The Monster Energy Series heads back to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this weekend to take on the “Tricky Triangle” for the second and final time in 2019. This week’s race is the Gander RV 400. Pocono Raceway is a 2.5-mile triangular track and has a minimum width of 60 feet. With a unique track design featuring a 3,055-foot back straightaway, it has variable banking in the corners with Turn 1 – 14 degrees, Turn 2 – 8 degrees and Turn 3 – 6 degrees. Pocono also has the longest main straightaway in motorsports, with a 3,740-foot frontstretch. The first Monster Energy Series race here in 1974 was won by Richard Petty. Drivers at Pocono will use the 2019 rules package with a tapered-spacer that will generate roughly 550 horsepower, including using aero ducts.
Kyle Busch has dominated the scene at Pocono in recent years, winning three of the last five races and leading in all five. That includes winning the June race earlier this year. He led 79 laps in that event after starting on the front row. He also has 318 combined laps led in the last 2+ years at the track. Pocono is called the Tricky Triangle for a reason and Busch is one of those drivers that has mastered the layout. Expect more of the same domination this week, with qualifying/salary being the only real parameters that could affect his value beyond what it already is. “Trying to pass people is the trickiest part because it’s so finicky there after getting your car setup to run by yourself in practice, but also getting it good for the traffic during the race and being able to out-corner guys out there,” Busch said. “Having a lot of horsepower is important there, as well.”
With a past win at the track in 2017, Ryan Blaney is hoping to cash in on a win for the first time in 2019. Of drivers without a 2019 victory, Blaney has led the most laps in races this season. A Chevrolet driver has not won at Pocono Raceway in the last six races. Each of the last four races at Pocono were won by Toyota drivers. Nine of the last 11 races at Pocono were won from a top-10 starting position.
Past winners entered this week are Hamlin (4), Kurt Busch (3), Johnson (3), Kyle Busch (3), Truex (2), and Blaney, Buescher, Keselowski, Logano, and Newman with one win each.
As always, my articles are directed at DK gpp formats, but I will be around in chat to discuss FD options and cash plays for those players interested. Let’s get to it.
(One last note – I spent more time deciding on which drivers to focus on than I have at any other point this season. Qualifying did us no favors this week, yet there are a plethora of drivers to choose from. Several of the drivers in this write-up were obvious choices, but a lengthy process of narrowing down was involved in deciding the others.)
Busch will be everyone’s favorite heading into race day. To put his dominance here into perspective, let’s take a look at some deeper numbers for KB here at Pocono over the course of the last five to ten races…
– He’s had the best average finish here over the span of the last 2, 4, and 6 races.
– He’s led the most laps here over the span of the last 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 races.
– He has the best average running position (3.9) over the last five Pocono races, which is nearly half that of the 2nd best.
He has ran more laps inside the top 15 running order (774) than any other driver in the last five races here..
– He has the most laps led here (167) over that same five race span, which is nearly double that of the 2nd best driver.
– His driver rating over those same five races sits atop the heap at 133.9, which is almost 20 points higher than the next best driver.
On top of all of that, Busch has won 3 of the last 4 races and he currently has a series best 6 straight top tens at “The Tricky Triangle”. Earlier this year at Pocono, Busch easily covered the field, and ended the day in victory lane. He also won here last summer, finished 3rd in the race before that, and won the race before that. Despite his elevated salary this week, he needs to be heavily considered.
Jones is firmly on my radar this week. Pocono is not only one of Jones’ better tracks, he’s one of the best drivers in the series at this venue. He sports one of the best average finishes (9.6) at Pocono among all active drivers. In 4 of his 5 Pocono races he’s finished in the top 8. Earlier this year at Pocono, Jones finished 3rd, to go along with an 8th place average running position. Last summer at Pocono, Erik Jones consistently ran well. When the checkered flag waved he finished 5th, and had a 6th place average running position. In 2017, Jones had finishes of 3rd and 8th. Over the last five races at Pocono, Jones owns the 5th best average running position of all series drivers, as well as the 4th most laps run while in the top 15, and the 4th best overall driver rating.
