

Logano won last year's spring race at Pocono from the pole with 49 laps led, five fewer than the 44 circuits he paced after winning another pole in the summer of 2011. Last year's summer event yielded a mediocre 13th-place run, though.

Over the last seven starts of the year, Logano has suffered two DNFs but has also registered three top-fives and four top-10s.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

With nine straight top-15 finishes, perhaps no middle-tier driver has been as consistent as Newman when it comes to Pocono. He's been particularly sharp lately, with three finishes inside the top 10 over the last four.

Prior to last week's crash, Newman had recorded seven top-10s in nine previous starts. He may not challenge for a win but is slated for another solid day.

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

Strong qualifying runs and equally impressive efforts on race day have typically worked out well for Hamlin at Pocono. In 2011 he looked as sharp as always but finished outside the top 10 due, in June, to a mistake in the pits, followed by a brake failure during the return trip. He would bounce back with a fifth-place finish in this race last year but was in an accident later in the summer.

Hamlin has won the pole each of the last two weeks but couldn't convert last week's opportunity to score three straight top-fives after blowing out a tire.

Temper your expectations

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Truex has been something of an overachiever at Pocono. Over the last five races, he has notched four finishes of 12th or better with a career-best third last August. However, he managed to record an average running position better than 15th only once during that span.

Truex is coming off his first DNF of the season but had been a solid performer beforehand.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Mobil 1 / Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Stewart stopped a season-long slump by winning last week's race seemingly out of nowhere. He's now recorded consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time all season. Even though Smoke left Pocono with top-fives both times last year, he still looks like a very risky option unless he comes out sharp in practice.

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About Eric McClung

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.

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