Pocono: A track unlike any in NASCAR

Jun 7, 2005 1:34 AM

Pocono Raceway, the site of this week’s NASCAR Nextel Cup race, is one of my favorite race tracks.

The venue they call, "a super-speedway that drives like a road course," adds a pleasant mix to the season. Fans get to see the best of both worlds in motor sports. There is the raw power of a 750 horse-powered car screaming down the straights mixed with seeing the driving skill in braking, downshifting, and dropping the hammer through the turns.

Each of the three turns on the triangular track is different. Turn 1 is the steepest at 14 degrees, while turn 3 measures a relatively flat 6. Turn 3 is also the most exciting to watch because that’s where most of the passing is done.

Since Pocono is the only track of it’s kind on the circuit, there isn’t much compare in determining who might do well this week. The one track that is similar in banking, turns, and long straights is Indianapolis. The best strategy may be to go off who the current hot drivers are, then mix in some of the recent track history of both Pocono and Indy.

The favorite is Jimmie Johnson (7-1). Last season, Johnson swept both races. In fact, it may have been the most dominant display at Pocono ever. Johnson led the most laps in both races and there was never really a doubt about who was going to win. Though Johnson won a few weeks ago at Charlotte, a place he has dominated the last three seasons, it’s hard to see him stomping the field. In six races, Johnson has two wins and a third with no finish outside the top 15.

Jeff Gordon (10-1) is the only driver to finish in the top 5 at both Pocono races and Indianapolis last season. Gordon has won four times at Indy, a pretty dominant run for like-track instances for Hendrick Motorsports.

It isn’t just the top two Rick Hendrick teams performing well either. Terry Labonte (65-1) hasn’t finished worse than ninth in his last five Pocono races. That’s a monumental stat since Texas Terry hasn’t finished much better than ninth in all his other races over that span. Labonte is driving a limited schedule this year, but you better believe he’ll be at one of his favorite tracks this week.

Kyle Busch (25-1) will also be a driver to keep an eye on this week for Hendrick. The Evernham drivers may be the ones with a shot at unseating Hendrick for Pocono supremacy. For all of Gordon’s success at Pocono for Hendrick, he hasn’t won there since Evernham left. Gordon has three wins, but none since 1998.

Evernham does have a keen sense of what it takes to win on these tracks and can set up his cars perfectly. In 2002, everything came together for his new Dodge team. Evernham drivers crushed the field at Pocono and Indy with Bill Elliott behind the wheel of the No. 9 car and Kasey Kahne (8-1) stepping in last year as a rookie to sit on the pole in his first Pocono qualifying session before finishing 14th. In the second Pocono race a few weeks later, he finished third.

Jeremy Mayfield (13-1) has two of his four career wins at Pocono, the last in 2000. Last season, Mayfield battled all race long until he finally got the lead with 32 laps to go. Johnson was too good on that day, but it proved that Mayfield could still perform well at Pocono and a sign that Evernham was ready to give him a car that could compete.

The Roush Racing Fords are primed to get their first ever win at Pocono with four of their five drivers considered candidates to win. Mark Martin (10-1) may be the obvious choice of the four drivers, placing no worse than sixth in his last four starts. Marin totals six runnerup finishes at Pocono, including second race last year.

Greg Biffle (15-1) was strong in all three Pocono and Indy races last season before we knew what a beast he could be. Now he’s got all that confidence of a winner, not to mention the horsepower.

Kurt Busch (10-1) doesn’t have a lot of races run at Pocono, but does have two second place finishes. Matt Kenseth (18-1) has been good at Indy and Pocono in the past, but awful in 2005.

There used to be a time when you could count on Tony Stewart (10-1) and Bobby Labonte (20-1) to compete for wins late in the Pocono races. They were always on the forefront of any wager consideration. Bobby bounced back in this race last year with a nice third, but Stewart has three straight finishes of 27th or worse. Together, they have four wins at Pocono.

Dale Jarrett (35-1) is another driver to count on. Prior to 2003, DJ was the man. During a 15-race span, Jarrett accumulated 13 top 5 finishes that included three wins. Jarrett may be a hard sell based on this season’s results, but it could become easier if looking at the 2004 Indy race and considering how well teammate Elliott Sadler (22-1) is running in 2005. Jarrett and Sadler finished second and third behind Gordon last season at the Brickyard. There is a glimmer of hope.

Ryan Newman (7-1) is a co-favorite this week, despite coming off his poorest Pocono season. He’s had enough impressive runs at Pocono in ARCA and Cup races to deal with the best drivers on this unique track. The horse power is there on the longer runs to believe he’ll do much better this season. Newman has two top 5’s and a win in six career starts.