Good, Bad and Ugly: Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway
Mark Garrow provides driver trends for Sunday's Pocono 500 at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway.
* A driver needs to qualify for the race based on time.
# A driver is eligible for the champion's provisional.
• He made this race last year finishing 39th, two laps down. • I'm not jumping onto this bandwagon yet, but Allmendinger is making great strides. I'm keeping a close eye on this guy Friday and Saturday and will talk to his crew chief Sunday morning. We need to pay attention to the way he's been running lately. Biggest problem: He finishes lousy compared to how well he runs at times during the race. He needs to get over the hump.
• Biffle has 10 starts here with two top-10s and a top-5 with an average finish of 19.2. • Biffle's stats at Pocono are not too sporty -- his average finish is 26 in his past three tries -- but pay no attention to that this weekend. In the three most recent point races, he has been one of the top three cars -- he blew up at Darlington, but only after leading 95 laps. That was followed by a second-place finish at Charlotte and a third-place finish at Dover. Clearly, the Roush Fenway gang has found something, and Biffle is making the most of it. I think he'll finish no worse than 10th Sunday.
• Blaney has made 16 Cup series starts on this track. The veteran driver has finished as high as ninth. He has two top-10s and three top-15s here. • I am becoming a "Blaney believer." He and the Caterpillar Toyota team have been rock-solid at Darlington and Dover with a pair of ninth-place finishes sandwiched in between a 17th-place run at Charlotte. Blaney also looked pretty strong in the Pocono test, and his team could be losing its sponsor, so it's really digging in. He could be a top value pick again this week.
• In four Sprint Cup Series starts at Pocono Raceway, Bowyer has logged a pair of top-10 finishes with a career best of eighth. He does have two finishes of 21st or worse in those four starts, though. • He's a guy who scares me a little. I spoke with him this week, and even he doesn't understand why he's slumped lately. Bowyer said his cars have been pretty good, but his finishes since he won at Richmond are 15th, 25th, 36th, and those finishes are headed in the wrong direction. His team did have a pretty good Pocono test, but he's got some bad mojo right now, so I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude on him until he has one of those "slump-buster" races.
• In 28 Cup series starts at Pocono, Burton has posted six top-5s and 13 top-10s. He has a 16.79 finishing average. • Mark Burton down for a top-10. I don't see him challenging for a top-5, but he should be OK for a top-10. I don't think RCR cars have enough steam under the hood to challenge the Toyotas right now. His worst finish in 13 races this year is 13th, and his average finish is better than eighth. Burton isn't pretty, but he is pretty effective.
• Busch has two wins and seven top-5s in 14 races at Pocono. He has a 14.6 average finish here. • Because of Busch's past record here at Pocono, a lot of people want to put him on their teams this week, but I say buyer beware. No matter how you slice it right now, Kurt is a top-20 driver. But the idea that he's going to suddenly jump up and run in the top five at Pocono is crazy. I see him finishing in the top 15 at best. You can make a better selection.
• Busch has three consecutive top-10 finishes in the past three Pocono 500 races. • You leave Kyle Busch off your team at your own peril. He's been rock-solid, and there's no reason to think he can't keep the string going here at Pocono. With Toyota horsepower, he'll challenge for the win, and I predict he'll finish in the top three.
• He posted the third-fastest time in the final testing session at Pocono. • Nothing here yet. Carpentier's best finish this year is a 29th, and his average finish is an ugly 34.5. He qualifies pretty well but doesn't race so good.
• In 16 starts at Pocono Raceway, Dale Jr. has four top-5s and five top-10s. • I've got Junior ranked third going into this race, so I give him a chance to win. He was quick during the test, but I'm not sure he can match the horsepower of the top Toyotas, and that will make things tough. At worst, he's a top-5 or top-10 finisher. Some people keep dissing Earnhardt, but other than the two races at California and Dover when other drivers crashed into him, he's been money. His average finish is 11.8, and that's despite two finishes of 35th and 40th.
• In his six starts at Pocono, Edwards has one win, two top-5s and two top-10s. His average finish is 17.3. • He is another guy on a roll. In the past eight Cup races, he has seven top-10s, including a win and two runner-ups. He hasn't finished all that well the past two seasons at Pocono, but I say forget about it. I've ranked him fifth and think that's a pretty good choice. I don't think he can win, but he should finish somewhere up near the front.
