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Pocono 400 Preview

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In the last two weeks, Jimmie Johnson has squashed any possible notion that the No. 48 team may be having a down year. In the first 11 races, Johnson didn’t win any of them and there was a large contingent of NASCAR fans who were happy. We heard sentiments like, “Johnson wins too much, let someone else win.”

Seven Championships would be awesome to witness because only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt have ever won that many. We’re witnessing greatness, yet we want to see less wins?

Two wins in two weeks is pretty impressive stuff, but he’s so good that no one is wowed by it. It’s just Jimmie being Jimmie. The guy really is a machine, robot-like in his consistency, especially for not falling from elite status for so long. The guy started his career with three wins during his rookie campaign in 2003 and after winning Sunday at Dover he now has 68 career wins. That is greatness right up there with Yankees and Celtics-type of dominance -- right before our eyes happening now, and yet we want him to win less?

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Yes, NASCAR fans are a strange bunch, and it won’t get any easier to swallow for some if he wins again this week at Pocono Raceway where he’s a three-time winner that has compiled a series best 8.8 average finish over his last 20 starts there. He won this race last season and has finished 14th or better in his last 13 starts. It’s not quite as good as his all-time track marks he had at Dover last week, but it’s still good enough to list him as the driver to beat this week at 5/1 odds (Bet $100 to win $500).

The LVH SuperBook has dropped his Sprint Cup odds from 7/2 last week down to 5/2 on Sunday just because the picture is becoming clearer. While it looks like he is in prime position to win his seventh title, it’ll be tougher for him because of the Chase format this year where the final four drivers will try to race for the title. Best finish takes the trophy and Johnson has still yet to win at Homestead over his career with a un-Johnson-like 14.8 average finish in 13 career starts.

Carl Edwards (6.6), Kevin Harvick (8.1), Jeff Gordon (10.6) and Denny Hamlin (11.2) are among seven current drivers that all have a much better track record than Johnson at Homestead, and at this stage, you have to handicap that race itself and who might be there.

The top candidates to win at Homestead besides Johnson, will be Harvick and Gordon based on their 1.5-mile program this season. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have been awesome as well, but Gordon at 8/1 has a nice look to it. Harvick is the LVH’s second choice to win the title at 9/2 odds.

We’ve already established Johnson as the driver to beat this week on Pocono‘s 2.5-mile triangular layout, but there are some other quality candidates that will fetch better odds. Gordon is the first candidate to look at with 8/1 odds. He’s a six-time winner, including great runs in recent years where he’s won twice in his past six starts. He finished second to Kasey Kahne in the fall last season.

The tricky triangle has also been good to Tony Stewart two times with his last win coming in 2009. You know he’s going to step up and win sooner or later, especially with seeing the fast ride he gives teammate Harvick every week, and Pocono would definitely be likely place to occur.

Harvick has never won at Pocono, but he’s also never had such a rocket, either. It’s all or nothing with this team every week and they continue to be fast in every practice of every type of track. There‘s no reason to believe Harvick won‘t be super-fast again this week.

Denny Hamlin started his career off at Pocono with a bang as he swept the 2006 season. He would win again in 2009 and 2010, but he’s had only one top-5 finish over his last six starts and was 43rd -- obviously his worst -- in his last start. Despite the recent struggles, there is bound to be some optimism with the No. 11 team this week after a strong run at Dover.

Keselowski and Logano each have wins at Pocono and should both have the horsepower to get around this fun track. Some fans don’t like it -- they say it‘s boring, but I think it’s very cool just because it’s different.

This race will also mark the change in television coverage where TNT takes over for the next few races. Fox Sports does an amazing job and sets the bar pretty high.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (20/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)

  
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