NASCAR Sprint Cup: Complete Preview, Prediction for Windows 10 400 at Pocono

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2015

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Complete Preview, Prediction for Windows 10 400 at Pocono

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Whether you’re a fan of his or not, you’re witnessing history as Kyle Busch continues his outstanding run.

    The younger Busch brother has won the last three Sprint Cup races and four of the last five.

    He’s only 28 points out of 30th place in the Sprint Cup standings—the cutoff point he needs to surpass to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    That’s an outstanding achievement, given the fact he’s made up an almost unheard of 150 points in the standings in the last five races.

    And he’s done it primarily by doing the ONLY thing he needs to do to reach the top 30, namely win, win, win and win.

    Given what Busch has done in the last five races, it would not be surprising to see him continue his outstanding run in Sunday’s Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway.

    And if he wins yet again, it’ll just be another page in NASCAR history that we might not see again in our lifetime.

By the Numbers: Pocono Raceway

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    Jeff Gordon has the most wins of any driver at Pocono (six).
    Jeff Gordon has the most wins of any driver at Pocono (six).Associated Press

    Windows 10 400

    Race Information

    Place: Pocono Raceway

    Date: Sunday, August 2

    Time: 1:30 p.m. (ET)

    TV: NBCSN, 1 p.m. (ET)

    Radio: Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

    Distance: 160 laps, 400 miles (2.5-mile tri-oval)

    Defending winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    Youngest winner: Joey Logano on June 10, 2012 (22 years, 0 months, 17 days)

    Oldest winner: Harry Gant on June 17, 1990 (50 years, five months, seven days)

    Youngest pole winner: Joey Logano on August 7, 2011 (21 years, two months, 14 days)

    Oldest pole winner: David Pearson on June 10, 1984 (49 years, five months, 19 days)

    Most wins: Jeff Gordon (six)

    Most poles: Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader (five each)

    Most top fives: Mark Martin (20)

    Most top 10s: Mark Martin (34)

    Lead lap finishes: Mark Martin (45)

    Laps completed: Terry Labonte (9,884)

    Laps led: Jeff Gordon (1,038)

    Most race starts at Pocono: Ricky Rudd (55)

    Race record: Jeff Gordon 145.384 mph (June 12, 2011)

    Qualifying record: Kyle Larson 183.438 mph (August 3, 2014)

    Best average start (active): Denny Hamlin (6.632)

    Best average finish (active): Jimmie Johnson (9,630)

    Track Notes

    • Total number of races at Pocono to date: 75
    • Total number of different pole winners in Pocono history: 40
    • Races won from pole: 15
    • Last race won from pole: Jimmie Johnson (06/09/2013)
    • Number of race winners at Pocono: 33
    • Most DNFs: Joe Nemechek (20)
    • Fewest DNFs: Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. (0 in 19 starts each)

    Statistical information provided by NASCAR Media Relations.

Key Storylines:

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    Martin Truex Jr. won June's race at Pocono. Can he double-up on Sunday?
    Martin Truex Jr. won June's race at Pocono. Can he double-up on Sunday?Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    Can Kyle Busch do it again

    Kyle Busch goes for his fourth consecutive win and fifth in the last six races on Sunday. What has been most impressive is not the number of races he’s won in the last five starts, but rather HOW he’s won.

    He’s captured victories at different types of tracks: a road course (Sonoma), a 1.5-mile track (Kentucky), a flat one-mile short track (New Hampshire) and a massive 2.5-mile track (Indianapolis). Pocono is the same length as Indy, but it's a tri-oval rather than a four-corner oval. Can Busch do it again?

    Can Martin Truex do it again

    Truex won at Pocono last month, all but assuring his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But shortly after that win, he went into a four-race slump before rebounding and finishing fourth this past Sunday at Indianapolis. Is Truex back from his slump? How he finishes Sunday will go a long way toward determining that.

    Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. relive some of last year’s success

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. won both Sprint Cup races at Pocono last season. Of course, he did so with now-former crew chief Steve Letarte. Those two wins were significant pieces of the puzzle that got Earnhardt into last year’s Chase. He obviously knows how to win at the so-called Tricky Triangle. Can he do it again?

    How does Jeff Gordon bounce back

    Just like the big emotional downturn Jeff Gordon suffered on his home turf at Sonoma last month, he suffered a similar fate—actually worse—when he was caught up in Clint Bowyer’s spin this past Sunday at the Brickyard 400. It was a sad end to Gordon’s career at Indy: He won the first-ever Brickyard 400 in 1994, yet he finished 42nd in his last race there.

    Gordon will likely still make the Chase via points, but are we at the point where we start wondering if perhaps he may never win another Sprint Cup race in the 16 races remaining in his career? Granted, he leads all drivers with six wins at Pocono. Will he finally break through in 2015 at the Tricky Triangle?

    Whatever happened to Denny Hamlin

    Sure, Denny Hamlin has qualified for this year’s Chase with one win thus far, but there was a point not too long ago that Pocono was one of Hamlin’s most successful tracks. In fact, he’s a four-time winner there, but he hasn’t won since June 2010—more than five years ago.

    Given that Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch has been getting so much attention over the last five weeks, maybe Hamlin can steal some attention away from Busch and for himself this Sunday.

