Pennsylvania 400 Preview
July 28, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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There's only six races remaining before the Chase starts and five of the 16 slots are still unclaimed. Each of the next six weeks we'll see a vastly different track beginning with the most unusual of all tracks coming this weekend at Pocono Raceway's tricky triangle.
We should have a leg up on handicapping Sunday's Pocono race because we've already done the process needed twice this season, including last weeks prep work for the Brickyard 400. Mix in what happened June 6 in the first Pocono run and you should be armed with just about everything needed prior to Friday and Saturday's important practices.
Because Pocono and Indy are both 2.5-mile tracks with the longest straights in the series, we can lump them together as being similar even though Indy is rectangular with four equally flat turns and Pocono is triangular with banking that gets progressively flatter at each turn. If a driver does well at one of the places, they're likely to do well at the other.
So let's recap the information gathered from those two races where all the teams notes are still fresh and relevant. Kurt Busch won at Pocono in June for his only win of the season and third overall on the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second, Brad Keselowski third and Chase Elliott led a race-high 51 laps before finishing fourth. Four of the top-six finishers were Chevrolet with the Penske Fords taking the other two spots. Matt Kenseth, who won at Pocono last fall, was the highest finishing Toyota in seventh. A Chevrolet has won seven of the last eight at Pocono.
Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas came in fast off the hauler last week at Indy with three of its cars finishing in the top-four, including Kyle Busch winning there for the second consecutive season. Kenseth would finish second, Jimmie Johnson third and Denny Hamlin fourth. The new low downforce package produced some crummy racing with only four lead changes among three drivers as Busch led 149 of the 160 laps. It was impossible to pass.
Chevrolet has been strong at both Pocono and Indy in recent years, but if looking at last season as an example, Toyota has made a considerable move. After Kyle Busch ended a 12-year Chevrolet win streak at the Brickyard, Kenseth won at Pocono the next week to end a six race Chevrolet win streak. Because Indianapolis happened most recent, we should look to last week as being just bit more important than the June Pocono race.
All four JGR cars will be fast this week as well as Martin Truex Jr. who has used JGR equipment this season and won for the first time at Pocono last season (drove a Chevy). Hamlin is a four-time Pocono winner with a 12.3 average finish in 21 starts. Carl Edwards has won twice making Kyle Busch the only driver within the team that hasn't won at Pocono. Pick a Gibs car, any car, and your chances of winning this week will be pretty good.
A couple Chevy drivers will offer some nice value this week if willing to go against the Gibbs drivers. Kyle Larson comes off a fifth at Indy after showing lots of speed in practices. He finished 11th at Pocono in June and has a 9.4 average finish in five starts. You should be able to fetch 30/1 odds on him. Chase Elliott had his best showing of the season in June's race with fourth-place and dominating at times with the most laps led. Expect 18/1 odds on him.
Jeff Gordon will again be filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms. Last week he came out of retirement to drive the No. 88, which he is part-owner of, and finished 13th in his first competitive racing since November. This week he should be a little more prepared and familiar with the team. He's a six-time winner at Pocono and has 20 top-five finishes in 46 career starts. Earnhardt drove the No. 88 to second-place in June and he also swept the 2014 season.
There are plenty more Chevy's on the track, and I thought that might be the right angle last week, but those Gibbs cars are really dialed in. They've now now 10 of the 20 races between the five of them. That's 35 other drivers to split up the other 10 wins. Crazy domination. And their wins come in bunches. They've won four straight at one juncture, three straight at another stretch and they're currently on a two-race win streak.
They should be the focus in betting driver match-ups and fantasy NASCAR play this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)
4) #20 Matt Kenseth (8/1)
5) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (8/1)