The NASCAR Cup Series travel to Pocono Raceway this week. The pressure on some NASCAR teams is starting to heat up (Chase Elliott), since there are only six races left in the regular season. Some of the tracks the Cup Series will travel to before the end of the regular season often have unexpected drivers in Victory Lane. We need to buckle our seatbelts on the Lazy Boy Sunday, because we are likely in for some wild racing at ”The Tricky Triangle.”The HighPoint.com 400 can be seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network (Steamed on the NBC Sports App).
POCONO PRACTICE SPEEDS
The Cup Series had a 20-minute practice session to shake down their cars for Sunday’s race. Pocono is a 2-5-mile, triangle-shaped track. Most of the teams did not have enough practice time to make a 10-lap run, but many of the teams were able to make a five-lap run.
Here are the practice speeds for the HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono….
GROUP PRACTICE SPEEDS
The track conditions were totally different for Group A and Group B. The track had a lot more speed in Group B, so many of the drivers from Group A are further down the speed chart. It will be important to look at the speeds from both groups and not just the overall speed.
CUP SERIES STATS AT POCONO AND INTERMEDIATE TRACKS
Pocono is one of the toughest tracks to predict. It is a unique triangle-shaped track that has long straightaways and rolling corners. There is no other track on the schedule to compare it to. The closest comparison we can get is from the races on the large intermediate tracks (Auto Club, Las Vegas, Kansas and Charlotte). I will be using some of the data from these races for the picks this week.
I am focusing the driver’s history at Pocono for my lineups this week. The Tricky Triangle has three distinct corners which make it tough on crew chiefs. If the team gets the balance right in our corner, it typically causes the car to lose speed in another corner. Some crew chiefs have figured this track out and their drivers always perform well at Pocono.
Here are the driver rankings for the last three races at Pocono and the race at on the large intermediate tracks (Auto Club, Las Vegas, Kansas and Charlotte) this year…
I am focusing my strategy on the race last year at Pocono. The Gen-7 car does not race like the previous cars, so passing for the lead may be difficult Sunday. The race last year had one dominator and four drivers who lead between 14-22 laps (they scored 8.5 – 12.7 dominator points). The main dominator will lead roughly 64 laps and score 30 fastest laps (29.5 dominator points). I will pay up for the driver who I think can lead the most laps and try to match him with two or three of the other dominators Sunday.
The drivers with the best chance to dominate the race Sunday include William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick
The drivers with the best chance to score place differential points are Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman, Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola, Chase Briscoe and Todd Gilliland
DRAFTKINGS MODEL (Prediction Based on Stats)
Finish = Finishing Points PD = Position Differential Fastest = Fastest Laps Led = Laps Led
* The number in front of the driver is his projected finishing position based on stats.
FANDUEL MODEL (Prediction Based on Stats)
CORE DRIVERS FOR POCONO
TOP-TIER DRIVERS: MARTIN TRUEX JR. (DK $10.7K / FD $14K), DENNY HAMLIN (DK $10.6K / FD $13.5K), KYLE BUSCH (DK $10.5K / FD $12K), KYLE LARSON (DK $10.3K / FD $13K), WILLIAM BYRON (DK $10.2K / FDK $12.5K), RYAN BLANEY (DK $9.8K / FD $11.5K), CHASE ELLIOTT (DK $9.6K / FD $10.5K), TYLER REDDICK (DK $9.2K / FD $9.5K), KEVIN HARVICK (DK $9K / FD $9K)
VALUE-TIER DRIVERS: JOEY LOGANO (DK $8.8K / FD $8.5K), BRAD KESELOWSKI (DK $8.3K / FD $7.8K), TY GIBBS (DK $8.1K / FD $7.2K), ALEX BOWMAN (DK $7.9K / FD $8.2K), DANIEL SUAREZ (DK $7.7K / FD $8K), CHRIS BUESCHER (DK $7.5K / FD $6.8K), AJ ALLMENDINGER (DK $7.3K / FD $6.5K), ARIC ALMIROLA (DK $7K / FD $5.8K), RYAN PREECE (DK $6.6K / FD $5K), MICHAEL MCDOWELL (DK $6K / FD $5.2K)
PUNT PLAYS: HARRISON BURTON (DK $5.7K / FD $4K), TODD GILLILAND (DK $5.4K / FD $3K), COLE CUSTER (DK $5.2K / FD $2.5K)
DRAFTKINGS CASH CONTEST LINEUP
WILLIAM BYRON ($10,200): We saw Corey Heim start on the front row and dominate the Truck Series race. Then we saw Josh Berry start on the pole and dominate the Xfinity Series race. Denny Hamlin started on the pole last year and he led the second-most laps. Track position is important at Pocono. Byron should lead a lot of laps and he should have a great chance to win the race. I will use the No. 24 car as my dominator in the Cash Contest lineup.
