Party in the Pocono’s 400 Picks to Win

Race: Party in the Poconos 400
Date: Sunday June 9, 2013
Track: Pocono Raceway
Time: 1 pm ET
by Virginia V, NASCAR Handicapper,

Dover brought about a slew of pit stop strategies. It was beneficial to many but detrimental to quite a few as well. Kurt Busch fell into that category. He was in a position to win the race, but he worked on a different pit strategy than a lot of the guys and ended his day just outside the top 10 despite a strong car. So whose day did it turn out to be? Tony Stewart was the name of the game at the end of the race. Despite only leading 3 laps, he led the ones that counted, ending an almost year-long dry spell and coming to victory lane at Dover. Ironically, this is a track he hates. He has publicly stated that he does not like it here and would rather move on to the next one. I bet he likes it better now! Stewart ended up winning a race that really saw a lot of long green flag runs. There were still a few tempers flaring with drivers bumping and running each other, especially in the later stages. Those long green flag runs, though, really opened the door for that pit strategy to make or break the race. Track position was everything, but losing time on pit road or not pitting at the right time altogether really killed some of the drivers’ chances of winning.

This weekend, we are heading to the tri-oval of Pocono. The notorious question is, “Will it rain?”. To me, the better question is how long we have until it starts to rain. It’s just inevitable. Every single time we come here, it rains. The race is either postponed, red flagged, or called after halfway for rain. It looks like as of now there is a 30% chance of showers on Sunday, so we will have to see how that plays out as we get closer to the weekend. Undoubtedly, rain will cause a problem with practice, qualifying, or the race or all three.

Pocono is a 2.5 mile asphalt triangle. Literally, it’s a triangle. It’s an oddball track with relatively mild banking. The most severe is only 14 degrees in turn 1, with 8 degrees in turn 2 and 6 degrees in turn 3. With that in mind, we have to note that the banking is low here with very sharp turns off the straights. Because of that, the drivers do not have nearly the speed that they have at other superspeedways, most notably Daytona and Talladega.

The most important factor of Pocono is track position. Once a driver gets out font, it’s hard to catch him. That being said, drivers also need to make sure that they treat their equipment right. One of the most horrendous crashes was when Jeff Gordon lost is brakes and hit the wall extremely hard here at Pocono. Luckily, he was okay but it was definitely the hardest hit of his career. We have to thank NASCAR for the safety precautions that these guys require making it as safe as possible. This track is hard on brakes because of its sharp turns. Drivers have to baby those cars so as not to blow out brake lines and also to maintain their tires as they go throughout the race.

When we look at the potential winners this weekend, it’s hard to discount Jeff Gordon. He’s got 6 total wins here, the most of any active driver. He’s followed by Bill Elliot at 5 and then Denny Hamlin with 4 wins. Between Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin, I’m going to have to go with Gordon this weekend. Jeff Gordon came home with a 3rd place at Dover, and is really overdue for a win. There’s something he just gets at this track that the other guys don’t. He understands the strategy it takes to win a rain-delayed race too, and that never hurts at Pocono. Hamlin will be one to watch, but I don’t think that he will take the win. He’s had a run of bad luck with Dover ending in a crash after a failed right front tire. Toyota teammates Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth suffered engine failures, so that’s also something to watch this weekend. Although usually never a problem, something in the Toyota camp really held those guys back at the Monster Mile. Hopefully, they don’t suffer the same fate at Pocono, but this is a track known for testing the limits of equipment. Here are your potential winners this weekend:

My Pick to Win: Jeff Gordon
Middle of the Road Pick: Joey Logano
Dark Horse Prediction: Aric Almirola

Joey Logano has had success here, albeit rain delay-success, but you’ve got to take it where you can get it, right? Aric Almirola is also one to watch. While Sunday was his first experience at Dover, he finished sixth and has truly been the class of the field in terms of our “C” list drivers. This is his first time at Pocono in the Sprint Cup series, but he clearly isn’t fazed by new experiences. I think that he may initially struggle to stay in the top 10, but I’d dare to say that he will have a solid top 15 run this weekend. He’s one to watch for development, though. He’s definitely progressing in the right direction.

Speaking of progressing, Almirola is still within those coveted top 12 spots. Jeff Gordon also moved back into the top ranks, moving up 4 positions to 11th. Getting a win this weekend, would really help lock in a spot in the Chase, even if it’s just the provisional 11th or 12th place. Regardless, here is how your top 12 are shaping up as we head to the Tricky Triangle this Sunday:

1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
7. Kasey Kahne
8. Brad Keselowski
9. Kyle Busch
10. Paul Menard
11. Jeff Gordon
12. Aric Almirola

There’s been a lot of chatter this week about Brad Keselowski not being able to defend his championship this year. I’d like to take a minute and just remind everyone that we aren’t even halfway through the season yet. Not only that, but Brad is moving up in the points. Additionally, look how the points shaped up last year! It came down to that very last race to see Keselowski lock in the championship. I’m not saying he’s going to win or lose, but I think that he’s being thrown under the bus pretty early in the season. Give the man some time! Also, look at how the commentators were treating Jimmie Johnson at Dover on Sunday. They completely counted him out of the race before getting even a quarter of the way through it! I was sick of hearing about Jimmie Johnson, but they were so disappointed in him without even getting through a good portion of the laps. That’s just my two cents on counting your eggs before they hatch.

I’m down from my pedestal now. Stay tuned for this weekend’s race as we head to Pocono for possibly a rain delay, full race, half-race, heck, who knows! It’s going to be great regardless. It’s NASCAR after all!