Pocono 500 Preview - Kyle is Dominating in '08, but Pocono is Denny's Territory
He is aggressive, cocky, and extremely self confident. His driving has reminded many NASCAR fans of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in his younger years. He is to NASCAR what Ray Lewis is on the football field, what Pete Rose was on the diamond, and what I am heading for the buffet line. Yes, Todd Blackledge, I can say with very good certainty that Kyle Busch's motor never stops (those of you who are LSU fans should catch my drift on that one). And the coolest thing about Kyle Busch is that many people do not like him. I guess I am in the minority, and actually, if he did not drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, I'd probably call him every name in the book every time he runs up the back of an opponent's bumper.
Busch leads the Good Ole' Boy network into Pennsylvania this weekend for the Pocono 500, the famous super-speedway known for its long straightaways, tight turns, and unique design. It is considered a tri-oval, but it is really just a glorified triangle any geometry teacher would be proud of. The Pocono 500 also marks the end of FOX's coverage of the Sprint Cup Series and hands off to TNT for six races before ESPN and ABC take over for the final stretch and the Chase for the Cup.
Heading into this weekend, Kyle Busch, fresh off his fourth win of the season this past weekend at Dover, leads Jeff Burton by 142 points in the Sprint Cup standings. That in of itself makes him a favorite at the 2.5 mile track. In addition to his dominance 1/3 of the way into the 2008 season, Busch has one top 5 and two top 10's in six career starts at Pocono Raceway. Qualifying for the Pocono 500 will not have taken place at the time of this article's release, but Busch would most likely want to qualify in the front row, beings that 4 of the past 5 winners here have started there. The older of the Busch brothers, Kurt Busch, did it twice from the outside.
Denny Hamlin, who sits 9th in the standings and 420 points behind Busch had never even been to the Pocono Raceway before, his first start there was two years ago. Hamlin would go on to sweep both races at Pocono that season, winning both races starting from....you guessed it.... the pole position.
After a solid sophomore effort last year, Hamlin came out of the gates struggling at the beginning of the season in 2008. Whether it was a 2007 hangover, or the switch from Chevy to Toyota, Hamlin has gotten it going here lately. And Pocono could not have come at a better time for Denny Hamlin. He has finished in the top 10 in all four of his career races here and a top 5 to go along with his two wins in 2006.
So, will anyone be able to keep up with the Joe Gibbs teammates? You don't have to look very far to find it. Jeff Burton and Dale Jr. will most likely have something for the two younger guys. Burton, who looks like he could be my high school algebra teacher, has been the model of consistency over the past few years. He is not as popular as some of the other top contenders, but if you watch the running line at the top of the television screen on Sunday, Burton is usually there, typically biding his time waiting to make his move.
After being involved in the multi-car pile up last weekend, Dale Jr. will be looking to bounce back this week as well. The Mountain Dew sponsored driver, who always drives an Amp Energy car, has experienced a resurgence this season with Hendrick Motorsports. Jr., along with his Hendrick teammates, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, should run well this weekend at Pocono. Gordon and Johnson aren't dominating early on as they were last year, but they are sitting quietly in 6th and 7th place respectively in the points standings.
The super-speedways usually produce notable top finishers. I don't expect that to change this weekend. Along with Gibbs and Hendrick, the Roush racers (I already mentioned Burton) should do well. In fact, if I were to pick a dark-horseto win this weekend, it could very well be Greg Biffle. I need to also mention Tony Stewart, who has had some terrible misfortune lately.
Typically, in the summer months, "Smoke" gets things going. Pocono could be a place for him to do that. His biggest challenge will be keeping a cool head and staying in control, something he has done better this year than in year's past. One way to get it going though is to get in line with Busch and Hamlin. Can you say 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend?
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