Gander RV 400 Preview
July 24, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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I've enjoyed all the races with the new race package featuring engines that produce 550 horsepower and aero ducts with the exception of one track -- Pocono Raceway. When they raced there on June 2, there were only 13 lead changes among nine drivers and most of the drivers to lead a lap did so for only a lap or two when the leader pitted.
Passing is tough at Pocono and that's been the issue the past few years with all race packages. I love the uniqueness of the "Tricky Triangle" with each of three turns being banked so different, but from what I've seen there lately it makes me wish NASCAR would take one of their two dates and give New Hampshire or Darlington their second date back or bring back Rockingham, tracks where the racing is always great.
But there is going to be something different on display in Sunday's Gander RV 400 that might make the racing better.
“They’re putting down some of the traction compound on all three corners and that’s going to change the racing, for sure," said Aric Almirola who finished 10th in the June race. "We’ve seen it change the dynamic at many of the other tracks. I think that will be interesting and it will put on a great race. The restarts are already wild and crazy and now, with the outer groove being more of an option, that is really going to open up a lot of opportunities on restarts and being able to run side by side.”
Okay, I'll buy it. I'm in. Almirola sold me, so now let's get on with finding a winner to cash on and while I can't bet race favorite Kyle Busch at 5/2 odds as the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posted, I certainly fear and respect him. He went 25 starts without winning at Pocono but now has three wins in his last four starts there. He's going for three straight wins on the 2.5-mile layout and looking to be the eighth driver in track history to sweep the season.
"Trying to pass people is the trickiest part because it’s so finicky there after getting your car set-up to run by yourself in practice, but also getting it good for the traffic during the race and being able to out-corner guys out there,’’ Busch explained. "Having a lot of horsepower is important there, as well. Hoping we can have all of those things go right for us this week with our Skittles Toyota.’’
I love the strategy Busch played in the June race where he scrapped the stage points and game-planned for winning the race consisting of only 160 laps. He didn't finish in the top-10 in either of the first two stages but led the most laps (79). It was impressive, but what he did was lay down a blueprint for others to follow this week.
So while I expect a top-five finish out of Busch Sunday, I can't bet 5-to-2 odds to win. Between others following his pitting strategy from the June race and what seems like forever since his fourth win of 2019 -- Pocono, seven races ago, I've got a few other candidates to win in my betting strategy this week.
The last seven races have been won by different drivers. Parity is beautiful.
A Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has won the last four Pocono races and, surprisingly, one of the wins wasn't by Denny Hamlin, the active leader there with four wins. He's led 694 laps between 27 Pocono starts and has 10 top-fives finishes. He scored his first two career Cup wins as a rookie in 2006, his only wins that season.
"I’ve been fortunate to have had success in the past at Pocono and it’s a track where I’m always hopeful I can get a win for our team,’’ said Hamlin who is 10/1 to win this week. "Our team is currently on a streak of some solid performances and I’m looking forward to continuing that this weekend.’’
Hamlin comes off an exciting second-place finish and was fifth two weeks ago at Kentucky. He's averaging a 10.5 finish this season which is the best in his career.
Martin Truex Jr. had engine problems early in the June Pocono race giving him a poor 35th-place finish, but he's a two-time winner there, the last coming in June of 2018. My only problem with him this week is that it's been the other race package (750 HP) he's had the most success with winning three of his four races this season.
Erik Jones is the perfect candidate to grab his first win of 2019 as we've seen for the past four weeks. He's finished third in his last two starts showing he's got some momentum going and he finished third at Pocono in the June race. He's raced at Pocono five times in the Cup Series and has three top-fives and has a series-best 9.6 average finish among active drivers there. His three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have combined to win 10 of the 20 races this season. I think it's his turn and I love the price at 20/1 odds.
The best long shot value of the season rests with William Byron at 80/1 odds. He sat on the pole during the June Pocono race and led 25 laps, but got on a different pit sequence than Kyle Busch and finished ninth.
"We had a really good car at Pocono Raceway earlier this year and I felt like we were really close," Byron said. "We just didn’t have the winning strategy, we went more for the stage points last race. I think this time, going back, we’ll be able to control our race a little bit differently. I was honestly a couple moves away from getting a better finish last time so I’m really optimistic for this weekend. Hopefully, we can build off what we did there in June."
Byron finished sixth at Pocono last fall and also won a Truck Series race there in 2016. He's got the car that can hang with anyone and he's got crew chief Chad Knaus that has won at Pocono three times. He's definitely worth laying down a few bucks this week.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #20 Erik Jones (20/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (5/1)
4) #9 Chase Elliott (16/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)