Although two practices were scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Pocono Raceway, Mother Nature had other ideas. Rain washed out both sessions, leaving teams without any real chance to focus solely on their race setups and leaving fantasy owners without any practice data to rely on. As a result, fantasy owners will have to improvise a bit when it comes to making decisions about who to start and who to sit this weekend. There is no substitute for practice data, but qualifying speeds, the results from the June race at the track and career numbers at Pocono aren't a bad alternative. With that in mind, here is a closer look at a few drivers that should be fantasy juggernauts this weekend, a few sleeper options and a few big names to shy away from.
It's tough to decide where to start when talking about the reasons fantasy owners should add Jimmie Johnson to their rosters this weekend. His 8.7 average finish at Pocono is the best in the series, and he has finished outside the top 15 just once in 23 starts. Johnson has also finished fourth or better in four of his last five starts at the track, including a dominating victory in the June race earlier this year when he led 128 of the 160 laps. To top it off, he won the pole for Sunday's race, breaking the old track record in the process.
Kurt Busch ups game at Pocono
In the past 10 races at Pocono, no driver has been more consistent than Tony Stewart. His 6.2 average finish is the best in the series during the stretch, and he has finished worse than 11th just once in that time. Stewart is also a two-time winner at the track, and he has finished in the top five in each of the last three races at Pocono. Granted, he did qualify an unimpressive 20th, but fantasy owners shouldn't be too concerned. During the last three races at the track, his average starting position is 23.0, while his average finish is 4.0. "Smoke" should get to the front Sunday.
Since joining the Cup Series, Denny Hamlin has accumulated four wins at Pocono, the most in the series. He also owns a series-leading 113.8 driver rating at the track, and in 15 starts, he has finished in the top 10 on five different occasions. In fact, Hamlin has finished sixth or better nine times at Pocono. He qualified ninth for Sunday's race, and another strong day at one of his best tracks appears to be on tap.
While his record at Pocono has been up and down, Kyle Busch's upside is tough to pass up. After all, he has finished sixth or better four times in his last seven starts at the track, including three finishes of third or better. Busch's 18.4 average finish at Pocono for his career isn't too impressive, but he started eighth and finished sixth in the June race this year, and he qualified on the outside of the front row for Sunday's event. He might not be the safest pick among the big names, but he definitely has a great chance to end up in victory lane.
Fresh off his victory at Indianapolis, Ryan Newman deserves a long look from fantasy owners this weekend at Pocono. For one, he qualified fourth for Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 in the same car he won with at the Brickyard. Meanwhile, Newman has reeled off 10 straight top-15 finishes at Pocono and has finished sixth or better in three of his last four starts. Newman finished fifth at Pocono in June, and he provides fantasy owners with a nice combination of top-15 reliability and top-five upside.
He made his first start at Pocono for Furniture Row Racing earlier this year, and Kurt Busch showed plenty of muscle as he drove from 20th to seventh. Overall, he has finished seventh or better in three of his last four starts at the track and has two wins and four runner-up finishes for his career there. He will start fifth Sunday, and at the very least, he should be able to replicate his top-10 effort from the June event.
Although Joey Logano has won just two Cup races in his career, one of those victories came at Pocono in June of last year. He was actually quite impressive in the win, starting on the pole and leading the most laps. More importantly, he has finished in the top 15 in four of his last five starts at Pocono, including three straight, so the win hasn't been his only solid run at the track. Logano starts sixth Sunday, and he should end up in or around the top 10 just as he did in the June race earlier this year.
Big Names to Avoid
Despite being a two-time winner at Pocono and qualifying third for Sunday's race, fantasy owners should be a little leery of Carl Edwards this weekend. For starters, he has just two top-10s and zero top-five finishes in his last five starts at Pocono. In addition, Edwards also had a strong qualifying run at the track in June, but he slid from the outside of the front row at the start to 18th at the finish. Don't be surprised if he goes in the wrong direction yet again when the green flag waves.
He has been a fantasy stud all season, but Matt Kenseth could let down fantasy owners this weekend. In the last 10 races at Pocono, he has managed just two top-10 finishes. Not to mention the fact that he hasn't had a top-five finish at the track since 2005. His 24th-place effort in qualifying is also a bit of a red flag, seeing how it is the first time in 2013 he will start outside the top 20.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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