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Pocono 400 Preview

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Let's go to Pocono!

Last years two races on the 2.5-mile tricky triangle produced a couple of juicy payouts for bettors at the sports books, including one which was an all-time NASCAR record in Las Vegas.

Thanks to a rain out out and a thick sheet of fog settling over the front stretch and turns, Chris Buescher in an underfunded car with fumes remaining in fuel tank was able to get the win paying at 1,000/1 odds. He's 500/1 this week.

In this race last season Kurt Busch opened at 20/1 odds and closed at 12/1 after showing well in the final practices. He had overcome all kinds of issues, but managed to win for the third time on the most unique track on the circuit.

“Just the fact that it’s different in the way that each of the straightaways has its different length, the corners have their banking," Kurt Busch said earlier this week about what he likes about likes about Pocono. "It’s not a typical oval in that you don't get to shift at an oval track. It blends a lot of road-racing techniques into an oval technique.”

Each of three Pocono corners get flatter along the way from 14 degrees in turn one down to six degrees in the tight turn three, which is where many try to be set up the best for and make passes.

“It’s weird, I’ve had winning cars there a few different times and turn two always feels the best when my car has a chance to go to victory lane," said Busch. "But, I think turn three, if you are able to pass cars and maneuver around them, you’ve got to get a good run off turn three to be ready to pass them in turn one. All of them are important. You can’t exclude one from another.”

When the cars comes ripping out of turn three they then head down the longest front stretch in NASCAR where horsepower is essential. Busch hasn't looked as good on the big horsepower tracks this season which is part of the reason he comes in at 40/1 odds.

Is he worth a few bucks this week?


I'm wasting a small piece of my hard-earned money on him for a couple of reasons. First up is him winning this race last season; his crew knows what gear ratio and car balance works best and its fresh in their mind. Another reason is that Busch has NASCAR's top loop data rating (105.7) since they began recording the dozens of data points around the track in 2006.

The final piece of the puzzle for me taking Busch this week, besides being greedy and always trying to make a case for someone 30/1 odds or higher, is that he's using the same chassis this week that won at Pocono last year. He won't be my top wager this week, but I''m betting that he looks good in practice and his odds fall making my 40/1 look like huge value. And then we'll see what happens on race day.

However, I won't be betting Buescher even if he was 1,000/1. Lightning strikes only once a decade.

Jimmie Johnson tied Cale Yarborough with 83 career Cup wins last week at Dover and he'll try to pass him Sunday at Pocono, a place Johnson has won three times, the last time being in 2013. Among active drivers with at least eight starts at Pocono, no one has been better than Johnson's 10.5 average finish. He has 19 top-10 finishes in his 30 starts and is the active leader with 738 laps led.

The seven-time champ is leading the series with three wins over all these young guns booming with horsepower each week. He's an incredible franchise among all sports. I'm amazed by him each year and he actually seems to be getting better with age; definitely wiser.

So far this season, Johnson has shown he has lots of power, but you could argue that Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have more of it despite less wins. Truex has won eight stages and has 18 playoff points stacked away. Johnson hasn't won any stage yet this season, but his three wins give him 15 playoff points. I think those points during the playoffs are going to mean more than I imagined.

I'm going to look for the regulars to do their thing again and I'm looking for Denny Hamlin to take another step in his improving car. He's finished eighth or better in the past two races and he's got a series-high four Pocono wins. He swept the Pocono season in 2006 as a rookie. Who does that? His last win there was in 2010. He ranks second behind Kurt Busch in NASCAR's loop data ratings (105.6).

Brad Keselowski will be my top pick basically because he's due to win. It's not a smart theory to follow, but Keselowski just feels right. He was second in the fall Pocono race last season, third in this race last year and second in the fall of 2015. Yes, he's finished second in three of the past six Pocono races and his only win there happened in 2011.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #2 Brad Keselowski (9/1)
2) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (15/1)
4) #42 Kyle Larson (6/1)
5) #41 Kurt Busch (40/1)

NASCAR Expert Picks
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