KYLE BUSCH ($10,500): Busch posted the second-fastest speed in practice and then he got loose in qualifying. Now he will start 25th Sunday. His average finishing position in his last three races at Pocono would be 1.6 if his car was not disqualified last year. Busch started 19th and won the race in 2021. He could have a similar race Sunday.
CHASE ELLIOTT ($9,600): Elliott said on the radio that his car drove great. He was seventh-fastest in practice, but the No. 9 car spun in qualifying and now Elliott will start 35th. That makes Elliott a lock for almost all DFS contests Sunday. He won this race last year (because the JGR cars were DQ’d) and he should be one of the top-four scoring drivers in DFS contests at Pocono.
CHRIS BUESCHER ($7,500): Buescher spun out in practice and then the team worked to tighten up the car. It worked. Buescher posted the sixth-fastest speed in practice, with the sixth-best long-run speed. Buescher won this race in 2016. I doubt he will win Sunday, but he should have a decent chance for a top-10 finish.
RYAN PREECE ($6,600): Preece surprised me in practice. He posted the 19th-fastest speed, with the ninth-fastest five-lap average speed. Preece went out early in qualifying and he did not get the benefit of cloud cover to add speed to his lap. Preece started 23rd and finished eighth in his last race at Pocono. He should move up from the 34th starting position.
TODD GILLILAND ($5,400): Gilliland will be my “punt play” in the Cash Contest lineup. Gilliland spun out in qualifying so now he starts dead last. There is nowhere to go but forward in the race. Gilliland has an average finishing position of 18th in his last three races. Gilliland has only finished outside the top-25 once since May. Gilliland will be a great pick if he can finish in the top-25 at Pocono.
DRAFTKINGS TOURNAMENT CONTEST
* Joe Gibbs Racing has been the best team this summer and they look fast again at Pocono. I will play the Toyota + Front Row Motorsports Stack in the Tournament Contest lineup.
MARTIN TRUEX JR. ($10,700): Truex has finished first or second in three of the last five races. He has been awesome at his “home tracks” this year. Truex won at Dover and then again at New Hampshire. Can he win at Pocono, his other home track? I think he can. Truex posted the fifth-fastest speed in practice and he starts second. The No. 19 team has a lot of momentum right now.
DENNY HAMLIN ($10,600): Hamlin may have the best car in the field. He had the fastest car in Group A in practice, but he is down on the speed chart because Group B had the advantage of cloud cover and more rubber on the track. Hamlin slid up the track in qualifying and that is why he is starting eighth and not on the pole. Hamlin has a series-high six wins at Pocono (it should be seven, but his win last year was taken away). This is the best track for Hamlin.
TYLER REDDICK ($9,200): Reddick said on SiriumXM On Track Show, “I worked a lot with the boss man (Denny Hamlin) in the simulator on how to get around Pocono this week.” Whatever Hamlin told Reddick, it worked. He went out and posted the fastest speed in practice. Reddick finished second in this race last year. He has the speed to finish in the top-five Sunday, with the upside to win the race.
TY GIBBS ($8,100): We have seen some drivers come out of nowhere to win races at Pocono (Chris Buescher in 2016 and Ryan Blaney in 2017). Can this be the race when Gibbs finds Victory Lane? The No. 54 car has a lot of speed. Gibbs posted the ninth-fastest speed in practice. I doubt Gibbs will be highly owned, so I will play him as part of my Toyota stack.
MICHAEL MCDOWELL ($6,000): People look at McDowell and think, “I am not playing him from the 15th starting position. McDowell has finished 13th, 4th, 7th, 28th, 7th and 9th since May. That is five finishes in the top-15 in the last six races. McDowell is fighting for a playoff spot, so his team will do whatever it takes to ensure McDowell finishes in the top-10 Sunday.
TODD GILLILAND ($5,400): Gilliland starts last so he is no risk and all reward Sunday. I just need Gilliland to finish in the top-25 to be an excellent pick Sunday.
FANDUEL CASH CONTEST LINEUP
FANDUEL TOURNAMENT CONTEST LINEUP
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