Pocono is nice prep race for Sonomo County

June 12, 2001 11:10 AM
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Next week the Winston Cup Series travels to Sonoma county for one of the two physically grueling road course events the drivers have on tour. This week, they get somewhat of a practice session for the type of driving required on the road courses at Pocono Raceway. Pocono is considered a Superspeedway because of its two and a half mile configuration. The layout of the track makes it similar to tracks ranging from Sears Point and Martinsville, to the long straights of Indianapolis. It truly is the "Superspeedway that drives like a road course."

Each of the three turns has it’s own personality, all with a different degree in banking. Some of the top drivers have a tough time getting used to the different type of track, while others have excelled and made names for themselves on it. Overall, the best thing about the track is that it’s different, giving a unique stamp on the tour unlike any other track. After seeing regular oval racing for the first 14 races of the season, this race becomes a refreshing change to the scenery and a perfect set-up to next week’s road course event.

When mentioning any track that resembles a road course, the candidate to finish on top is Jeff Gordon (7-2). He’s a three-time winner on the track and hasn’t won since his two-year slump of 1999 and 2000. That appears to be way in the past. Gordon has set himself up nicely for his fourth championship and has done so because of consistently having a car set-up perfectly for each track. His driving skills never diminished the last two seasons, but what has elevated him back on top is the level in which his Dupont team has executed week after week. Gordon has all the intangibles coming into this race that will make him tough to beat.

Trying to find candidates who will topple Gordon is tough, but there are a few. Those who can have the engine program required to get down the long straights quick and also have a great past history at the track. Dale Jarrett
(4-1) always seems to find his way into the top five. Jarrett has an unprecedented current string of nine straight top fives at Pocono with a total of ten in his career including two wins. While never being known for his exploits on the road courses, the combination Yates’ engine program and chassis set-up have been quite impressive. After a quick start and rise to the top of the standings where he won three races early, Jarrett has faltered, opening the door to the charging Gordon. Look for Jarrett to make it 10 straight top fives. Don’t look for him to jeopardize his placement with any risky moves like Jeremy Mayfield did on the last lap of this race last season because he’s got too much on the line to gamble.

The move Mayfield (8-1) made last season to win was done out of pure hunger. He bumped Dale Earnhardt out of the way in Intimidator-esque fashion on the final turn of the last lap. Mayfield was in a situation where he had no shot at the title after being penalized points following his California win, so risks were easy to take at that stage of the race. He finds himself in a similar position this year. He doesn’t have a win yet, but has performed well on the tracks that he’s traditionally done so. Pocono has been the place where Mayfield has had his most success. He has two wins and seven top 10 finishes in his 13 career starts. He only has three career wins overall on all tracks combined.

The success Mayfield has experienced can be attributed directly to Rusty Wallace (8-1). Wallace has four wins at Pocono and it wasn’t until Roger Penske became part owner of Mayfield’s car that the tide turned for Mayfield. The successful set-ups of Wallace’s car we’re shared with Mayfield giving him the properly balanced car for this type of track.

Wallace took the fall race last season only because the leader, Jeremy Mayfield, blew a tire on the last lap. However, Wallace earned the win. He dominated the later stages of the race using all of his short track and road course expertise to shave seconds on each lap from the others.

Ricky Rudd was a major factor in this race last season. He drives a Yates engineered car and Jarrett’s exploits have already been documented, so we know the set-up will be fine. In last season’s race, Rudd seemed to have a quicker car than Jarrett, but was reluctant to pass his teammate late in what seemed like a ploy to give Jarrett the five extra points in the race because Jarrett was chasing Labonte in the standings. The duel with Gordon last week at Michigan gave Rudd the flavor of victory, something Rudd hasn’t experienced in three seasons. He’ll have a great opportunity this week.

TOP Five Finish Prediction:

1) No.12 Jeremy Mayfield  

(8-10)

2) No.24 Jeff Gordon  

(7-2)

3) No.88 Dale Jarrett  

(4-1)

4) No.28 Ricky Rudd  

(8-1)

5) No.2 Rusty Wallace  

(8-1)

The NASCAR Busch Series has an interesting look to it this week at Kentucky Speedway. Three of the top drivers from the Truck Series will start this race along with three Winston Cup regulars. Ted Musgrave (8-1) will be driving the car Todd Bodine normally drivers, Joe Ruttman (5-1) will be piloting Jimmy Spencer’s car, and Ricky Hendrick (12-1) will be driving his own car. The one driven by Jeff Gordon last season in the series. Mike Skinner (8-1), Kevin Harvick (7-2), and Kenny Wallace (28-1) will attempt to race as well, despite having to log several trips back and forth from Pocono.

Based on the smooth wide surface of Kentucky which all the drivers have raved about, Greg Biffle (7-2) will be the driver to watch. Biffle has done very well on the smooth tracks and might have won in Vegas if not for some tough luck. The winner of the Vegas Busch race was Todd Bodine, in the car veteran driver Musgrave will be handling this week.