Pocono 400 Preview
June 1, 2018
By Micah Roberts
Sign up to receive daily news from VegasInsider
We've had 13 races pass by already and Kevin Harvick has five of the wins and Kyle Busch has four of them. There hasn't been much mystery to the 2018 Cup Series, but we should see somebody new in the winner's circle Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
The tricky 2.5-mile triangle is perhaps the most unique track on the circuit in that it only has three turns with each getting progressively flatter. No driver can be set up perfectly for all three turns.
“With the three different style turns at Pocono, you really have to have your car handling right in all three to be successful there," said three-time Pocono winner Jimmie Johnson. "It’s a wild track and we can hit speeds of 200 mph down the front stretch. Turn 3 is very important and can help with lap time significantly for qualifying. In the last few outings at Pocono we have had some really hard crashes so I’m hoping that is behind us.”
Because of the long drag strip on the front stretch, teams that have shown the most horsepower this season will have an edge. Yes, Kevin Harvick will be favored again. but this track may bring something different to the table that will allow for one of his teammates or a Joe Gibbs or Penske driver to win. The last seven races at Pocono have seen seven different winners and Harvick isn't one of them.
In fact, Pocono is on Harvick's bucket list of things to do. In 34 starts he's never won a race there. However, he's been runner-up four times including both races last season. All four of those runner-ups came within the last seven races there while driving for Stewart Haas Racing. He'll certainly be good enough to win.
Harvick's teammate, Las Vegan Kurt Busch, has been runner-up five times at Pocono but the difference between the two drivers is that Busch has won there three times driving for three different manufacturers. His last win there came in this 2016 race, his third season driving for Stewart Haas.
“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,' Busch said. "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.”
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posted Busch at 20/1 odds and he's easily the best value on the board.
Kurt's younger brother Kyle Busch checked Charlotte off his bucket list last week and in the last Pocono race in July he checked off Pocono from the list. He's won at every Cup Series track. It's pretty amazing stuff, and after winning his fourth race of the season and showing he's got some serious horsepower he's going to be tough to beat. Even Harvick may have some trouble catching him, especially if Busch starts from the pole like he did in both races last season. Busch has led laps in the last five races at Pocono.
“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest– turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down." Kyle Busch said. "We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.”
Almost on par with Kyle Busch's horsepower is his two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones. Hamlin is the active leader with four Pocono wins and he's looking for his first win of the season. This is a great spot for him. His last time at Pocono he started fourth and finished fourth, leading 18 laps.
“We’ve been so close to getting that first win of the season, but we’re obviously still looking to find that little bit of speed that will help us get to victory lane," said Hamlin. "This team has been working hard to get us out front, and we’re going to keep pushing until we get that first-place result we’re working for. We’ve had success at Pocono before, so this weekend could definitely be the time we make that happen.”
Jones appears to be getting more comfortable each week in the No. 20 and last season while driving the No. 77 he finished third in this race and eighth in the fall. Matt Kenseth drove the No. 20 to a Pocono win in 2015.
In the end, I don't know what the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals has to do with handicapping this race, but I'm feeling especially Vegas proud this week with them and with Las Vegan Kyle Busch winning Sunday and another homeboy, Bryce Harper, homering on Tuesday. So let's go with the Vegas homer Busch quinella.
The Busch brothers are going to be really fast this weekend. Kurt's the better driver on that particular track, so 20-to-1 is quite attractive.
Also, how about Jimmie Johnson at 50-to-1? He's the active leader at Pocono with 738 laps led, but more importantly, crew chief Chad Knaus finally found some speed last week at Charlotte where they finished fifth. The new Camaro has been rough on the seven-time champ, but the slow trend with Johnson started the middle of last season. The key for Pocono is the horsepower they showed last week. There are worse things to waste $5 on.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #41 Kurt Busch (20/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (3/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/2)
5) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (7/1)