• Elliott has 46 starts here with 22 top-10s, 14 top-5s, and five wins. His average finish is 16.7. • Elliott and Terry Labonte both have champion's provisionals to use this weekend. Labonte will have the first provisional, as he is the most recent champion needing the provisional. If Labonte must use the provisional, Elliott will have to qualify on time.
• Franchitti is making his first-ever start at Pocono and his first Cup start since he was injured in the Nationwide race at Talladega. • Franchitti didn't look half bad in the Pocono test, but I still can't recommend him.
• Gilliland has an average finish of 36.5 at Pocono. • He is coming off a solid 16th-place run at Dover and flexed a little muscle in the Pocono test. He could wind up being one of the top value picks for Sunday. His finishes here are horrendous, but that could change.
• Gordon has collected four wins, including a victory in last year's rain-shortened event, two poles, 15 top-5s and 21 top-10s at Pocono. • Gordon is looking for his fourth consecutive top-5 this weekend -- both at Pocono and in this season's schedule. • They haven't exactly been works of art, but Gordon has four straight top-10s and three top-5s. He could finish anywhere from third to eighth again. I still don't think he has what it takes to win, which is why I rank him fourth for this race, and that might have been a little too generous.
• Gordon has 13 starts here with two top-10s and three DNFs. His average finish is 26.4.
• Hamlin has four starts here with four top-10s and an average finish of 2.8. He won his first two starts at Pocono, both from the pole. • I'm not Hamlin's biggest fan, but he's beginning to really come on strong and loves Pocono, so I've ranked him second. The thing that has scared me away from Denny is his inconsistency. He finishes in the top five in four straight but then collects three lousy races in the next four. Still, my gut tells me Pocono is just what the doctor prescribed for him to get back on the beam.
• In 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono Raceway, Harvick has earned one top-5 and four top-10s. He has a 16.4 finishing average. • I'm staying away from Harvick right now. He's had five poor finishes in his past six outings and was way off at Dover even before the crash. He appears to be in a poor mood, and that won't help get his situation turned around at a place he hasn't exactly lit on fire.
• Hornish is making his first-ever NASCAR start at this track this weekend. • He's been a pleasant surprise the past two weeks, finishing 13th and 18th. That's dramatically better than the previous 11 races. Is it the start of a trend? I don't know, but because of his price in cap leagues, I will pay close attention to him for Sunday's fantasy chat.
• Johnson has started 12 Cup races at Pocono Raceway, collecting two wins, four top-5s and seven top-10s. He has an average finish of 10.7. • I think Johnson will be decent this Sunday but won't be a world beater, which is why I have him ranked 10th. I can see him finishing just inside or just outside the top 10. Top five? Possibly, but I don't see it.
• In eight starts at Pocono, Kahne has two top-10s and one top-5. His average finish is 20th. • I know everyone was ready to proclaim Kasey Kahne a top-5 contender after those two super weeks at Charlotte, but he returned to the real world at Dover with a noncompetitive run. Besides the Charlotte win, Kahne has only one other top-10 in his past eight races. Not to mention five of his past six finishes at Pocono were 22nd or worse. I really don't see Kasey doing much this weekend.
• In his 16 previous Pocono starts, Kenseth has achieved three top-5s and seven top-10s. • Kenseth slumped early but is starting to heat up with the weather. I don't see him ready to win again yet, but finishes of sixth, seventh, and fourth the past three races are no fluke. He's climbing up my rankings, and I currently have him eighth.
• Kvapil has four starts here with an average finish of 25.2. • Kvapil is getting to be someone you can count on to take a run at a top-15 finish on a consistent basis, but the problem for me is that he's priced in cap leagues. The 13th-ranked driver is at 19.8 in the Stock Car Challenge, so I have no use for him. He's with a developing team and can't be counted on to run up near the front on consistent basis. Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. are below Kvapil, so that cancels him out, no matter whether you think on a given week he can finish top-15.
• In 30 starts here, Labonte has nine top-10s, five top-5s, three wins, and an average finish of 17.4. • Labonte is basically a top-20 driver at best. His SCC price is dropping, so he might be attractive there. None of the Dodges are doing that great, and he isn't the best of them. I think they get killed on horsepower at Pocono compared to Toyota especially.
• He has 52 starts here with 21 top-10s, seven top-5s, two wins and an average finish of 15.9. • He's just going to be driving laps.
• Leffler has four starts here with an average finish of 31.5. His most recent starts here were in the 2005 season, when he finished 40th and 24th. • This whole HAAS CNC deal is in total chaos right now, and the 70 car, with its four different drivers in the past four races, hasn't come close to outperforming Scott Riggs in the 66 car.
