Best Bets – PoconoBe sure to follow VegasInsider.com on Twitter @TwitVI for the latest NASCAR updates and trends. Daniel E. Dobish can be followed on Twitter at danieledobish.
Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS is back at Pocono Raceway for the second of two Cup races this season for the Gander Outdoors 400. Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. (3/1) picked up checkers in the first race at Pocono on June 3, so that's still fairly fresh in the minds of everyone. Can he do it again?
Over the past five stops in Long Pond the driver of the No. 78 machine has posted a 94.9 Driver Rating, according to NASCAR's Loop Data, seventh among all active drivers. While he has led 83 laps during the span, third-best on the circuit during the five-race stretch, he has run just 59.0 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, substantially less than all other upper-echelon drivers. While he has two victories in 25 career starts at the 'Tricky Triangle', he still has managed just five Top 5s, 10 Top 10s and only 197 laps led with an Average-Finish Position (AFP) of 14.9.
Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (15/2) was nipping at MTJ's heels in the June race at Pocono, finishing as the runner up. In nine career starts at the track he has managed to finish 12th or better on eight occasions, posting a stellar 10.6 AFP with 66 laps led. That AFP is second among all active drivers. His teammate Jamie McMurray (100/1) hasn't been nearly as fortunate, failing to finish in the Top 5 in each of his previous 31 starts while posting a 19.7 AFP. Larson is a fantasy stud and solid betting play, but Jamie Mac is even a reach for contrarian players.
Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski (12/1) has the best AFP among all current drivers, turning in a 10.2 AFP in 17 career starts with a victory, nine career Top 5s and 10 Top 10s with 178 laps led. He is working on a string of six consecutive Top 5 finishes at the track, including runner-up results in the summer of 2015, and summer of 2016. Keselowski has a 103.2 Driver Rating over the past five starts, third-best among all drivers, while posting a 4.0 AFP to lead everyone. His Penske partner in crime, Joey Logano (20/1), hasn't been as fortunate. The driver of the No. 22 Ford is outside the Top 10 in Driver Rating over the past five Pocono stops, and he has an AFP of 20.2 during the stretch. Overall, just four of Logano's 19 starts at the Triangle have resulted in Top 5s.
Penske third wheel Ryan Blaney (14/1) might be a bigger threat than Logano this weekend. He has a win, three Top 10s and a strong 11.6 AFP in his five career starts in a Cup car at the Pennsylvania track. Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott (33/1) is another of NASCAR's young guns who could bring it at Pocono. He has just five Cup starts under his belt at the track, posting a strong 13.0 AFP with four Top 10 finishes. Elliott has led 51 laps during the span, too. Joe Gibbs Racing's Erik Jones (25/1) posted a win in Daytona, and he is a driver to watch, too. Jones has been a quick study at Pocono, turning in a Top 5, two Top 10s and 24 laps led in just three Cup starts. Among JGR teammates, his 13.3 AFP is bested only by Denny Hamlin (18/1).
The Chesterfield, Va. native and driver of the No. 11 Toyota has enjoyed success over the years at Pocono, ripping off four victories while finishing in the Top 5 on 10 separate occasions in his 25 starts. Hamlin has racked up an impressive 12.7 AFP while leading 688 laps. Only six of his career runs at the Triangle have resulted in finishes outside of the Top 20. Lately Hamlin has lost his mojo at bit, posting a 15.8 AFP across his past six outings, but it would be foolish to discount him for DFS and gambling purposes.
Kyle Busch (3/1) posted his only win last summer at Pocono in 27 career starts at the track. It hasn't been one of his best tracks, and his overall numbers reflect that. He is well down the list with a 17.0 AFP, posting just six Top 5s and 12 Top 10s while leading just 273 laps. His brother, Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch (28/1) has enjoyed more success than his younger sibling, posting three victories with 14 Top 5s and 19 Top 10s in 34 career starts, posting a 14.3 AFP. As such, he is a much better bargain, especially considering his impressive 9.4 AFP over the past five starts. Loop Data shows him in eighth place with a 92.9 Driver Rating, posting 32 laps led with 68.4 percent of his laps run inside the Top 15.
Hendrick's Jimmie Johnson (66/1) has tailed off, and time is really ticking down on the chances for the seven-time champion to make the Chase. Overall his numbers at Pocono are phenomenal, as he has turned in three wins, 11 Top 5s and 20 Top 10s in 33 career starts, leading more laps (740) than any other driver. J.J. showed signs of life with an eighth-place finish in June at this track, but that followed up a four-race string with three finishes at 35th or lower. The dropoff for Johnson has been dramatic, and he is an extremely risky play this weekend.
Ryan Newman (150/1) is a deep sleeper heading into Sunday's race, so keep a close eye on him, especially in qualifying. He has a victory, nine Top 5s and 14 Top 10s in 33 career starts at Pocono, posting a 13.2 AFP along the way. Four of his past five starts have resulted in a finish of 14th or better at Pocono, so the Rocket Man could still have a little fuel left in his tank. Matt Kenseth (500/1) will be behind the wheel again for Roush-Fenway Racing, and he is just five starts removed from a win in the summer of 2015 at Pocono. He was 13th at the track earlier in the season, and he has a solid 14.7 AFP in 37 career starts/
Last, but certainly not least, is SHR's Kevin Harvick (3/1), who leads everyone with a 119.5 Driver Rating over the past five stops at Pocono. He has dominated with 105 laps led, 90.7 percent of his laps run inside the Top 15, and a 4.2 AFP. While it's rather shocking that he has never been to Victory Lane at Pocono, he has finished outside of the Top 20 on just five occasions, while posting a 12.7 AFP. Happy has four runner-up finishes here in the past eight starts since the Summer of 2014, and eventually he is going to break through.
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