Race: Pocono 400
Date: Sunday June 3, 2018
Track: Pocono Raceway
Time: 2 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
This might just be Kyle Busch’s year! For any driver, winning a race is an enormous feat, but Kyle Busch completed a feat that no other NASCAR driver in history has been able to do until now. Busch now wears the crown as the only NASCAR driver to have won on every track he’s competed on. That is something that Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty, or any of the other greats, old school or new school, just couldn’t do. Quite frankly, that says a lot about his skill as a driver. When Kyle Busch took the checkers on Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, he proved that he’s skillful enough to win on every sort of track from the intermediate tracks to the short tracks to the superspeedways. It just doesn’t matter. If he can get a solid car, you can bet Kyle Busch will find a way to the winner’s circle. Love him or hate him, you have to give credit where credit is due. Congratulations to Kyle Busch on an impressive feat!
The 600 proved to be an interesting race. I say that because the aero package that was introduced for the All-Star race provided some of the best racing we’ve seen in recent races. The 600, on the other hand, produced what we’ve become accustomed to seeing at Charlotte, which are runaway leaders and not a lot of actual racing. I’m sure it had to do with the shorter runs and the fact that points weren’t on the line for the All-Star race, but the 600 turned into just another intermediate, spread-the-field-out, domination run by a single driver. Kyle Busch is certainly taking the place of Kevin Harvick as the best driver in NASCAR if you ask me. Not that he wasn’t already on top of the leader-board, but he has now extended his lead and the amount of wins for the season. Sure, Harvick has more wins and more stage wins, but that’s not the only determining factor of the best driver. Busch was followed up in the 600 by another solid driver, Martin Truex Jr. for second place. Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson needed that finish. It was one of his best this season the best finish for a Chevy this weekend.
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Pocono is where we’re headed next. From the cookie cutter track that is Charlotte to an intermediate track that has its own unique personality, Pocono often brings us either really good races or those typical drawn-out intermediate ones. This track is a 2.5-mile asphalt triangle. It is affectionately known as the “Tricky Triangle” because of its configuration. It has 14 degree banking in turn 1, 8 degrees of banking in turn 2, and 6 degrees of banking in turn 3. Interestingly enough, each turn was designed after a turn at another track, only adding to the eclectic nature of Pocono. Also, the turns are much sharper than any other tri-oval and the banking is much lower. This creates quite the challenge from the crews to come up with just the right setup to really get around this track efficiently. More often than not, car setup proves to be the winning factor in this race.
This place is not a place for rookies. With the necessity of the perfect setup and the unique nature of this track, it takes an experienced team and driver to really bring the pieces together for the win. The driver to do this will likely be Denny Hamlin. As much as I loathe saying that, Hamlin leads the active driver pack with four total wins here. He’s got a total of 10 top-five finishes. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Penske driver Brad Keselowski is another driver to watch. He has finesse at Pocono. He seems to know how to get around this place pretty well and he’s been running very consistently lately. He has a win here and an additional eight top-five finishes. That’s not too shabby. Here’s a look at your potential winners heading into Sunday’s race:
My Pick to Win: Denny Hamlin
Middle of the Road Pick: Kyle Larson
Dark Horse Prediction: Erik Jones
Erik Jones is a driver with little experience here, but the experience he does have gave him two top ten finishes, and several laps led. He just might surprise people. Kyle Larson has some good stats here, too. For a driver that tends to run the outside line, this is the track for him. He should give us a solid performance this weekend, only helping with his points. While he sits comfortably in 9th place, every one of these guys is looking to gain and get that win and an elusive secured spot for the Chase.
Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Joey Logano
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Martin Truex Jr.
6. Kurt Busch
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Kyle Larson
10. Aric Almirola
11. Ryan Blaney
12. Jimmie Johnson
13. Erik Jones
14. Alex Bowman
15. Chase Elliott
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Chase Elliott is a driver I thought we’d really see more out of this year. He started off pretty well, but he’s fallen off as the season moves on and seems to be out of steam heading into Pocono. Maybe this will be a turnaround for him? Who knows? Pocono is usually boring, but perhaps this weekend will surprise us. Hopefully, rain won’t plague the weekend like it typically does as well. Drivers and teams are usually red-flagged or postponed for quite some time, leaving the car setup even more challenging than they even thought initially. Stay tuned for what could be a surprising weekend of racing at Pocono!
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