• Martin has finished second at Pocono on six different occasions. He finished second or third in more than 25 percent of his 39 starts at Pocono. • His 19 top-5s at Pocono are the most of any driver. • I like Martin to do his normal thing at Pocono. He'll go out and do his solid-citizen thing and finish anywhere from eighth to 15th.
• He is making his first-ever NASCAR start at Pocono. • With his road-racing background, he might do a little better here than he has done elsewhere, but it still would be crazy to put a Pocono rookie on your team, especially one who's collected only one top-25 finish in eight tries.
• In 10 starts at Pocono, Jamie McMurray has two top-10s. • The heat is on McMurray with rumors he'll be let go at season's end, something he says is simply not true. He's starting to come around; he finished 11th at Darlington and 10th at Dover with a 23rd-place finish at Charlotte sandwiched in between. I don't trust these results, though, and Pocono isn't exactly a track where he has laid down his best numbers. I have him ranked 26th, which may be a little low, because the only consistent thing with McMurray has been his inconsistency.
• Mears has competed in 10 races at Pocono, earning one top-5 and three top-10s. Mears posted his career-best Pocono result of fourth in June 2007 and followed that with a 10th-place finish here in August. • Mears has done next to nothing all season long, but a birdie keeps chirping in my ear that this weekend might be the one when he breaks out, even though he has only two top-10s all year and an average finish of 24.1. There's a lot of upside here if Mears can get rolling as he did last summer.
• Just when it looked like Menard would start running in the top 20 consistently and sneaking a top-15 every once in a while, the bottom falls out. His average finish in the past four races is 33. Buyer beware.
• Montoya will make his third Cup start at Pocono. Last season Montoya earned top-20 finishes at both events. • Montoya could surprise here because this place drives in some ways like a road course with only left-hand turns. The problem is, Montoya is miffed at his car owner and doesn't really know his crew chief. It's hard to see this car getting turned around anytime soon.
• In 26 starts here, Nemechek has four top-10s, two top-5s and an average finish of 23.8. • Nemechek finished 15th in this race last year.
• Newman has one win, five top-5s and six top-10s in 12 starts at Pocono. • Last June, he led 20 laps from the pole and finished second. • Two top-10s in a row followed by finishes of 37th, 21th and 14th. I can see Newman making a run at a top-15 at Pocono. I have him ranked 13th, which might be generous. Still, he did finish second and seventh at Pocono last season.
• In Ragan's only two races at Pocono (both in 2007), his best finish was 26th. • I see Ragan challenging for a top-15 and not much else.
• Raines has six starts here with an average finish of 22.3. • Raines had finishes of 36th and 15th here last year.
• Reutimann has two starts here, finishing 38th and 41st. • I still see Reutimann's car as a top-25 car that can sometimes sneak a top-20. Horsepower should help him in a big way this weekend. He's still on my team, though.
• Riggs has eight starts here with one top-10 finish and an average of 22.5. • Riggs finished 18th and 24th here last year, respectively. • He's another guy it's just not worth the risk to pick.
• Other than the eighth-place finish at Dover, this team has done nothing.
• Smith is making his first NASCAR start at Pocono. • The rookie is beginning to see some results and has turned himself into a potential top-20 finisher every time. If you're feeling risky or crazy, think about his price and pray.
• Reed Sorenson has four starts at Pocono. His best finish is 24th. • This kid had better get with the program or he's going to be out of a ride at season's end. He has done next to nothing since finishing fifth in the Daytona 500.
• In 18 starts here, Stewart has 13 top-10s, five top-5s, a win and an average finish of 12.4. • Stewart has five consecutive top-10s here. • Finishes of 21, 18 and 41 the past three races are very un-Stewart like. Other than three top-5 runs, he's been basically a top-15 car all year long. He has the car and the talent to erupt from this slump on any given Sunday, but until he does that I leave him alone.
• Truex has four starts here with two top-10s, a top-5 and an average finish of 14.8. • I like Truex to duplicate last week's sixth-place finish.
• In eight starts here, Vickers has three top-5s and an average finish of 14.4. • Before last year (finished 25th and 39th), Vickers had never finished outside the top-14. • Vickers finished 13th at Dover and has top-15 potential again.
• Waltrip will start in his 44th Cup race at Pocono. His best finish is second. In all, he has three top-5s and six top-10s at Pocono.
• Yeley has four starts here with an average finish of 19.5.
Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.
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