We have the fortune this week of having just seen the Brickyard 400, a track which runs very similar to this weeks track at Pocono because of the long straightaways and sweeping flat turns. Whatever notes, data, and information gathered from last weeks race all apply this week because of how similar the cars have to be set up for each.
To give a better look at just how similar Indy and Pocono are, let’s take a look at the results from last weeks race and the June 6 race at Pocono. Take top-15 finishers from the first Pocono race and then see where they finished last week. You’ll see that nine of them finished among the top-15 at Indy and two of them weren’t even Jimmie Johnson and Juan Montoya -- both of whom were in the top-10 at Indy and had two of the best cars last week only to finish poorly.
The correlation is strong between the two tracks, maybe even stronger than New Hampshire-Phoenix-Richmond mix or the high banked 1.5-mile SMI track correlation. If a driver does well on one, they are more than likely to do well on the other.
The King of Pocono has been Denny Hamlin who won the June race giving him four career wins on the track. He finished 15th at Indy, but should be expected to fare much better this week because he’ll likely be using the same chassis from the earlier Pocono race. He opted not to use that car last week for some reason, but would be crazy not to use it this week. That car he won with at Pocono is 3-for-3 in wins this season.
The chassis announcement will be released on Thursday which should sway betting interest dramatically. Regardless of what car he does eventually bring, Hamlin will still be the favorite based on his past success.
The driver that has had the best recent combined success at Pocono and Indy has been Tony Stewart. He finished third at Pocono in June and fifth last week at Indy making he and Kevin Harvick the only drivers to have top-five finishes in each race. Overall, Stewart has finished in the top-10 at Pocono in nine of his last 10 starts there which include two wins.
Harvick and the rest of Childress drivers have all finished within the top-10 of both Pocono and Indy races this season. Clint Bowyer finished fourth last week with Jeff Burton coming home in sixth. All three should be considered live candidates to win this week as each of their practice and race performances at the two tracks have been carbon copies of each other.
Kyle Busch finished runner-up in the June Pocono race and had a terrific day at Indy after spinning out of the first lap and salvaged an eighth-place finish. Pocono hasn’t been historically good for Busch, but his runs this season make him a good candidate this week.
Juan Pablo Montoya may have had the best car last week at Indy for the second straight year and found a way to mess it up for the second straight year. He finished eighth in the first Pocono race. Montoya has been almost as good, if not better, than his teammate Jamie McMurray this year, but McMurray has the hardware and least some consistency in the big races. They both have been the major beneficiaries of using the Earnhardt-Childress engines. It’s become apparent that wherever the Childress cars are good at, both McMurray and Montoya should be nearly as good, or least on the tracks that require lots of horsepower.
The Roush drivers all looked vastly improved at Indy with Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards standing out the most. A Ford still hasn’t won the season, the manufacturer’s longest drought since the 1977 season. Edwards is a two-time winner at Pocono and is one of the nine drivers to have finished within the top-15 at both Pocono and Indy this season.
Kurt Busch is the top Dodge candidate once again this week and he too is one the nine drivers to have excelled on the similar tracks. Busch was sixth at Pocono’s first race, but he was very fortunate to get that finish. I hate to say luck, but that is the exact term Busch used when discussing his performance there from June. They weren’t good by any means except in making adjustments throughout the day and getting better, which good teams are supposed to down the stretch of a race. He gets consideration this week just because he has been a consistent performer at Pocono that include two career wins.
Jimmie Johnson is one of only two drivers to have a career average at Pocono within the top-10 (9.5). He hasn’t won at the track since sweeping both races in 2004, but he’s shown to be unbelievably efficient on the track by finishing 15 of his 16 career starts within the top-15. It’s surprising that he hasn’t won there in six seasons, especially when considering he’s won at the Brickyard on three occasions during his winless streak at Pocono. This week he’ll be using his Coca-Cola 600 chassis as his primary car while his back-up will be a car that has won three out of four career starts.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #29 Kevin Harvick (10/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (6/1)
3) #14 Tony Stewart (10/1)
4) #33 Clint Bowyer (15/1)
5) #31 Jeff Burton (15/1)
DOS VIVA-LAS VEGAS
We revealed a few weeks ago about the possibility of NASCAR awarding Las Vegas a second date to it’s 2011 schedule, and within two weeks, it should become a reality. It’s likely to be one of chase dates in the fall with the slight possibility that it becomes the season finale in conjunction with NASCAR’s expected changes to the Chase format.
Rumors have it that NASCAR wants to add some more excitement to the current 10-race Chase format that make it similar to other sports with a bracket type of format where it culminates with a Game 7-type of atmosphere in the season finale. Under that type of scenario, there wouldn’t be a better place to have the glitz and fireworks of a Championship game or Super Bowl-type of atmosphere than having the race in Las Vegas.
The loser in this scenario will likely be New Hampshire’s fall date or possibly Atlanta if Kentucky isn’t awarded a date. The other change that is likely to happen is that Kansas will get another date at the expense of one of Fontana’s two dates. California has had terrible attendance while competing for travelers in the same market as Las Vegas while Kansas Speedway has been recently awarded gaming by the state.