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July 29, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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NASCAR bettors don't have to do a lot of homework for this week's Pocono race just because all the notes accumulated from last weekend at the Brickyard are still valid for Sunday's race. Both tracks have the longest straightaways on the circuit and "Turn 3" at Pocono is similar to all the flat tight turns at Indy.
Four of the top-10 finishers in Sunday's Brickyard 400 also finished in the top-10 in the first Poocno race on June 6. Because of an irregular pitting strategy on Sunday, the correlation between the two tracks aren't as big as usual, but you can still believe that those who performed well Sunday will be just as good on Sunday.
Right at the top we have to start with Jeff Gordon, who won his track record fifth Brickyard 400 on Sunday. He finished eighth at Pocono in June and is a six-time winner on the tricky triangle. Even though teammate Kasey Kahne led the most laps at Indy on Sunday, Gordon was by far the most dominant car. He'll likely be using a different car this week, but all the winning set-up notes from Sunday will still be applicable this week which makes him the driver to beat.
All of Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammates will also be strong this week. In addition to Kahne being a solid candidate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and three-time Pocono winner Jimmie Johnson will also be strong. Junior won his first career Pocono race in June and was ninth Sunday at Indy.
There's no doubt that the Chevy's, including Stewart-Haas Racing, will be tough to beat, but on Sunday we saw the Joe Gibbs' Toyota's come strong with the second, third and fourth-place finishers and it's a good indication that Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin might be ready to take the checkers on Sunday.
The top candidate to do well among the JGR cars is four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin. During final Brickyard practices on Saturday, Hamlin hated his car. He had no speed and was crying the blues. But on race day, between pit strategy and the crew making his car better as the race went on, Hamlin was able to muscle out a third-place finish. It might have been his best driving performance of the season.
So when you see that type of effort out of Hamlin and then consider that he is the only driver to finish in the top-5 at both Pocono (4th) and Indy (3rd) this season, he has to be considered a live play this week at a track he loves.
How much does Hamlin love Pocono? Well, in 2006 he swept the season as a rookie and stamped his place in the series as a championship contender. No one has ever swept Pocono as a rookie. He would also win there in 2009 and 2010. His skills as a short track driver have helped him immensely on this 2.5-mile layout just because of the tight flat turn 3. He gets in and out of turn 3 the fastest, just like he does at the flat half-mile layout at Martinsville.
Throughout the season, the No. 11 team has been struggling to find speed, but there's a good reason to believe the team is heading in the right direction and because of a so-so season so far, he should be able to had a good double-digit price to win this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
3) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
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