NASCAR Pocono Mountains 125: 10 Drivers Guaranteed To Be in the Mix
It's like Paul Revere's ride through present-day Somerville, Medford, and Arlington shouting the Regulars are coming.
Or the Earp Brothers and Clanton-McLaury gang shoot-out at the O.K. Corral.
For 10 months now, we've known that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was coming to Pocono Raceway and we're about to see some history made.
It's been highly anticipated, since finally the series will have run at every current NASCAR Sprint Cup track.
Pocono at 2.5 miles will be the second-largest track that the trucks race on, joining Daytona in size and standing second to Talladega.
NASCAR has made this race exciting for fans.
Since they'll do it shoot-out style, those rough and tough trucks will race it out for 50 laps, and don't hold your breath that they'll be playing nice.
Then add in the multi-truck qualifying that they'll run, and it sure sounds to me that Pocono has finally been tamed.
The best pre-race quote I saw was this line from Ron Hornaday. "I know that going down in to turn one you better have a good spot because we will probably be four or five wide."
You have some Sprint Cup ringers that some feel they just may run away with the win.
But not so fast—you've got some wily old veterans in the trucks who still have the mojo to pull the ultimate upset.
Let's not forget some young guns just eager show everyone up for the win, and don't forget that chances are good someone will try to steal the win with making a fuel-only stop or not pitting at all.
Now before I start with my driver picks, let's take a quick look at Pocono Raceway itself.
Pocono Raceway at one time was known as Pocono International Raceway. It goes by the nickname "The Tricky Triangle," is considered a superspeedway, and it's 2.5 miles in length.
It's one of the few remaining independently-owned tracks that isn't part of either Speedway Motorsports, Inc. or International Speedway Corp.
The Mattioli family owns the track; they are heavily involved with various charities that support the area around the track and it is the first track to go green.
They've held Sprint Cup races since 1974 and the ARCA ReMax Series has run at the track since 1996.
At one time, the Whelan Modified Tour raced at the track, as well as open wheel races with CART/CCWS.
During the year, just about every weekend, they hold some sort of racing event at the track.
It's like Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways, where they cater to the customers and make you a lifer for flying with them.
The Mattioli's have the same approach: that every fan is important to them. They go out of their way to meet every need a fan could ever want or imagine needing.
The track has a family-friendly atmosphere, and even added some housing and a spa right across the road from the track.
They continually thrive on finding new ways to give the fans an experience they won't soon forget.
Basically, whatever fans want, they'll get, if the track feels it's something worthy and other fans will likewise enjoy.
I've heard you'll go once, but find yourself coming back yearly for both races.
While many tracks in NASCAR are suffering, they are faring better and managed to sell well ticket-wise.
The Poconos is unique with its three different corners, and is unlike anything NASCAR races on.
Turn One is modeled after the now-defunct Trenton Speedway, and has a 14 degree banking. Turn Two is modeled after the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a nine degree banking and Turn Three after The Milwaukee Mile with a six degree banking.
Well, lets get on with the drivers.
10) Timothy Peters
Peters is my dark horse in my driver list, since at Daytona, he survived mayhem, used the draft to make the winning pass on the last lap, and he knows how to race on a superspeedway.
He also throws you a curveball. His crew chief Jeff Hensley is one that isn't afraid to gamble using pit strategy of any kind.
If they get the chance, don't be surprised to see them use some sort of pit strategy to get the lead or the win.
I used a formula with this piece where nine drivers fit into three categories and actually flipped a coin between Peters and Crafton as to who made it.
9) Elliott Sadler
Sadler has plenty of experience at Pocono, but he just might find the shoot-out more to his liking, and be upfront challenging for the win.
He will once again have a really good chassis from Kevin Harvick Inc. So don't count him out; he could quite possibly pull off the upset and surprise everyone with a win.
Sadler has run well for the Harvicks in the No. 2 Chevy, picking up a top five and two top 10 finishes.
8) Justin Lofton
Of the rookies, Lofton has had seat-time at Pocono in the ARCA ReMax Series and he has one win and two top five finishes in four races.
It certainly will help Lofton with getting around Pocono in his Tundra, and he could factor in to the win.
Lofton has shown promise, definitely has the talent, and Pocono could be the breakout race for him to break through to victory lane.
We very well could see another rookie winning for the first time in NASCAR.
