The midpoint of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has come and gone. The drivers had a lot of time with friends and family in the Charlotte metro area during over a week in North Carolina. Now, they hit the road for Long Pond, Pennsylvania and the Pocono 400 at, you guessed it, Pocono Raceway. This is the 14th race of 26 scheduled for the regular season for the drivers. They will run this week and then next week at Michigan before taking the Father’s Day weekend off from racing. Odds are on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers of this Pocono 400 preview.
The Tricky Triangle
This is the first of two stops at Pocono. The next stop will come on July 28 for the Gander Outdoors 400. This is one of the most unique courses in NASCAR. For starters, it is a 2.5-mile track. Turn 1 has 14-degree banking, with nine degrees in Turn 2 and six degrees in Turn 3. There are some road course elements to this track with the tighter turns that more closely resemble road course racing than oval racing. That can wreak havoc on the shifters and the gears when it comes to this race. Teams always run the risk of mechanical failure, but that seems more magnified this week. Pocono’s three turns were designed to pay homage to other tracks. The first turn is modeled after Trenton Speedway. The second turn is the “Tunnel Turn” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will be the site of the Big Machine Vodka 400 on September 8. The third turn closely resembles the Milwaukee Mile turns. This not a favorite track of a lot of drivers.
Pocono Parties
Kyle Busch is a back-to-back winner of the late-summer race at Pocono. Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin are the only other active drivers with multiple wins in that race. The three active drivers with multiple wins in this race are Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Martin Truex Jr. The key difference here is that Truex’s two wins have come in the last four years. Johnson’s last spring race win was 2013 and Hamlin’s was 2010. In fact, that is Hamlin’s most recent win here at Pocono overall. A lot of the usual suspects haven’t gotten to the winner’s circle often, or at all, at Pocono. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano each have one win. Kevin Harvick has never won at Pocono. Kyle Busch only has those two July wins. Guys like Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and even Chris Buescher have wins here more recently than Keselowski and Logano. Some of that has to do with the track. Some of that has to do with the strain it puts on the car. It’s a tough race for a lot of guys.
The Board
Despite the relative lack of success, all of the usual guys are up at the top of the odds board. Kyle Busch has those two back-to-back wins in the second race and has had good spring runs in the past. He was third last year. He was ninth and led the most laps in 2017. He led the most laps in each of his summer wins the last two years. He went from 2012-18 without a top-five finish in this race, so it’s still a buyer beware scenario. Truex has been a feast or famine guy to some degree. He has those two wins in 2015 and 2018, but finished 19th and sixth in the middle. In the second race, he’s finished third twice dating back to 2012, but also outside the top 10 in the other races. That level of inconsistency can actually be seen over this year. He had two wins and four finishes outside the top 10 in his last six races leading up to Charlotte. Keselowski hasn’t won this race, but he’s finished in the top five four of the last five years, including the most laps led in 2014. He lone win here actually came when he was still driving a Dodge back in 2011. Including the summer race, Keselowski has seven top-five finishes here since 2014. He’s definitely a guy to have on your card this week. Logano really likes the big track at Daytona, but Pocono has not been kind to him. He’s finished outside the top five each of the last two years and four of the six years since his 2012 win. He led the most laps in 2015 and 2016 in the July race, but has finished outside the top 15 each of the last four years. He’s had some game efforts, but hasn’t gotten over the hump much here. Hamlin has those four career wins here, but the most recent was 2010. He’s been outside the top five in seven of his last eight Pocono starts. He does have two wins this year, but he’s had some poor runs of late. This isn’t a bad track for firing on some longer shots. Ryan Blaney is a pretty decent road course racer and there are elements of that on this track. He won in 2017 and has three top-10 finishes in this race. Kyle Larson fits the mold as well. He was second in this race last year and likes big tracks, with three career wins at Michigan and one at Auto Club. He feels like he’s on the cusp of breaking through after wins in Charlotte in the Monster Energy Open and All-Star Race.
Brad Keselowski is one that has to be on your card to be sure. Beyond Keselowski, it’s in your best interest to take some shots on guys like Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. Kurt Busch actually has three top-five finishes this season and does like this track. He won in 2016 and had a run of four straight top-five finishes stopped last year. He’s got a smaller price than normal, but it makes sense with the track.