NASCAR: Pocono

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Hamlin has straightened out the turns

The first 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup races are in the bag and we begin a march through the “lean coverage” of the season, which is what I call the six race stretch that TNT covers. Not many folks give the FOX television coverage as much credit as it deserves. The coverage is always great and the announcing crew is by far the most entertaining and insightful group that has ever covered the sport.

The TNT color commentary and analysis from Wally Dallenbach and Kyle Petty is dull, and very few times offer anything that wasn’t known to the common race fan, as opposed to the type of data and information routinely given by Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond on FOX. McReynolds will be a part of TNT’s team, but only for brief moments as he’ll show insights on a cut-away car.

The lead commentator, Adam Alexander, will be new to the TNT team this year but has been solid in the past with his duties on SPEED and MRN Radio. However, there is nothing he can do to balance out the dumb and dumber commentary – and not in the funny movie way either – of Petty and Dallenbach. Alexander will also have the tough task of easing fans into his style and matching the top flight bench mark set by auto racing’s greatest commentator, Mike Joy. Tough shoes to fill for sure.

My strategy this week will be to watch the Pocono race, but keep the MRN radio feed on which gives constant updates from all corners of the track for each driver throughout the race. It’s still a race and still has to be bet on, but no one said you had to be annoyed by listening at the same time.

Pocono Raceway is a unique 2.5-mile triangular shaped track with three vastly different turns that each get gradually flatter making it a difficult track for teams to set up. There is no way to get a car perfect for each of the three turns, so it’s almost like they have to choose which of the three they want to be quickest at.

Over recent years, the main ingredient for success has been flat out horsepower. Drivers that have done well on the down force tracks leading up to Pocono have fared well. Another driver, Denny Hamlin, who has become somewhat of a specialist on flat tracks, like Martinsville, has also shown that his particular entry and exit skills at smaller tracks have helped his cause to winning three times at Pocono.

It doesn’t hurt that Hamlin also has a great engine, but what’s amazing about Hamlin is that he came in as a rookie and swept the Pocono season in 2006. This was after a disastrous 2005 season with Jason Leffler driving the same car – well obviously it wasn’t the same car, just same car number, owner and sponsor.

Hamlin won for the third time at Pocono last season and currently has the best average finish of any current driver at just under 10th per race. When he won last season, it was the 21st race of the season and it was his first win of the season. Coming in this year, he’s already got three wins and is charging hard to be the one who stops Jimmie Johnson from winning his fifth straight season championship.

Juan Pablo Montoya is an interesting look to contend for the win this week. He’s been so up and down in performance, but if we look at last season through this year, Montoya fits the profile of a driver who should run well here. If there is one thing his Ganassi car isn’t missing, it’s horsepower. Their problem seems to be more about the car chief, crew chief, and pit crew, because this team should have won at least one race over the last 39 races based on the equipment they have.

Last season Montoya finished in eighth and second-place in the two Pocono races and he’s shown enough horsepower at tracks like Atlanta, Texas, and Charlotte to believe he should be set in that category this week. As for the driver himself, nothing against Hamlin, but Montoya’s entry and exit through odd turns can’t be matched…..The guy won at Monaco!

Who Can Work the TV’s at Hooter’s?

It was bitter-sweet to know that I had a surprise birthday engagement for me at the Hooters hotel and casino Sunday, just because I knew I’d be missing the Coca-Cola 600. While the Elvis tribute show was fantastic, I was a bit miffed that three hours of NASCAR coverage had been missing from the entire casino.

When I asked one of the waitresses if they could find the race on TV for me, she asked another colleague in orange shorts and they both promptly told me they weren’t showing the race. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing this from a place that grew and expanded from the very beings of NASCAR country.

I asked to speak with someone who could help me and they said the casino manager had all the remote controls. Why in the world would any casino manager want that responsibility? When I asked for him, they said he was busy, but to make my request seem more validated, they told me they had several requests for the race to be on within the last three hours.

So while I got a great rendition of “American Trilogy” and “Little Sister,” I also had to view every TV in the house turned on to ESPN for the Sunday night baseball game. I love baseball, but come on Hooters, please keep someone responsible for keeping the TV’s tuned to what is going in the sports world, or else take the dozens of flat screens around the hotel down.

It turns out that Las Vegan Kurt Busch did win the race as I had hoped, but I didn’t find out until much later after leaving the casino. By the way, the Twins beat the Rangers 6-3.

 

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