Drivers to Watch:

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    Pocono is one of Jimmie Johnson's better race tracks.
    Pocono is one of Jimmie Johnson's better race tracks.Associated Press

    Kevin Harvick

    Harvick almost pulled off a win at Indianapolis this past Sunday, but Kyle Busch had the better car, along with runner-up Joey Logano. As we come into Pocono, surprisingly, Harvick has never won a Sprint Cup race at the Tricky Triangle. But he still has a decent overall record with seven top-five and four other top-10 finishes in 29 career starts.

    With six races remaining before the start of the Chase, Harvick is still No. 1 in the point standings, but unless he starts winning a few more races between now and the Chase opener, his points lead for much of this season up to this point will be for naught once the points are reseeded prior to the start of the Chase.

    Joey Logano

    Pocono is one of Logano’s favorite tracks, and he’s had decent success there—13 starts, one win, three top-five, five top-10 finishes and two poles. He’s finished third and fourth in his last two races there. Given that he hasn’t won another race since the season opener at Daytona, Pocono would be a perfect venue for Logano to earn his second win of the season.

    Kurt Busch

    Pocono is a combination of a superspeedway and road course, and Kurt Busch is one of the few drivers who has shown consistent excellence there. Busch will make his 29th career start there on Sunday and has a rather impressive record—two wins, 12 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes, along with two poles.

    The elder Busch brother has been kind of quiet of late—much of that due to younger brother Kyle’s success. Pocono would be a great place for Kurt to strut his stuff and get some attention, as well.

    Brad Keselowski

    Much like Kurt Busch and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski hasn’t been heard from much of late. He has just one win this season and has struggled to just three other top-five finishes. This is in stark contrast to last season, when he led the Sprint Cup Series with six wins, 17 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes. Keselowski needs to start building momentum heading into the Chase, and Pocono would be a great place for him to begin just that.

    Jimmie Johnson

    How can you not include the six-time Sprint Cup champion in an analysis of Pocono Raceway, which has been one of Johnson’s favorite—and most productive—race tracks. Johnson is about as close to a sure thing to do well at Pocono as any other driver.

    In 27 starts there, Johnson has three wins, 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes, along with three poles. Even though he leads all drivers with four wins this season, another win can’t hurt as Johnson builds toward being on top of the Sprint Cup standings once they’re reset for the Chase.

Favorites

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    Dale Earnhardt Jr. won both races at Pocono last season.
    Dale Earnhardt Jr. won both races at Pocono last season.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Kyle Busch

    How can you pick against a guy who has won the last three races and three of the last four? Simply put, you can’t. Even if Busch doesn’t extend his winning streak, as long as he gets a top five, he’ll still remain in the hunt to make the top 30 and qualify for the Chase.

    Martin Truex Jr.

    Much like his former teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., did last season, there’s a very strong likelihood that Martin Truex Jr. can also win two races in the same season at Pocono. He likes the track, although it hasn’t necessarily liked him back over the years.

    Consider that in 19 career starts at Pocono, Truex has just the one win, three top-five and a total of just seven top-10 finishes. But if he won in June, there’s no reason why he can’t win again in early August.

    Jeff Gordon

    Sometimes, you just have to keep playing the same hand you’ve been dealt and hope for the best, and that’s the way I feel about Jeff Gordon. Sooner or later, I think Gordon will reach Victory Lane.

    While he only has 16 races left to do so, admittedly, with each missed opportunity, that’s one race closer to Gordon going winless through his final Sprint Cup season. And with a record six wins at Pocono, if there’s any place that he can finally break through at for a win, it’s the Tricky Triangle.

    Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    Anybody who can win two races in the same season has an automatic berth as a favorite the following season in my book. Earnhardt has once again had a good season in 2015—perhaps not quite as good as 2014, but still decent nonetheless.

    However, if Earnhardt is to have a legitimate chance at his first career Sprint Cup championship, he has to do much better than just decent. A win at Pocono would be a good first step.

    Denny Hamlin

    It’s been more than five years since Hamlin won at Pocono, previously considered arguably his best-performing track. Hamlin has had a good season to date, but he could be better, especially in the win column, where he has just one thus far. Can he make it two and return to his previous success at Pocono on Sunday?

Dark-Horse Pick:

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    R Brent Smith/Associated Press

    Tony Stewart

    Tony Stewart has an excellent record at Pocono. In 33 starts to date, he has two wins, 12 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes, along with two poles.

    Yes, Stewart has had the worst season of his Sprint Cup career thus far in 2015. But I liked some of the things I saw from this past weekend at Indianapolis, including qualifying a season-best fourth.

    While he didn’t finish very well at race’s end, he still showed some signs of promise that potentially may be delivered at Pocono.

    It just takes one good race finish, and Stewart could do a complete turnaround on his season, just in time for the Chase.

And the Winner Is: Jeff Gordon

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    R Brent Smith/Associated Press

    While I really considered picking Kyle Busch to win his fourth Sprint Cup race in a row, It has gotten to the point where Jeff Gordon needs to muscle his way through like he did in his vintage racing days and show everyone he can still win a race.

    And he couldn’t pick a better track to do that than Pocono, since he has the most wins of any driver there.

    Even if it’s a rain-shortened win, like he experienced there a few years back, a win will be a win for Gordon, no matter what.

    Forget about counting points or whether he’ll be one of a handful of drivers who make the Chase on points.

    Gordon needs to win just one race, and then he can race with a little less pressure and tenseness.

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