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Tracking Pocono like
none in NASCAR

Jun 8, 2004 6:50 AM

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

All the new tracks lack the character and niche that makes a track special. Pocono adds a pleasant mix to the season and gives us a chance to view the drivers in another element.

This track requires drivers do so much more than go fast. Pocono is called, "The super-speedway that drives like a road course."

Fans get to see the best of both worlds in motor sports like the raw power of a 750 horse-powered car scream down the straights, then witness driver skills as they brake, downshift, and drop the hammer through the turns.

Each of the three turns on the triangular track is different. All have different banking with turn 1 being the steepest at 14 degrees, while turn 3 is a relatively flat 6.

Turn 3 is the most exciting to watch because that’s where most of the passing is done.

Since Pocono stands alone, there isn’t much to go as a comparison in determining who might do well this week other than just assuming the same cast of characters will excel. Indianapolis is the one track on the circuit that could be deemed similar because of the banking, turns, and long straights.

Horsepower is essential to winning and also having a driver that really likes racing on the track.

A few drivers have done very well on a consistent basis.

Jeremy Mayfield (18-1): Stands out coming into this week’s Pocono 500. He experienced some bad luck last week at Dover, but all will agree that he had the fastest car. After almost being fired towards the end of last season, Mayfield and car owner Ray Evernham have regrouped and are getting some fast cars out on the track.

Mayfield has always been a good driver, but he really hasn’t had the chance to show it with Evernham because he wasn’t getting the same goods as Bill Elliott under the hood. Together with teammate Kasey Kahne (18-1), they have formed a pretty good team and are unified.

Mayfield is currently 15th in points with only one top 5 finish in the 13 races. This could be his breakout performance, having not won since the 2000 season. That victory, however, was at Pocono.

In that race, Mayfield went toe to toe with the playground bully (the late Dale Earnhardt) and knocked him out. "The Intimidator," was leading and Mayfield gave him a taste of his own medicine. Gutsy performance, but we haven’t seen Mayfield have many more opportunities like that.

Of his three career victories, two are at Pocono. In 19 career races, he has only one other top 5 finish to go along with the two wins. Definitely worth a look.

Dale Jarrett (35-1): Most consistent driver over the last 17 Pocono races with 13 top 5 finishes that included three wins, the last in 2002. Jarrett obviously isn’t getting the goods he once did, but his career performance is outstanding. A top 10 finish could be possible and he could be one to look for in match-ups against the bottom feeders in the standings

Here are some other contenders based on past performances at Pocono and Indy:

Tony Stewart (7-1): He has finished no worse than seventh in 8-of-10 Pocono starts. He won this race last year and should have won sooner because this track is made for him. After a great performance last week at Dover, Stewart is primed. He is still winless on the season just like last year when he won this race.

Jeff Gordon (10-1): Pocono is one of the few tracks where he has consistently maintained equal success following Ray Evernham’s departure. Has 10 top 5 finishes in 22 career starts. Since Evernham left, the stats remain true. Gordon has three career Pocono wins, but none since ”˜98. Last season, Gordon had an average 13th place finish and then a 36th.

Rusty Wallace (20-1): Has four career Pocono wins. However, he has a lengthy stretch of inconsistency. In 39 career starts, has only nine top 5 finishes. His most recent victory there was in 2000, the same year his then-teammate, Jeremy Mayfield, won. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr (10/1): Last year was a great year at Pocono for Junior. He had two top 5 finishes after having some bumpy past performances. Look for a good run this week as he continues to show that he has what it takes to be a series champ.

Ryan Newman (8-1): Are you kidding me with this guy? Three straight top 5 finishes at Pocono culminated with a win last year! That type of success isn’t supposed to happen so early on a difficult track like this unless your name is Tim Richmond. Obviously, he likes the track and has fun with it.