Dustin Off the Next Race: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono

Dustin ParksAnalyst IJuly 30, 2010

LONG POND, PA - AUGUST 03:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Federal Express Toyota, comes to the finish line to take the checkered flag from NASCAR flagman Rick Monroe as he took victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at the Pocono Raceway on August 3, 2009 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Many tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit have two races on the schedule. But, the Pocono Raceway has the shortest gap between their two races.

It was only eight weeks ago that NASCAR was at my home track and had to battle track conditions and mother nature. It's only a two month difference, but the spring and summer races at this track are completely different.

In June, the track is cooler and often run under cloud cover, meaning more horsepower and the cars stick to the track better.

Now, the track has seen some of the most intense summer heat that Pennsylvania has seen in years. Weeks of high 80's and low 90's temperatures have made the track extremely sticky. Grip will be a premium when the cars take the track, but horsepower and fuel mileage will win the race.

So, time to dust off Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. Here's who I'm keeping my eye on when the green flag waves.



Denny Hamlin

Look at the facts. Right now, the best car at Pocono Raceway is the No. 11 FedEx Toyota. Hamlin's average finish is 8.6, but there are some reasons for that.

In nine races, Hamlin only has two finishes outside the top-10, one of which came last year when his fuel pump failed on the first lap. Take away those races, the lowest finishing position he has is sixth. He has four wins and two other top-fives at Pocono. His average finish of all those races: 2.3.

The only way any other driver will get to victory lane at this track is if Hamlin has problems, gets caught up in a wreck, or fails to start. Otherwise, Hamlin will have a 50 percent win rate at Pocono.


Jeff Gordon

He's not an underdog when it comes to this track. Gordon is extremely good at Pocono. He got his fourth win at this track in 2007, although Mother Nature had a huge part in that win.

But, with 16 top-fives and 24 top-10's as well, he is extremely capable of getting the job done.

At the same time, he's trying to rebound from a very sub-par performance at Indianapolis, a track he's usually good at. It's another 2.5-mile speedway this week, but I'm sure the DuPont team brought a different car for this race.

Gordon needs and deserves a win, maybe the Tricky Triangle will be the track where he finally gets it done.


Tony Stewart

Gordon is hungry for a win, but so is Stewart. This time last year, he was on top of the world as he was the points leader and was the surprise of the year with his new team.

This year, it is a different story. Stewart-Haas Racing did get to victory lane, but it was Ryan Newman getting the checkered flag.

Stewart has not seen victory lane since Kansas last fall, and only has five top-fives and 10 top-10's this season. That's not to say he hasn't been trying, he's just not been able to put a full race together.

With two wins, eight top-fives and 17 top-10's at this track, Stewart is a contender. If he wants to get a win, he will need to get his swagger going.



Carl Edwards

It seems an eternity ago that this man went to victory lane. In fact, it's almost two seasons.

When Edwards last won a race, he was in a championship battle with Jimmie Johnson in 2008. He took the victory at Homestead, while Johnson celebrated his third straight title.

But, Pocono has been a good track for Edwards since he entered Cup competition. He has two wins here, most recently in 2007, and averages a 13th-place finish.

With his owner Jack Roush recovering from injuries in a plane crash, a win would be the best medicine for the entire Roush-Fenway organization.


Kurt Busch

One driver I am surprised has not been up front as much recently is the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. After having a lot of momentum following his sweep at Charlotte, Busch has not seen victory lane.

However, Pocono has historically been a good track for him. Busch has two wins, seven top-fives and ten top-10's at Pocono. He only averages a 15th-place finish, but this year he has been great on the high-speed tracks.

I don't expect that to change, so watch out for the "Vortex" to go to the front come Sunday.


ESPN has flag-to-flag coverage with Marty Reid, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett calling the action. Coverage begins at 12 Noon ET with NASCAR Countdown, hosted by Alan Bestwick, Rusty Wallace, Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham.

The race will go green shortly after 1 p.m.