M&Ms Fan Appreciation 400 Picks & Analysis
Race: M&Ms Fan Appreciation 400
Date: Sunday, July 24, 2022
Track: Pocono Raceway
Time: 3 pm ET
What Did We Learn From Last Weekend?
What looked to be the Martin Truex Jr. show after the first two stages quickly ended after the field pitted after Truex Jr.’s stage 2 win. After restarting 4th, Truex Jr. seemed to start fading rather quickly due to apparent handling issues. He didn’t manage to gain any farther than his restart position and finished a respectable 4th, although many (including himself) thought he would end up with a better finish after such a strong first 2/3rds of the race. Needless to say, he was disappointed after taking the pole, and the first 2 stage wins, but such is life when it comes to racing. They just couldn’t pull it together there at the end. Chase Elliott was making a charge to the front, battling Kurt Busch and Joey Logano for the lead. He was able to get by and run a few laps up front, but Christopher Bell came swooping in with 42 to go and managed to take advantage of lap traffic, giving him the lead over Elliott. Once he got passed Chase, it was no holding back. Bell took the win over Elliott by well over 2 seconds. Lap traffic really played a big role in this one. Luckily for Bell, it played in his favor.
We all expected to see some action between Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin. I have to say; I definitely chuckled when I saw the memes floating around with a snow plow on Chastain’s car. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but Chastain is racing. Much like another particular driver that had some contact this weekend, Chastain doesn’t lift. And why should he? Denny Hamlin did try to come back to ruin his day there on lap 197. He ran Chastain up the track, but Chastain didn’t play into his immature games. Maybe Chastain took some notes out of Brad Keselowski’s notebook, and I don’t even hate it. I think that more drivers need to stand their ground instead of “lifting” like so many suggest. There’s a time and a place, for sure, but sometimes, other drivers need to learn to move. That being said, these guys are moving onto a much bigger track this coming weekend. We didn’t see too much in terms of retaliation outside of Hamlin’s failed attempt. This weekend, they won’t have much of an opportunity.
Where Are We Headed This Weekend?
Pocono is not a track that lends itself to drivers being able to retaliate. This place is pretty large, and the drivers tend to get spread out. Traffic doesn’t play much of a role like with what we saw in New Hampshire. Pocono is a 2.5-mile asphalt tri-oval. It has 14 degrees of banking in turn 1, 8 degrees in turn 2, and just 6 degrees in turn 3. Pocono is a finicky track. What do we expect to see this weekend? If all of us analyzers could agree on one thing, it would be that there’s a shot of rain. Quite honestly, I was relieved to see one of the Pocono races taken off the schedule. That was one of the things that NASCAR got right in recent history, which is few and far between. Now that we’ve cleared that up, there’s a 40% chance of rain as of now for Sunday’s race. Shocking, I know. The only saving grace is that it’s only mid-week, so maybe something will give until the weekend. If rain does end up playing a factor, this will likely turn into a fuel mileage race, as it has many times previously. Fuel mileage tends to play a role with or without rain, if we’re being honest. It’s just that with the rain threats, most teams use fuel as their strategy depending on the progress of the race. More often than not, if we’re halfway, NASCAR will call the race. If NASCAR lets this thing run the full length, other than fuel mileage, we’re looking at tires at this particular track. In the past, they’ve been significant. With the recent changes in formatting, not so much, but I still think that tire wear will be more significant here than on other tracks due to the typical long green flag runs.
Odds and Value Picks
When it comes to picking a winner for Pocono, it’s one of those places that tends to be more predictable than the others. What’s interesting about that theory is that this season has seemed to blow that up. What I will say is that there is one driver in particular that seems to know this place just a little better than the rest of them. He is tied with Jeff Gordon for most wins, in fact. Denny Hamlin is that driver. As much as his recent behavior gets under my skin, he has Pocono figured out. If anyone is predictable as a winner this weekend, it’s this guy. The next-gen cars are undoubtedly going to give a different drive this weekend. They don’t lend themselves to poor track surfaces that have started to plague Pocono. Between that and the rumored tire wear, maybe we’ll see a more interesting race. Denny Hamlin will have to see if he can manage that tire wear since Goodyear changed the compound coming into this race. Maybe someone else will do a better job than Denny. Who knows? Let’s take a look at your potential winners with odds posted at MyBookie:
- Winner: Kyle Busch +770
- Mid-Range Pick: Aric Almirola +4300
- Dark Horse: Brad Keselowski +4800
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Almirola had his best finish here back in 2020. That 3rd place set him up pretty well. With all that 2020 threw at everyone, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Almirola can use that same mentality to propel himself into another solid finish. These next-gen cars are another new situation, so Almirola has that going for him. For Brad Keselowski, well, this is a track where he might be able to put together a solid run. He has multiple runner-up finishes and an overall finish of around 8th place. That’s not anything to sneeze at. If he can bring a good car, he has his own experience and strong finishes to back him up. I think that this will be one of his better finishes of the season. Interestingly enough, as much as I talked about Hamlin already, his overall average just doesn’t do it for me. He’s had a good run of bad luck, and although he’s got six wins under his belt, if he didn’t win, he just didn’t have a stellar day. Hamlin’s average finish is around 12th, even with all of those wins. Kyle Busch has an average finish around 9th and actually has quite a better record at Pocono in recent years. If he can keep his act together, Kyle Busch has a real shot at getting a win this weekend. Let’s see where everyone is standing after a less than spectacular race at New Hampshire:
- Chase Elliott
- Ross Chastain
- Joey Logano
- William Byron
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kyle Larson
- Ryan Blaney
- Denny Hamlin
- Kyle Busch
- Christopher Bell
- Tyler Reddick
- Kurt Busch
- Chase Briscoe
- Daniel Suarez
- Alex Bowman
- Austin Cindric
What we don’t see is Kevin Harvick, who fell well below the cutoff line. Being behind 68 points at this stage with no wins to guarantee his spot, well, Harvick is in the danger zone. Almirola is behind Harvick, followed by Erik Jones and Austin Dillon. Things are starting to heat up as the regular season is coming to an abrupt end. I’d like to say that things will get dicey since the season is wrapping up, but it’s Pocono. We all know how Pocono goes. We’ll say a little prayer that the race isn’t rain-shortened and hope for the best. What we don’t really know is exactly how these new cars will play out on this track. Downforce, new tire compounds…what will this do for the drivers and fans? Stay tuned to find out as the drivers and teams head to Pocono this Sunday!