Nothing is more exciting in NASCAR than seeing the young talent celebrating their first wins and Lofton has the potential to develop into a decent racer.
7) Johnny Sauter
Sauter does have some experience racing at Pocono, but he's also having a season that I couldn't overlook and could very well just outrun everyone for the win.
He also has clicked with his crew chief Joe Shear Jr., who also isn't bashful to gamble when it comes to pit strategy and very easily could put his driver in the lead.
Sauter will have another great chassis built by KHI,; he very easily will be amongst the lead pack battling for the win or already in the lead racing to the checkers.
6) Aric Almirola
Almirola will be making his debut start at Pocono, but with the year he's having, as with Sauter, you just can't ignore him or count him out of being a factor in the race's outcome.
Another positive for him is his crew chief Richie Wauters and his No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports team.
They are one of the best teams in the series. There's no doubt that pit strategy could very well play a role in who wins the race.
We could see Almirola's team get him off of pit road first, with the lead, and he's got the talent to win Saturday's shoot-out.
5) Ron Hornaday Jr.
Hornaday does have racing experience at Pocono, having run two races in 2001, for legendary A.J. Foyt.
He's probably the only one in the truck series that you can't overlook; never underestimate him or write him off.
Horn will have another of his favorite KHI chassis's No. 40; he's picked up a top five and two top 10 finishes in four races.
He's itching to pick-up a win with it, and that very easily could happen Saturday.
Horn very easily could win the shoot-out, but one interesting note—no crew chief has been announced yet for him, not that it'll be a problem for him.
4) Mike Skinner
Skinner of the Truck Series drivers has the best results at Pocono, for RCR with one pole won and four top 10 finishes.
This very well could be the race; he needs to get back to victory lane and turn his sluggish season around.
Skinner will have one of his favorite and oldest chassis this weekend, but don't write him off, since the shoot-out seems to fit his style. Don't be surprised to see him take the checkers.
3) Denny Hamlin
Pocono Raceway basically is Denny's House; he's won four times in Cup and surely many have him penciled in for winning the race.
But not me; my top three basically was decided by the quality of the team, and not necessarily based on what the drivers have done at the track.
Hamlin could very well make me eat my words, and just stink-up the shoot-out. He'll be close to the lead or leading, and no doubt he may very well win the race.
But his No. 15 team, led by crew chief Kevin "Cowboy" Starland, leaves a big question mark. When you compare them to that of his teammate, or my top two teams.
2) Kasey Kahne
I was surprised to see that Rowdy Busch was sitting this one out and would not be racing at Pocono.
I've always liked Kahne; he makes a good combination with Busch's team, and with Competition Director Rick Ren.
Kahne has won at Pocono before, but the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports will be tough to beat on pit road. Expect Kahne to be leading or battling for the lead late in the race.
While Kahne will have crew chief Eric Phillips leading the team, they just are so much better when Ren's at the track and he'll be there on Saturday.
Just expect Kahne to be one of the drivers amongst the lead pack, battling for the win in the closing laps.
1) Todd Bodine
Bodine has won a pole and picked up two top 10 finishes for Bill Elliott and Travis Carter in the Sprint Cup.
I'm picking Bodine to win, because of what he and his team have achieved on 1.5 mile or larger tracks in trucks.
From 2008 to 2009, Bodine won three straight races on superspeedways; his crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. and his No. 30 Germain team are at their best on these tracks.
I just feel Bodine is the favorite for the race, even with Kahne, Hamlin, and Sadler in the field.
If Bodine isn't already leading, he'll battle his way to the lead. Or, we very well could see his pit crew on pit road get him off in the lead and ultimately win the race.
I've always liked Pocono. I love what the Mattioli family has created, but my only whiny complaints are the races are just too long and the qualifying tends to be boring.
I'm excited by the addition of the trucks to Pocono, but maybe they have the answer to make the track more likable with the fans.
With the series' running multi-truck qualifying approach and having a 50 lap shoot-out, it certainly looks like Pocono has been tamed and it certainly has me excited about a race at the track.
It's been a while, actuall—since Bobby Labonte won at the track, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, and won three times.
Let's hope NASCAR pays attention to the Pocono Mountains 125 on Saturday.
They could implement both the multi qualifying and shoot-out to both Cup races at Pocono then have two 250 Miles/100 lap shootouts versus those long 500 mile races.
One thing is for sure, I guarantee you that I won't fall asleep on Saturday watching a race at Pocono.