Harvick has never won at Pocono. While that sinks in, I’ll point out that he’s far too veteran of a driver to have a hangover following last week’s breakthrough win. I believe it will be the opposite. The pressure is off, and the rest of the series’ drivers would be wise to take notice. Despite the lack of a win here, Harvick is still at the top of nearly every performance list over the course of the last 5 Pocono events. He has the 2nd best overall running position, 3rd most laps running in the top 15, 2nd most fastest laps, and 2nd highest driver rating. There’s very little to suggest anything other than to expect him to be up front on race day. He has an incredible run of having finished between 2nd and 4th in 5 of the last 6 races. An unforeseen tire issue late in the race this past spring is the only reason he’s not a perfect 6 for 6 in terms of finishing in that range. He starts on the pole, but look for lots of dominator points early.
Blaney is a former Pocono winner, and it’s been a solid venue for him. Minus one misleading race, his average finish here is 8.7, which is also right in line with his overall 9.3 average finish in the last 3 races using this aero package. Earlier this year at Pocono, Blaney finished 12th. Last summer at Pocono, Blaney started in the back, (33rd) and raced his way to a 12th place finish. In spring 2018, Blaney started on the pole and finished 6th. In spring 2017, Blaney was really strong and found himself in victory lane. I would look for a result just inside the top ten on race day. This is Blaney’s best track left in the regular season, and he has the fifth-most points at Pocono in the last three races. Blaney didn’t wow anyone on the speed charts this week, but he was solid.
Keselowski may only have one win so far at Pocono, but he’s been a top-5 machine with seven in the past eight races. What makes Keselowski so good here is that the top tier strategy the Penske #2 team is capable of. Earlier this year at Pocono, Keselowski finished 2nd, and earned the 6th best driver rating. Last summer in a one-off event at Pocono, Keselowski wrecked and finished 38th. In spring 2018, when the checkered flag waved he finished 5th. In the five Pocono races prior to that he finished between 2nd and 5th. Yet another veteran on a track where veteran’s quickly rise to the top. This may be the week that Keselowski pushes for that next win.
Buescher is a former Pocono winner, with the only win of his career coming at this venue. Since his win at Pocono, he’s finished in the teens in 3 of the last 5 races. Earlier this year, Buescher finished 14th at Pocono. Last summer, Buescher had transmission problems and finished 37th. At the time of his mechanical failure, he was running 20th. In spring 2018, he finished 17th. In 2017, Buescher had results of 28th and 19th. Buescher has continued his breakout year and a result in the early to mid-teens is a reasonable expectation. Buescher should be one of the better movers this week.
Newman has a 14.4 average finish and a 15.6 average running position in the last seven races here. In 5 of the 7 races over that stretch he’s finished between 12th to 16th. Last summer at Pocono, Newman finished 8th. In 2017, Newman finished 14th in both races. In 2016, he finished 12th in both races. In 6 of the last 7 races heading into Pocono he’s finished in the top ten. Newman is another driver on this list because he’s a veteran, and his qualifying position lines up as a great opportunity for positional points if he can get close to his ceiling.
Dillon was the final addition to the article this week. In the end, I couldn’t ignore that my projections have him finishing in the high teens as a ceiling, while rolling off 32nd at the start. A plus 14 positionally for 6k is fantastic. In 6 of his 7 Pocono races he’s finished between 18th to 24th, which mirrors my window for him this week. I will note he didn’t run well and was back in the 20’s at the time. Last summer at Pocono, he finished 24th. In spring 2018 he had a similar performance and finished 23rd. In the four Pocono races prior to that his results were 17th, 18th, 18th and 21st. I’ll have a few shares of TD on race day, but I caution against overusing.
Other drivers I like are Truex, Hamlin, Bowyer, and Larson.
Salary-savers (sub-7k) this week are Ty Dillon, McDowell, Menard, and Hemric.
Dominator potentials this week are Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Logano.
Movers this week are Larson, Elliott, Buescher, Newman, and Blaney.
Fades for me this week are Johnson (1 top 10 in his last seven Pocono starts), Austin Dillon, and Ragan.
My pick to win the race this week is Harvick. He’s a veteran who is unlikely to have a hangover following last week’s victory, and instead will probably only get stronger now that the pressure is off. I had Rowdy in this slot, but he looked shaky in qualifying, with the in-car came showing him sliding several times during his lap, and him fighting the wheel to keep it off the wall. I can easily see this being a 1-2 finish between the two.