This week’s race: GoBowling.com 400
Traditional Name: Pennsylvania 400
Other Notable Names: Purolator 500, Miller Genuine Draft 500, AC Spark Plug 500
Pocono is defined by momentum. Their two events are the closest on the schedule, being separated by only six weeks. That is only part of the story, however, because the GoBowling.com 400 is the final race of three consecutive events on minimally-banked courses. Drivers who ran strong at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be this week’s favorites as well.
This is not a track that typically rewards dark horses. Even when it appears that a sleeper has emerged—like Denny Hamlin with his two wins in his freshman season—hindsight often reveals additional long streaks of great finishes. Tony Stewart finished sixth in his first Pocono race and then went on to earn top-10s in seven of his next eight attempts. Everyone who finished in the top 10 in their inaugural attempt did not always have such immediate streaks, but Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch certainly made a name for themselves in subsequent seasons. That bodes well for Kyle Larson after finishing fifth this June.
Pocono can be a little tricky to handicap because this is a race that often relies on strategy. At 2.5 miles in length with three distinct corners and tight radiuses, it takes nearly a full minute to circumnavigate. That means crew chiefs can gamble on pitting off sequence without worrying about losing a lap. As a result, Pocono often resembles a road course race with drivers counting back from the end of the event and pitting on the edge of their fuel mileage.
Somehow the cream always seems to rise to the top, however, and this is a track known for long streaks. Fantasy owners want to look at June’s Pocono 400 to predict who will run strong in the Pennsylvania 400. Last year a remarkable seven drivers swept the top 10 in both Pocono races and there is no reason to believe this season will be any different.
Over the past six races, these drivers have the best average finish.
1. Ryan Newman
Last six average finish at Pocono: 6.5
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 11.5 in 25 starts
Newman has several factors in his favor this week, not the least of which is his consistency at Pocono. Entering the GoBowling.com 400 with six top-10s in his last seven attempts is certainly impressive, but even more so is the fact that he has finished on the lead lap in his last 18 Pocono races. His worst finish in that nine-year span was an 18th, so fantasy owners can be confident he will be in contention when the checkers wave this week.
Last six average finish at Pocono: 7.0
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 8.7 in 25 starts
Johnson is another driver who has shown a lot of consistency during his Pocono career. In 25 starts, he failed to finish on the lead lap only once and that came as the result of crash damage in 2007. Every other attempt on this track ended in a top-15 finish including three wins and 10 top-fives. His latest victory came in June 2013, but it is surrounded by results in the teens for the past two editions of the Pennsylvania 400.
3. Tony Stewart
Last six average finish at Pocono: 7.5
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 11.0 in 31 starts
Stewart entered this June’s Pocono 400 with a four-race, top-10 streak. Three of these were top-fives. Like the two drivers ranked ahead of him he also had a long streak of finishing on the lead lap. He was able to keep only one of these streaks alive when he slipped to 13th in the final rundown, but at least he went the distance. The clock is ticking on Stewart’s chance of making the playoffs. He needs to win to be in Chase contention and the last time he visited Victory Lane on this track was in 2009.
4. Brad Keselowski
Last six average finish at Pocono: 7.8
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 12.3 in 9 starts
When Keselowski crossed under the checkers second this June at Pocono, it was the first time in his career that he scored back-to-back top-10s there. It would not seem as if this is one of his better tracks, but in regard to career average finishes it ranks fifth on his personal list. Kez has been strong on flat tracks this year with a third at Phoenix, fourth at Richmond, second at Pocono, and the victory at New Hampshire so he should be able to extend his streak to three consecutive top-10s.
5. Jeff Gordon
Last six average finish at Pocono: 8.0
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 10.0 in 43 starts
Last week Gordon set a record by winning his fifth Brickyard 400. It was the first time a driver won five races on the oval track in any series. He tied the record for the most Pocono wins in 2011 and surpassed Bill Elliott in 2012. He almost added one more Pocono trophy to his mantel in this event last year, but was passed on a late-race restart by teammate Kasey Kahne and finished second. Notably, Gordon’s pass for the lead last week was made on Kahne and came in the final restart.
6. Kurt Busch
Last six average finish at Pocono: 9.20 (5 starts)
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 14.8 in 26 starts
While he has stumbled on other tracks, Pocono has been an Island in the Storm for Busch in recent years. He missed the 2012 Pocono 400 after getting suspended for an incident with a pit reporter, but five of his last six attempts on the tricky triangle ended in results of seventh or better. This June he finished third after starting second. Busch is not perfect at Pocono, however; he has crashed out of two of the last seven events, but if he stays out of trouble on and off the track, he will be a great value.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last six average finish at Pocono: 9.7
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 15.8 in 29 starts
Moving to Hendrick Motorsports was great for Earnhardt’s record at Pocono. With his former team he scored only five top-10s in 16 starts (31%). Once he had access to notes from Gordon and Johnson his results improved to seven top-10s in 13 starts (54%). Six of these strong runs came in the past seven events and fantasy owners can reasonably expect that another top-10 is just around the corner.
