Pocono 500 fantasy NASCAR preview

by C.J. Radune on June 5, 2008 @ 13:06:28 PDT


Pocono Raceway

Pocono Raceway is as big as Daytona International Speedway and close in size to Talladega Superspeedway; however, it is not as fast because of the flat banking on the straightaways and the existence of three - instead of the usual two - sets of turns. Additionally, each turn is very different from the other, so teams are forced to compromise on their setup. Like the other flat tracks, downforce is very important. Engine problems are relatively common at Pocono because of the extreme shift in rpms, with cars gearing way down in the sharp corners and then approaching 200 mph in the front stretch. The best way to pass is to beat another driver to the gas coming out of the turns.

The "tunnel-turn" is the second of three turns and the one to watch out for during the race. Cars that can stay on the gas as much as possible through the turn without losing control will have a better chance at making passes into and through the final turn leading onto the front stretch. Sometimes drivers make mistakes there as they push the car to its limit, often creating spectacular incidents.

Location: Long Pond, Pa.

Length: 2.50 miles

Shape: Tri-oval

Laps: 200

Banking: Turn 1: 14-degrees; Turn 2: 8-degrees; Turn 3: 6-degrees

Table: Do not bench

Kyle Busch Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jimmie Johnson Tony Stewart
Matt Kenseth Jeff Gordon
Kevin Harvick Denny Hamlin
Carl Edwards Jeff Burton

Leading the pack

Ryan Newman | No. 12 Kodak Dodge | Penske Racing

Newman has had a few good finishes sprinkled in among his more disappointing results this season. He is currently 14th in Cup points with one win, two top-fives and five top-10s. At Pocono, Newman has had a better record than his current season's record. In his 12 career starts at the track, he has one win, five top-fives and six top-10s. In his last five starts there he has started from the first two rows four times and has an average finish of 8.6. Penske Racing may have a chance to get Newman and Kurt Busch both into the top 10 this weekend.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Vickers has a great record at Pocono Raceway and is a driver you should consider starting. Vickers has shown the wings of his Red Bull Toyota this season and has tallied one top-five and two top-10 finishes so far. He finished a very disappointing 42nd in the Coca-Cola 600 after starting third and leading 61 laps. At Pocono, Vickers has eight starts and three top-five finishes. Throw away the two 2007 races where the Red Bull team was behind the eight ball with Toyota, and his average finish at the track jumps from 14.4 to 8.5. However, the latter results were at the wheel of a Hendrick Motorsports car. Now that the Red Bull team is up to speed, look for Vickers to factor heavily in Sunday's race.

Mark Martin | No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Martin has started 10 races this season and is 24th in Cup points. He has finished in the top five twice and in the top 10 four times in those 10 races. His last two starts haven't resulted in great finishes, but this weekend he travels to Pocono, which is a track where he has a good history. Martin has started 22 races at the track and has 12 top-fives and 16 top-10s. He hasn't qualified well in his last five starts at the track (22.4), but his results haven't been bad, with an 11th-place average finish. Expect Martin to be near the top 10 throughout the Pocono 500.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Truex has struggled a little this season without ex-teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., but he does seem to be leaning on Mark Martin at times. Truex is 15th in Cup points and has earned one top-five and four top-10 finishes along the way. At Pocono Raceway, he has had a mixed bag in the finishing department. He has only started four races at the track, and his average finish is 14.8. He has one top-five, when he finished third in the 2007 Pocono 500, and one other top-10, in the 2006 Pennsylvania 500. Fresh off a top-10 finish in the Best Buy 400, Truex may be poised to get another top-10 result at Pocono.

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Racing

Busch has not had a top-10 finish since the season-opening Daytona 500, where he finished second. He was able to lead 64 laps in the Coca-Cola 600, but that was the first significant number of laps he has led since leading nine in the Daytona 500. Busch does have a good record at Pocono Raceway, where the series visits this weekend. He won the last race there, the 2007 Pennsylvania 500, after starting second. In his last five starts at the track, he has only finished outside the top two once. Busch should run near the front of the pack this weekend after being the fastest in two days of Cup testing at the track.

Drivers to keep an eye on

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Biffle's pole in the Dodge Challenger 500 may have been a turning point for the driver, who has struggled to match his teammate Carl Edwards in the wins department through the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, Biffle dropped out of that race with an engine failure, but he has not finished outside the top five in the last two points races. Biffle has led 272 laps since that pole compared to 17 in the prior 10 races. Biffle is on a charge, and his record at Pocono Raceway may be irrelevant considering his current form. For those keeping score, in 10 career starts there he has an average finish of 19.2, with two top-10 finishes. Biffle is a solid option.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge | Chip Ganassi Racing

After dealing with an unwanted crew chief change, Montoya bounced back in the Best Buy 400. The first race Montoya had Brian Pattie calling the shots in the pit box was the Coca-Cola 600, and it was a disaster. Montoya qualified 42nd and finished 30th. In the Best Buy 400, though, Montoya finished a respectable 12th. He has only led one lap this season, and Montoya wants more. In his two starts at Pocono Raceway, Montoya showed improvement. He finished 16th in the 2007 Pennsylvania 500 after finishing 20th in his first race at the track - the '07 Pocono 500. Fantasy players may want to watch Montoya this weekend to see if his relationship with Pattie continues to improve before they start plugging him into their lineups.

Bobby Labonte | No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge | Petty Enterprises

Not much has changed for Labonte and his team from 2007 to 2008 except for the move of Petty Enterprises from Level Cross, N.C., to Mooresville, N.C. Labonte hasn't had any top-five or top-10 finishes this season, but he is 20th in Cup points, with a guaranteed starting position. At Pocono Raceway, Labonte has had some success with the No. 43 Dodge. Since his move to Petty Enterprises in 2006, Labonte has an average finish of 17.3 at Pocono. He also has one top-10 finish, an eighth-place in the '06 Pennsylvania 500. Labonte should be considered a decent option in fantasy formats.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports

Spending two weeks at Lowe's Motor Speedway may have kick-started Kahne's 2008 season. He won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600. Prior to Lowe's, Kahne only had five top-10 finishes. Unfortunately, he hit some bad luck, and a spinning car, at Dover International Speedway. Kahne doesn't have an outstanding record at Pocono Raceway, but he has one top-five and one other top-10 in his eight career starts. Fantasy owners will want to make sure they monitor Kahne this weekend to see if his early-season bad luck is truly behind him or if the races at Lowe's were just a temporary cure.

Joe Nemechek | No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing

Except for claiming the pole at Talladega Superspeedway, Nemechek and the Furniture Row Racing team haven't had much to be happy about. The team has struggled through the beginning of the season, with a best finish of 25th coming in the Aaron's 499. Nemechek is outside the top 35 in Cup points and will have to qualify for the race on speed. Nemechek has qualified well at Pocono in the past with eight top-10 starts in 20 career visits to the track. While he may not be a strong choice for this weekend, if Nemechek can make the field and run well he might pull himself into the top 35 in points to guarantee himself a starting spot in the next race.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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