The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Pocono Raceway this week in the Pocono 400. No track on the circuit is like the “Tricky Triangle”. The long straightaway’s and the three unique corners make this a difficult track for the NASCAR teams. The race can be seen Sunday night at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
The MENCS will have a reduced practice schedule this week. There will be one practice Friday morning and the final practice will be Saturday morning. Qualifying will be Friday evening at 4 p.m. ET. Our Driver Group Game picks need to be selected by 8 a.m. Friday morning.
Kyle Busch won the pole and dominated the race at Pocono last year. He led 100 of the 160 laps in the race. Kyle Larson also ran up front. He qualified 7th, led 9 laps and won Stage 2. Ryan Blaney ran down Kyle Busch with 10 laps to go and went on to win the race.
Race Rewind at Pocono: Pocono 400 (2017)
Pocono is a crew chief and manufactures’ race. The three corners at the Tricky Triangle are very different and it is impossible to get the car to drive perfectly through each of them. The crew chiefs need to sacrifice in one turn to make the car good in the other corners. The teams that have the best balanced car will be fast Sunday.
The engines are also important this week. The cars turn a lot of RPMs at Pocono so the teams with the most horsepower will run up front. Toyota has been working on a new engine and it made its debut last week at Charlotte. It looked pretty good!! Usually there is a shift in momentum after the All-Star Race and teams who dominated the first 12 races come back to the pack and teams who struggled start to catch up. I expect the Toyotas to close the gap on the Fords and become more dominant over the summer. I will have a lot of Fords and Toyotas in my lineup this week.
Here are my picks for Pocono…
Driver Group Game A Picks
Kyle Busch (6): Busch is my pick to win this week. Kevin Harvick had a 3 win streak followed by 2 wins in a row, not it is Busch’s turn to have back-to-back wins after a 3 win streak earlier this season. Busch won the pole for both races at Pocono last year and he is coming off a pole win at Charlotte. He is the best choice to earn 10 points for winning the pole. Busch also led the most laps in both races at Pocono last year. He is coming off a dominant performance at Charlotte and Busch is the defending race winner at Pocono. There is no way you can leave him off your team this week.
Kevin Harvick (4): I thought about going with Kyle Larson or Brad Keselowski in this spot but after Harvick’s interview following his wreck at Charlotte, I decided to use Harvick as my backup to Kyle Busch. Harvick told PRN Radio, “You have to take the good with the bad and we had a lot of good this season. We will put this race behind us and work even harder this week so we can spank the field at Pocono.” The last time Harvick made these type of comments he did just what he said he would do. I am 80% sure I will use Busch as my starter so having Harvick for qualifying points and an insurance policy is not a bad idea.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Kyle Busch 2) Kevin Harvick 3) Kyle Larson 4) Brad Keselowski 5) Denny Hamlin 6) Martin Truex Jr. 7) Joey Logano 8) Jimmie Johnson
Driver Group Game B Picks
Saving allocations in Group B is important but so is scoring as many points as possible each week. There are 18 races left on the schedule (not counting the Superspeedways and Road Courses). That means I need 36 allocations from my top drivers in Group B. If I only use Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola I will have 35 allocations. My plan is to lean on these drivers this season and sprinkle in some Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez when I need to.
Ryan Blaney (4): Blaney won the spring race at Pocono last year. It was his first win in the MENCS. You would think Blaney would be extra motivated this week to defend his title at this track. The race this week comes down to horsepower and pure speed. That is something that the No. 12 team is very good at generating. Blaney ranks 3rd in Green Lap Speed and 6th in Fastest Laps this season. He qualified for both races at Pocono in the top 5 last year. I expect Blaney to be a threat for the pole and run in the top 10 Sunday.
Kurt Busch (3): Busch has not won in 2018 but that could change this week. Busch won at Pocono in 2016 and it is no secret Stewart-Haas Racing desperately wants to get Busch and Aric Almirola a win so they can secure their spot in the playoffs. SHR has been giving Busch one of their top cars and it shows. Busch has the third-best average finishing position this season, only behind Kyle Busch and Joey Logano (Yes… He has been better than Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson). His average finishing position in the last 4 races is 5th. I expect Busch to have a fast car and run in the top 10 again this week.
Clint Bowyer (6): Bowyer has run just as well as his teammate, Kurt Busch but he has a tendency to fall back a few positions at the end of the race. Bowyer ran very well in his last race at Pocono. He qualified 7th, led 5 laps and finished 6th. The No. 14 team has a lot more speed now than they had at Pocono last year. Having 2 cars from the Stewart-Haas Racing team is not a bad strategy for the Pocono 400.
Erik Jones (7): Jones sure had a fast car last week at Charlotte. The problem is that the team kept beating themselves in the pits. It is a lot easier to clean up mistakes on pit road than it is to find speed for the car. I expect Joe Gibbs Racing to fix these problems before the race Sunday. If they do, Jones could be the best pick in Group B. He finished 3rd and 8th in his two races at Pocono last year and he led laps in both races too. This is one of his best tracks so it would be wise to have Jones on your team this week.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Kurt Busch 2) Ryan Blaney 3) Erik Jones 4) Clint Bowyer 5) 6) Chase Elliott 7) Aric Almirola 8) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 9) Daniel Suarez 10) Paul Menard
Driver Group Game C Picks
Darrell Wallace Jr. (9): I have not used any allocations with Wallace yet and that surprises me. The reason is because I have not been able to trust Wallace this year. That is starting to change. Wallace has been able to run inside the top 20 and make some appearances inside the top 10. Wallace drove the No. 43 car at Pocono last year after Aric Almirola was injured at Kansas. Wallace qualified 26th and finished 16th. I expect similar results from him this week.
William Byron (6): I thought about using Chris Buescher as my back up to Darrell Wallace Jr. since Buescher has a win at Pocono on his resume. I have been burnt by Buescher enough times this year to know that I need to stop messing with fire. This race is about horsepower so the two drivers from Hendrick Motorsports (Alex Bowman and William Byron) will have it. I am saving Bowman for the short tracks so Byron gets the final spot in Group C. Last year Byron qualified 5th and finished 12th in the Xfinity Series at Pocono. I do not plan on using him but if I do I think he can score a top 20 finish Sunday.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Alex Bowman 2) Darrell Wallace Jr. 3) William Byron 4) Chris Buescher 5) David Ragan
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Kyle Busch (6), Kevin Harvick (4)
Group B: Ryan Blaney (4), Kurt Busch (3), Clint Bowyer (6), Erik Jones (7)
Group C: Darrell Wallace Jr. (9), William Byron (6)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game after final practice Saturday.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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