8. Clint Bowyer
Last six average finish at Pocono: 12.0
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 14.8 in 17 starts
Bowyer owes his spot among the top 10 to consistency. Since joining Michael Waltrip Racing at the beginning of 2012 he has never failed to crack the top 15 although only two of those results were top-10s. In regard to his overall record, however, he showed more raw power but less constancy with Richard Childress Racing—finishing in the top 10 five times in 12 starts, but outside the top-20 in three events.
9. Greg Biffle
Last six average finish at Pocono: 12.5
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 16.4 in 23 starts
Biffle swept the top-10 last year with a second in June and a 10th in August. That is the only time in his career that he posted back-to-back top-10s on this track, however. Biffle has been erratic at times while trying to figure out the tricky turns of Pocono and his six career top-10s are offset by eight results outside the top 20. His flat track record in 2014 has not been overly strong, so fantasy owners probably want to leave him in the garage.
10. Martin Truex Jr.
Last six average finish at Pocono: 13.7
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 14.9 in 17 starts
Truex has managed to finish in the top 10 for every team for which he raced. He scored two such finishes at Dale Earnhardt Inc., three for Michael Waltrip Racing, and one this June with Furniture Row Racing. Like several drivers at this track, he has finished on the lead lap in nearly all of his starts; he failed to complete only one lap in his inaugural race in 2006, but has been perfect since. Unfortunately that does not always translate into strong runs and he finished outside the top 20 four times.
Others of Note
11. Kevin Harvick
Last six average finish at Pocono: 14.0
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 14.0 in 27 starts
Notably Harvick was 14th this June at Pocono, which is also his average finish during the past six races as well as his career average finish. He has only one top-10 finish in his most recent six Pocono starts and that has impacted his average result, but in games where he is moderately priced he could still be a good value. Harvick has completed all the laps in his last 19 starts and most of those were top-15 finishes.
13. Kyle Busch
Last six average finish at Pocono: 15.2
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 17.5 in 19 starts
Busch’s six-race average finish is negatively skewed by two DNFs (Did Not Finish) in 2012. That season he blew an engine in June and crashed in August. He rebounded with a pair of top-10s in the past two races, but was once again slowed by damage to his Toyota this June. And therein lays the crux of his problem most weeks. Busch likes to drive on the edge and he occasionally steps over the line and into the wall.
14. Carl Edwards
Last six average finish at Pocono: 15.8
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 14.8 in 19 starts
Edwards entered the Pocono 400 with a perfect record of running at the end of every Pocono race he started. Even when he sustained crash damage in 2006 or had an engine problem that sidelined him for 140 laps in 2011, he got back on track and soldiered on. This June the damage was too severe when he as an innocent bystander in another Kyle Busch vs. Kasey Kahne dustup; Edward retired on lap 143 in the 41st position.
16. Joey Logano
Last six average finish at Pocono: 16.2
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 17.8 in 11 starts
Anything can happen in a NASCAR race. When a driver hits on the right setup under the right circumstances, he can dominate an event. That was the case on the newly repaved Pocono Raceway in 2012 when Logano won the pole for the Pocono 400 by #NASCAR and crossed under checkers first. That was his first truly dominant win and he swept the top 15 in his next three starts on this track. Unfortunately, his six-race average was shattered by a blown engine and 40th-place finish this June.
17. Denny Hamlin
Last six average finish at Pocono: 17.3
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 12.1 in 17 starts
Hamlin is the poster child for fast starts at Pocono. He not only won both races in his rookie season, he did so after first winning the pole. His next three attempts ended in results of sixth or better and it appeared he would be unstoppable. Unfortunately fantasy NASCAR is a sport about the here-and-now. Accidents in the last two editions of the Pennsylvania 400 not only skewed his six-race average, they make him a risky proposition.
18. Matt Kenseth
Last six average finish at Pocono: 19.7
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 15.3 in 29 starts
Kenseth has been Mr. Consistency at Pocono during his career. He has never failed to be running at the end of a race on this track and his last 17 ended on the lead lap. Regrettably in NASCAR’s current age of parity a lot of drivers are finishing on the same lap as the leaders and Kenseth’s last four efforts on the tricky triangle ended in the 20s. That limits his effectiveness for fantasy players and makes it seem unlikely that he will earn a win to secure his position in the Chase this week.
20. Aric Almirola
Last six average finish at Pocono: 21.8 (5 starts)
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 21.8 in 5 starts
It is a good thing Almirola has his Chase invitation practically in hand, because Pocono would be an unlikely place for him to win. In fact, it is doubtful he will finish in the top 15 this week since his career-best was an 18th in the rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400. Most of his results have been in the 20s and that occurred with enough consistency to predict another finish in that same range.
Not ranked. Kyle Larson
Last six average finish at Pocono: 5.0 (1 race)
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 5.0 in 1 start
Fantasy owners will need to wait and see if Larson joins the ranks of Hamlin, Stewart, and Johnson as those who excelled in their first Pocono start en route to a rout of the track. The rookie’s record in the last two flat track races certainly suggests that will be the case. Larson finished third in the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire and seventh in the Brickyard 400 at Indy, which gives him back-to-back top-10s entering this minimally-banked contest.
