Jul 25, 2018
Gander Outdoors 400
For the second time this season the NASCAR Cup Series will visit Pocono Raceway's 2.5-mile tricky triangle, the most unique track on the circuit with three differing turns, one flatter than the other with Turn 3 being the flattest.
Sunday's Gander Outdoors 400 will the be the 21st of 36 races this season and so far three drivers have combined to win 15 of the first 20 races, one of which was Martin Truex Jr. in the June 3 Pocono race. He has four wins on the season, three of which have come in the last seven races a run that started at Pocono. Yes, last seasons champ has elevated himself to the highest status with Kevin Harvick, who has six wins, and Kyle Busch who has five wins. They are the Big-3.
"A lot of people talk about it and especially here lately," said Truex of being part of the Big-3. "It’s been a big topic of conversation, but for me I’m just honestly living in the moment, trying to enjoy myself, but also staying focused and not taking it for granted. It’s really hard to continue what we’ve done and I realize how much work it takes and how many people I owe it to, so, you know, for me just trying to stay focused, kind of block all that out and keep getting the job done is what’s most important.
"Certainly, it’s been really great the last couple years. I talk about it a lot, it’s been amazing and I don’t want it to stop any time soon. So got to continue to work hard to stay on top and, you know, got a great team obviously and that’s what it takes at this level. You’ve got to have every piece of the puzzle and everybody’s got to be working hard and working together.”
Truex will be going for his third Pocono win Sunday and attempt to be the seventh driver to sweep a Pocono season, the last being Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. He's never won at a track three times in his career. The Westgate SuperBook has him listed at 7/2 odds to win behind co-favorites Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch at 5/2 odds.
Harvick has never won at Pocono in 35 starts, but he led the most laps (89) in June's race before finishing fourth and he's bringing a chassis that has never finished worse than fourth in five starts, which includes a Las Vegas win in March.
“As we go to Pocono, we obviously want to win there, especially since its one of the two tracks we haven’t won at," said Harvick who was runner-up in both Pocono races last season. "I know that Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and the organization itself has put a lot of effort into this particular weekend trying to get to victory lane and take that race off the list. It’s a place I enjoy going – not so much the place I enjoyed going in my previous life before I came to Stewart-Haas Racing. It was never a track we ran very well at, but we’ve come to find out that if you have the cars where they need to be and the people around you, things are much different. So, Pocono is a place that I’ve learned to enjoy more than I did in my previous life at RCR.”
Harvick has run nine races with SHR and six of them resulting in finishes of fourth or better. He's definitely due and he's got a sick-fast ride with stats that burst out of the (Daily) Racing Form this week.
Kyle Busch has won on every track on the circuit and didn't cross Pocono off the list until this race last season. He was third in the June race and is currently on a run of leading a lap in six straight Pocono races.
“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," 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.”
And there you have the Big-3, the huge favorites for a reason. I suppose it's better than having just one guy dominate, but I don't see much promise of a next level guy winning with a big payout. Two years ago in this race, Chris Buescher won, albeit rain-shortened, which paid out at 1,000/1 odds (not many had bet it), the largest payout ever in Las Vegas on a NASCAR race. However, that's not happening again (check the weather). The teams with the most horsepower to get down the longest straightaway in the series have the edge here which means more of the Big-3 doing their thing well.
I have never seen three drivers be so dominant together at the same time, ever, or at least since I've been compiling odds data back in 1992. In 20 races Harvick has 15 top-fives, and Truex and Busch each have 14 top-fives. That's insane, but it's reality and while people hate seeing the low odds each week on all three drivers, it's those type of numbers that force it that way.
What I would at least like to see if these three are going to dominate for a while is some drama, or some pushing and shoving. Truex doesn't get salty with anyone, but Busch and Harvick have a tattered history and Harvick sparked the feud again last week when he tapped Busch out of the way late to win at New Hampshire.
I'd like to say something different is going to happen this week and I will have bets on Denny Hamlin (18/1) and Aric Almirola (30/1) with hopes they join the winner's party, but I'm a realist.
Just like last week at New Hampshire, the Big-3 all finished in the top-five in the first Pocono race. There were 11 lead changes among seven drivers, but what I remember was hardly any passing. I don't want to call it boring, but I do remember multi-tasking with something else on that Sunday while it was on TV and each time I returned to pay full attention to it, it was like nothing changed. So when I look at the results sheet from then, I see nine of the same 10 drivers get points in the first two stages and eight of those drivers finished in the top-10. Yawn.
The active leader in wins at Pocono is Hamlin with four and I'll be rooting for him the most with my largest wager and payout possibility.
Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch each have three wins there. I wish there was any sign showing Johnson could win just because he's an all-time high at 80/1 odds, but I don't see anything. Busch at 25/1 is enticing just because his SHR teammates are Harvick, Bowyer, and Almirola. All three of his wins at Pocono came with three different manufacturers.
I took a stab at Almirola simply because I've seen him in two races, Chicago and New Hampshire, where he looked to have the best car on the track -- even better than teammate Harvick. Maybe he finally breaks through.
Best of luck in your wagering strategies this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)
2) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (7/2)
3) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/2)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (18/1)
5) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)