Pocono Raceway is one of the most unique tracks on the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit as few have been able to navigate the "Tricky Triangle" with true success over the years.
The 2.5-mile long track will play host to the Pocono 400 Sunday afternoon, which promises to be an interesting affair. There are a few drivers who stand out above the rest of the field in terms of their feel for Pocono, but more risk-taking due to the current Chase format could easily lead to a first-time winner.
As the second half of the regular season prior to the 10-race Chase commences, here is everything you need to know about the Pocono 400 and how it may ultimately play out.
Where: Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania
When: Sunday, June 8 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Steam: TNTDrama.com
Radio: Motor Racing Network
|Pocono 400 Starting Grid|
|Starting Position||Driver||Car No.|
|8||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88|
|17||Martin Truex Jr.||78|
|28||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17|
Drivers to Watch
Denny Hamlin has done a lot throughout what is still a very young Sprint Cup career, but it can be argued that there is nothing he is better known for than his dominance at Pocono Raceway. With four Pocono wins to his credit, Hamlin wins 25 percent of the time. Add in eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10 results and there is no denying the fact that he knows how to handle the triangle.
Hamlin is already in good position since he has a win to his credit, so he can afford to throw caution to the wind and go for the win Sunday. Hamlin also happens to be in the perfect position to do so after capturing the pole position. Two of the past four winners at Pocono have started on the pole, so that bodes well for the No. 11 team's chances.
There is no shortage of experts picking Hamlin to win the 2014 Pocono 400, and that includes ESPN's Marty Smith:
Pocono has been Hamlin's own personal playground over the past several years, and he simply knows the right lines to take and strategies to employ. One more victory would definitely cement Hamlin's status within the Chase and Pocono probably presents him with his best opportunity.
As good as Hamlin has been at Pocono, it comes as little surprise that no driver has finished consistently better at this track than Jimmie Johnson. That can be said for almost any track on the entire Sprint Cup circuit, but JJ is especially good at Pocono with an average finish of roughly ninth place. Based on how Johnson has been running lately, a finish of ninth or better is a pretty solid bet.
The No. 48 team is used to excellence with six Sprint Cup championships under its belt, but the early part of this season was a struggle. After going winless through the first 11 races, however, things started to click. Johnson picked up his first win at Charlotte two weeks ago and consolidated that with another victory the following week at Dover.
Johnson suddenly has two wins and is once again the driver to beat for the Sprint Cup title. Johnson's recent success prompted SiriusXM NASCAR to wonder why there wasn't more belief in Johnson's ability to snap out of his funk:
Although Johnson's qualifying position of No. 20 isn't ideal, he has won this race three times and knows how to find his way to the front. He'll have a bit more work to do than some of the other top contenders, but he is clearly capable of taking the checkered flag for a third consecutive week.
No regular Sprint Cup driver has more experience at Pocono Raceway than Jeff Gordon, and it can be argued that nobody has had more success either. In 42 career Pocono starts, Gordon has six victories and 29 top-10 finishes. Those statistics alone are enough to consider him a contender to enter victory lane, but there are other factors working in his favor as well.
Gordon turned in his best qualifying showing of the season thus far and will start in the fifth position as a result. He is also enjoying a spectacular year overall as he is second in the points standings and has a win to boot. That win will allow Gordon to take some chances since he doesn't necessarily have to worry about grinding out a top 10.
One thing to keep an eye on is the manner in which a track alteration might impact Gordon. He knows Pocono like the back of his hand, so a change could prove troublesome. However, Gordon isn't worried about the elimination of the tunnel turn curb, according to Jerry Bonkowski of NBC Sports' Motor Sports Talk.
I don't think the track has changed—it's just the curb I believe has been removed from Turn 2 and the access road is now like a normal apron. I think visually it's going to take some getting used to. We used that curb as a real focal point and, now that it's gone, what you used to get through that corner will be different.
Gordon has made adjustments and thrived throughout his career, so the absence of the curb shouldn't prevent him from making a run and potentially winning this race.
Since so many top drivers on the Sprint Cup circuit have never won at Pocono, it speaks to the fact that it is a difficult track to conquer. With that said, there are several drivers who have figured it out and triumphed on multiple occasions.
In addition to the previously mentioned drivers, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne have all won at Pocono twice.
Busch is particularly interesting because he is currently in Chase position thanks to a victory, but he hasn't had a particularly fruitful season overall. He will start second at Pocono on Sunday and could put himself in ideal position with another win despite his recent struggles.
Kasey Kahne is another potential dark horse since he will start 27th. Kahne hasn't qualified well all year long, but his results have been improving as of late. He desperately needs a victory in order to punch his ticket to the Chase and he has plenty of winning experience at Pocono.
Also, Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have each won this race once. They will start No. 3 and No. 7 respectively, so they figure to be in the mix as long as they can avoid trouble.
A large contingent of drivers have a legitimate shot at crossing the finish line first, but based on his resume at Pocono and the fact that he is starting from the pole, Hamlin is very much the odds-on favorite and should come out on top.
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