Race: Pennsylvania 400
Date: Sunday July 31, 2016
Track: Pocono Raceway
Time: 1:30 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
If there was ever a way to dominate the Brickyard, Kyle Busch figured it out on Sunday afternoon to make history, winning both the Xfinity and Sprint Cup Series races over the weekend. Busch led a staggering amount of laps and absolutely nailed the restarts, which were a key factor at the end of the race when everyone decided to start wrecking. On the flip side, Jeff Gordon joked in the post-race interview that he absolutely sucked at restarts, leaving him with a 13th place finish. Tony Stewart ruined his chances with a pit road penalty for speeding, which took away his opportunity to get the wave around and also made him start at the end of the longest line. Overall, Stewart still came back with a respectable 11th place finish, although it wasnt a true reflection of how good that team was this weekend. That being said, it was evident that the Gibbs drivers were on the top of their game. Jimmie Johnson came back with a solid 3rd place finish for the Hendricks garage, which has had its fair share of struggles throughout the summer as well.
This weekend, drivers are looking to make more gains as we head to Pocono for the second time this year. Dale Jr. will still be sitting out, as Jeff Gordon continues to substitute. Pocono just so happens to be another track that he does really well at. But, then again, what track hasnt Gordon really done well at? Silly question. Regardless, it will be another good race as we close out the regular season with a little less than 2 months before the Chase.
Pocono, or The Tricky Triangle as its affectionately known, is a 2.5 mile asphalt triangle. Turn 1 boasts 14 degrees of banking. Turn 2 has 8 degrees, and turn 3 has 6 degrees. Each turn is designed after a turn from a different track. This complicates matters for teams, as they struggle to make chassis adjustments fit to handle the variations throughout the track. More often than not, however, we see fuel mileage play a major role here. This echoes the sentiment of the extended race at Indy last weekend, where cre chiefs were telling their drivers to save as much as possible there at the end. Rain tends to play a hand in the strategy here as well. With that, we often see crew chiefs watching the radar to see just how much fuel they need to get in the car before the rain hits. If anything, theres often a combination of strategies depending upon the circumstances surrounding the weekend.
This track creates a definitive love or hate relationship for drivers. Its a track where you really have to have a good understanding of the adjustments that need to be made and your crew chief needs to be able to read that information based on the performance of the car as well. Pocono is a track where veteran Jeff Gordon thrives. I expect if he can manage to make some tweaks and get the car to his liking that he will be a contender for the win here. When it comes down to it, though, I think that the Penske drivers are really going to push hard here. Notably, Joey Logano is going to be the one to watch. He came on strong at the end of the race on Sunday and made moves trying to catch Kyle Busch. That entire team has been running great, and I really believe that they are going to be the cream of the crop on Sunday. Here are my picks to win this weekend at Pocono:
My Pick to Win: Joey Logano
Middle of the Road Pick: Kasey Kahne
Dark Horse Prediction: Chase Elliot
Chase Elliot needs some good luck. Hes a very talented driver with a long run of bad luck so far this summer. This race may help him out tremendously. Hes done well at the bigger tracks and finished 4th here in June. Look for him to make up some valuable points to remain relevant in the Chase standings. Kasey Kahne had a top 10 run here earlier this year. This is also a place where he does relatively well. The middle of the road driver pickings are slim, so out of that group, I believe he will have the most solid run of the day. Hes also on the bubble in points, sitting in 16th position.
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Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Kurt Busch
4. Joey Logano
5. Kyle Busch
6. Carl Edwards
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Matt Kenseth
10. Denny Hamlin
11. Chase Elliott
12. Austin Dillon
13. Ryan Newman
14. Jamie McMurray
15. Kyle Larson
16. Kasey Kahne
Its very evident that the tide is changing on dominance. It looks like theres a takeover from Ford and Toyota with the Penske and Gibbs teams overall. The consistency is lacking, especially from the Hendrick garage. There will be a lot of competition this weekend as drivers fight out these last 6 weeks for the last 5 spots that arent spoken for yet. Matt Kenseth will be another driver to watch with his success on the flat tracks this year, but I believe Logano will fight for the win on this one. Stay tuned for a great weekend of racing as we head to the mountains of Pocono!
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