June 26, 2021
It’s a doubleheader weekend in the Pocono mountains for the NASCAR Cup Series, a format that I learned to love last season during the pandemic when I was starving for any kind of live sports action. But the idea wasn’t pandemic-born, it was already put into the schedule in 2019.
I like the idea of a Thursday night race and then a Sunday race at the same track, but maybe some other year that will catch on. What I didn’t mind last season was no practice or qualifying for the races due to the pandemic. Less activity the better to avoid being a super-spreader as we knew it then. I adjusted with one of my more profitable seasons ever with the practices.
No practice meant the cars had to come off the hauler ready to race and obviously some teams did better than others which made creating a list of candidates to win much easier. Last year at this time, I was like “let’s see, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are fast off the hauler every week, so they will be my starting point for both races.”
Sure enough Harvick won Saturday with Hamlin finishing second and then Hamlin won on Sunday with Harvick finishing second. That was too easy, and I expect something similar this year but with different drivers to key on.
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I used Saturday’s race as a tester or primer for Sunday’s race. If I was right about Harvick and Hamlin I could get great odds betting them to win Saturday’s race, but also use it as a practice of sorts before betting Sunday’s race although the odds are significantly reduced based on Saturday’s results. They’re using the same cars in both races, and if they did well Saturday, expect the same on Sunday. Three drivers had top-fives in both Pocono races last season.
So here’s what I’m going to do here in this write up. I’m going to come in with everything geared towards betting Saturday’s Pocono Organics CBD 325, but you can also use it for Sunday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 350. However, I will send VegaInsider.com an updated Top-5 Finish Prediction for Sunday’s event after Saturday’s race.
I wish I could say the new robot bookmakers had the ability to offer a pick-2 for both races like in horse racing, but they’ll post only one race at a time.
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A few things we should know for the two races at Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle begins with the teams all using the 550 horsepower high downforce package in what will be the sixth points-paying race using it this season and the first using it on something else than the traditional oval.
There isn’t a lot of passing -- eight drivers led in each Pocono race last season -- and start position matters more here than other tracks using this race package. It’s the superspeedway that drivers like a road course because the three turns each get flatter. It’s impossible for teams to get the perfect set-up for all three turns. And while balance set-up is a huge component to having Raceday success, it still comes down to getting the most horsepower so drivers can mash the gas in a drag race down the longest straightaway in the series on the front stretch.
All the cars are supposed to have only 550 horsepower, but some are obviously faster than others like Kyle Larson who goes for his fourth straight win. All the Hendrick cars are fast and they aren’t sharing their secrets just like Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing last season.
NASCAR's weekend at the Poconos will feature a doubleheader, with races being held on both Saturday and Sunday in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (AP)
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Harvick led the series with nine wins last season and Hamlin was second with seven wins, but neither have won yet after 17 races in 2021. Harvick and his SHR team is starting to come around but Hamlin has been stuck on nine top-fives for the last five races. All of Hamlin’s JGR teammates have wins.
Still, driver experience with Pocono matters. It actually matters a lot, so when I say Hamlin leads all active drivers with six wins and 785 laps led, including wins in two of his last starts there, it matters. He’s hungry for a win to the point where it’s bugging him now. It’s bugging me to keep hearing fools diagnosing his problem due to being part car-owner for Bubba Wallace’s team. His entry and exit into the turns is unmatched and we knew right away when he was a rookie in 2006 when he swept both Pocono races.
Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch each have three Pocono wins with all of Kyle’s wins coming in the last seven races and leading laps in six of the seven. After that it’s Martin Truex Jr. with two wins and everyone else who has won has just one, including Harvick who makes his 41st start at Pocono, but notched his first win last season.
None of the current Hendrick drivers have a win at Pocono, but I think that will change this weekend, but I’m not necessarily saying Larson. How about some William Byron to win at 10-to-1 odds offered by William Hill sportsbooks.
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Byron won a 2016 Truck Series race at Pocono when he was barely of legal age to drive, but has proved in the Cup Series now that he’s already one of the best on the 2.5-mile layout. He leads all active drivers with a 9.6 average finish in six Cup starts. He’s proved he belongs to be mentioned as one of the favorites to win the 2021 title as well as he leads the Cup Series with 13 top-10s. I’ll have bets on him in both races.
I’ll also have a bet on Larson to win the first race and will wait to see if he loses before betting him Sunday. But if I were to pick anyone to sweep the weekend as Harvick did at Michigan last season, Larson would be the guy. You don’t bet against streaks. Not in football, baseball, or NASCAR. He’s got the streak, and if including the All-Star Race, he’s won four straight coming in. And before that he was runner-up three straight races. How do you bet against that?
Chase Elliott is an interesting look at 9-to-1 odds and has been part of the Hendrick run that has won six straight races. He was also third in the All-Star race, runner-up at Charlotte, runner-up at Sonoma, and third at Dover. He has three top-fives at Pocono in 10 Cup starts. His only Pocono win came in what was probably my first race watching him in 2013 in the ARCA Series when he started 32nd and just diced through the field making one pass after another. I was sold he was going to be very good. Right now, he’s right on the heels of Larson and ripe for a win.
“Pocono is such a unique track and I have really enjoyed racing there in the past,” Elliott said. “It’s always a challenge to get your car balanced in all three corners and then you have to be spot on with your strategy because track position usually plays a big factor. Even though it’s a doubleheader, our approach doesn’t really change from other weekends. We always want to finish toward the front, and we will have our work cut out for us starting near the back on Saturday. I’m looking forward to this weekend and seeing what we can do.”
The finish position from Saturday’s race will have positions 1-20 inverted for Sunday. Larson is on the pole Saturday while Elliott starts 29th.
I wish I had a longshot I felt good about offering but this is a track where only the guys with the good stuff can win. But it’s also the track where the biggest odds in Las Vegas NASCAR history cashed when Chris Buescher waited out the rain and fog to win a rain-shortened race that paid 1,000-to-1. Buescher has been solid this season in the 550 HP package finishing eighth or better in his last three races using it.
There’s also Aric Almirola who is the other driver to have top-five finishes in both Pocono races last season and he comes off his first top-five of the season last week at Nashville (using 750 HP). SHR has shown better speed lately. In fact all four had finished in the top-12 last week. Almirola actually led a race-high 61 laps in the Saturday race last season before settling for third behind Harvick and Hamlin. Shop around. He’s been 75-to-1 or higher most of the year. William Hill scalped him to 30-to-1 this week due to 2020 results. Shop around. Circa Sports has him at 90-to-1 odds to win.
Be sure to check back Saturday night for the updated Sunday Top-5 Finish prediction.
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