Not Ranked. Austin Dillon
Last six average finish at Pocono: 17.0 (1 race)|
Career avg. finish at Pocono: 17.0 in 1 start
Dillon’s 10th-place finish in last week’s Brickyard 400 elevated him into current Chase contention and he hopes to stay there in order to keep his rookie contender Larson in sight. Dillon’s first Pocono start was respectable with a 17th, but he has done nothing but improve in the two most recent flat track races. He finished 14th at New Hampshire and was 10th at Indy on a track that has similar challenges to what he faces this week.
Rank. Driver: 3 Yr Avg. Finish / Attempts
1. Ryan Newman: 6.50 / 6
2. Jimmie Johnson: 7.00 / 6
3. Tony Stewart: 7.50 / 6
4. Brad Keselowski: 7.83 / 6
5. Jeff Gordon: 8.00 / 6
6. Kurt Busch: 9.20 / 5
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 9.67 / 6
8. Clint Bowyer: 12.00 / 6
9. Greg Biffle: 12.50 / 6
10. Martin Truex Jr.: 13.67 / 6
11. Kevin Harvick: 14.00 / 6
12. Jamie McMurray: 14.67 / 6
13. Kyle Busch: 15.17 / 6
14. Carl Edwards: 15.83 / 6
15. Marcos Ambrose: 16.00 / 6
16. Joey Logano: 16.17 / 6
17. Denny Hamlin: 17.33 / 6
18. Paul Menard: 19.67 / 6
18. Matt Kenseth: 19.67 / 6
20. Aric Almirola: 21.80 / 5
21. Kasey Kahne: 23.00 / 6
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 25.00 / 3
23. Travis Kvapil: 26.17 / 6
24. David Gilliland: 26.33 / 6
25. AJ Allmendinger: 27.40 / 5
26. David Ragan: 27.50 / 6
27. Brian Vickers: 29.00 / 2
28. Casey Mears: 29.17 / 6
29. Dave Blaney: 30.40 / 5
30. Landon Cassill: 32.67 / 6
31. Danica Patrick: 33.67 / 3
32. David Stremme: 34.80 / 5
33. Josh Wise: 37.80 / 5
34. Michael McDowell: 38.00 / 3
35. Mike Bliss: 38.50 / 2
36. Joe Nemechek: 38.60 / 5
37. Reed Sorenson: 39.00 / 3
38. Alex Kennedy: 40.50 / 2
Most caution flags: 13 (2 times), 2005 Pennsylvania 500, 1990 Miller Genuine Draft 500
Fewest caution flags: 1, 1978 Coca-Cola 500
Average number of caution flags per race: 6.5
Final Caution, last five races:
June 2014: Lap 144 of 160 – three-car accident in turn two (Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards)
August 2013: Lap 157 of 158 – one-car accident in turn two (Matt Kenseth)
June 2013: Lap 155 of 160 – one-car accident in turn three (Dave Blaney)
August 2012: Lap 92 of 98 – five-car accident in turn one (Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, and Jimmie Johnson)
June 2012: Lap 150 of 160 – debris in turn two
Most caution laps: 57, 2004 Pocono 500
Fewest caution laps: 3, 1978 Coca-Cola 500
Average number of caution laps per race: 30.9
Leading the way
Most leaders: 24, 1989 AC Spark Plug 500
Fewest leaders: 4 (3 times), 2013 Party in the Poconos 400 presented by Walmart, 1985 Van Scoy Diamond Mine 500, 1978 Coca-Cola 500
Average number of leaders: 10.6
Most lead changes: 56, 1979 Coca-Cola 500
Fewest lead changes: 10, 1998 Pennsylvania 500
Average number of lead changes: 24.4
Worst starting position for race winner: Carl Edwards (29th) 2005 Pocono 500
A race at Pocono has been won by the pole sitter 15 times and from the front row 24 times in 73 races.
Active winners at Pocono:
Jeff Gordon: 6
Denny Hamlin: 4
Jimmie Johnson: 3
Kurt Busch: 2
Carl Edwards: 2
Kasey Kahne: 2
Tony Stewart: 2
Greg Biffle: 1
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 1
Brad Keselowski: 1
Joey Logano: 1
Ryan Newman: 1
First time winners at Pocono:
Denny Hamlin: 2006 Pocono 500
Jeremy Mayfield: 1998 Pocono 500
Running at the End
The following active drivers have been running at the end of every Pocono race they started:
Matt Kenseth (29)
Jimmie Johnson (25)
Clint Bowyer (17)
Martin Truex Jr. (17)
David Ragan (15)
Travis Kvapil (14)
Brad Keselowski (9)
Aric Almirola (5)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (3)
Justin Allgaier (1)
Michael Annett (1)
Alex Bowman (1)
Austin Dillon (1)
Kyle Larson (1)
Ryan Truex (1)
Cole Whitt (1)