Who says race car drivers aren’t talented? Instead of going in circles this weekend, the Sprint Cup Series will be making triangles as they visit the Pocono Raceway in Pocono, PA. Three corners that are completely different from each other will make for a weekend of teams stuck comprising where they want to be the best.
Tony Stewart returns to the track as the defending winner, when he had just enough fuel to win for the first time as an owner/driver in a point race. After 13 races of the 2010 season, Stewart is still winless and sitting outside the Chase. The Stewart-Haas organization does have a win, courtesy of Ryan Newman at Phoenix, but as a whole the performance is off from last season.
Will a little magic be able to rub off on Stewart and help turn his season around? If not, there are two other drivers that are ready to take advantage.
Both Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin have won at Pocono in the past and are two of the hottest drivers currently on the circuit.
Busch swept the May races in Charlotte, while Hamlin is the last driver not named Busch to win a NSCS race. The two are in prime position to challenge Jimmie Johnson for the title when the Chase starts and, right now, they’re grabbing every bonus point they can. Busch is a two-time winner, while Hamlin swept the races at the track in 2006 as a rookie and then won last August.
Waiting to strike if these two let their guard down are Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, and even Martin Truex Jr. The last few weeks these drivers have each flexed their muscles and are ready to go back to Victory Lane. Pocono may not be the best track for any of them, but the 2010 season has been full of surprises thus far.
Surprising for our Creatures was the fact that none of them picked Busch last weekend in Charlotte even though he’s been the king of mile and a half tracks. Will they redeem themselves this weekend and pick the former triangle tamer?
Here’s whom they believe will be the first to the checkered flag in the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500, presented by Target.
Misan Akuya: Denny Hamlin
In eight starts at Pocono, Denny Hamlin has an average finish of ninth, three wins, five top fives, six top 10s, and 391 laps led. He already has three wins this season; a fourth wouldn't hurt.
James Broomhead: Denny Hamlin
Few things in NASCAR come anywhere near no-brainer status but picking Hamlin for Pocono would be one of them. End of discussion: turn the light off, close the door.
Kelly Crandall: Denny Hamlin
Besides Kurt Bush, Hamlin has to be one of the hottest drivers on the circuit and his continuing advance in the point standing. Hamlin has three wins at Pocono, won one of the races here last season, and hasn’t seemed to stumble yet this season and I don’t believe that will happen at one of his best tracks.
Billy Fellin: Tony Stewart
He has struggled as of late, but he won at Pocono last year and has finished in the top ten there in six of the last seven races. I'll take Smoke at Pocono this weekend.
Adam Heasley: NO PICK SENT
No pick sent.
Christopher Leone: Denny Hamlin
My personal No. 1 pick is Denny Hamlin , because there is almost no logical, feasible reason not to pick him if the rules of your game allow it. Hamlin’s been on fire as of late on the Sprint Cup circuit, having completed every lap since Texas and accruing two wins and four top fives in that span.
Hamlin also has three wins at Pocono in eight starts, putting him behind only Jeff Gordon for most of full-time drivers, and far and away giving him the best winning percentage.
Kara Martin: Kurt Busch
I hope this doesn't bite me in the butt for not picking one of the more obvious choices, but he is on such a hot streak right now and has performed well at Pocono in the past, I just had to go with him as my pick. It may be the only time in history that I will enjoy seeing him do his ridiculous reverse victory lap!
Dustin Parks: Denny Hamlin
Any driver that can sweep both races at a track he has never seen or raced at is definitely someone I have to believe is going to be good. Plus, he's the driver with momentum right now. Yes, Kurt Busch swept the last two weeks at Charlotte, but overall the team with momentum is the No. 11 FedEx group.
The entire Joe Gibbs organization is picking up momentum at many of the larger tracks. Their mile to mile and a half programs are awesome, and their short track program is excellent. I believe the larger tracks are the last piece of the puzzle to make them a full-fledged championship team, and Hamlin is the guy to do it.
I have to pick that FedEx Toyota.
Patti Rodisch: Tony Stewart
With the way Tony Stewart’s season has gone so far, Pocono might not have come at a better time. The defending race winner is looking to get back on track in the points, where he sits 16th, as well as on the track. Their lack of speed has been well-documented, but I think this weekend Stewart gets going on his usual summer streak.
His numbers are pretty good with an average finish of 12.3 and two wins under his belt. Stewart has seven top fives and 16 top tens. Last June, he came from the back of the field to win the race on fuel mileage. Time for Stewart to get back into form and Sunday is the perfect place for him to do so.
Sal Sigala Jr.: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin won here last season and this is also the track where he picked up his first ever Cup series win back in 2005. Hamlin has been having a good season, and the affects of his ACL surgery don’t seem to be hampering his driving.
Rob Tiongson: Kurt Busch
I have to go with the hot shoe here and he's a man on a mission. He's been somewhat overshadowed by his younger brother in the past few years, and we all know Kurt is capable of being a champion again. In order to do that, he's had to put up consistent, strong runs with victories and by golly, he's done just that. Charlotte got a new owner, and he's the guy driving the blue deuce.
Now we're heading to Pocono, and one thing we all know about Penske's ventures in any racing series is that his teams have a ton of horsepower. This track demands for such a quality to compete for the win, and it would not surprise me if Kurt Busch puts together another impressive performance, landing the Miller Lite Dodge into Victory Lane for the third time in 2010.
Alan Wade: Jeff Gordon
Winless at Pocono since 2007, I think Gordon finally breaks through with a victory this weekend.
David Yeazell: NO PICK SENT
No pick sent.
Billy Fellin (1,813 ) Kasey Kahne finished 12th (3 )
Kara Martin (1,803 ) Jimmie Johnson finished 37th (2 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (1,682 ) Jimmie Johnson finished 37th (0 )
Kelly Crandall (1,653 ) Jimmie Johnson finished 37th (1 )
Dustin Parks (1,644 ) Jimmie Johnson finished 37th (1 )
James Broomhead (1,639 ) Kyle Busch finished third (1 )
Rob Tiongson (1,633 ) Jeff Gordon finished sixth (0 )
Christopher Leone (1,559 ) Jimmie Johnson finished 37th (2 )
Patti Rodisch (1,549 ) Kasey Kahne finished 12th (0 )
David Yeazell (1,540 ) Jimmie Johnson finished 37th (0 )
Misan Akuya (1,500 ) Tony Stewart finished 15th (0 )
Adam Healsey (962 ) Kyle Busch finished third (0 )
Alan Wade (99 ) Martin Truex Jr. finished 23rd (0 )
Qualifying will be important at Pocono this weekend. In the last two Sprint Cup Series races at the triangle, only twice has a driver that started outside the top 20 won the race. Of those, 13 winners came from inside the top ten and seven were the pole winner, and three times it’s been the outside polesitter.
The make and model of your race car won’t matter, as Pocono doesn’t discriminate. Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, and Toyota have all won over the last few years. Instead, it’s going to come down to teams that start up front, get their car to perform well in each corner, and they just might have to have the best fuel mileage.
Summary of Picks
Denny Hamlin – 6
Kurt Busch – 2
Tony Stewart – 2
Jeff Gordon – 1