The Sprint Cup Series returns to the tricky triangle of Pocono Raceway this week for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.
One of the most grueling races on the schedule, Pocono provides one of the greatest tests of endurance for any race driver, two weekends every year.
Pocono gave us with plenty of drama in its first race this year, which saw Joey Logano make some disparaging remarks about the Harvick family and Kasey Kahne nearly exit the speedway completely in his car.
It’ll be hard to top that kind of intensity this weekend, but the boys will try.
So, who looks good this weekend at Pocono?
Obviously, Denny Hamlin is the top pick, and is certainly my choice.
Hamlin’s successes at Pocono are widely known. Here they are anyway: four wins, seven top-10s, and an average finish of 8.6 in nine career starts, and tops of all active drivers. Sounds like a pretty obvious pick to me, based on his history.
My dark horse for the weekend is Jamie McMurray. Coming off a huge win in last weekend’s Brickyard 400, McMurray sports a new paint scheme this weekend, with Axe Twist coming on board to sponsor.
McMurray’s never been a great Pocono driver, with an average finish of 21.7 and only finishing in the top ten three times in 15 starts. But that’s not to say that a team that has proven its ability to win big races on big tracks can’t find a little magic this weekend.
Three more, just because:
Jimmie Johnson is the second best active Pocono driver in terms of average finish, with an astute 9.5.
Johnson led laps in four of the past five Pocono races, for an average finish of 6.8 over that span.
His only two Pocono wins came in a 2004 sweep of the track, but you can bet that a middling Indy finish will only add fuel to the fire for him to get back into the victory lane.
Tony Stewart came up with a solid top five finish at Indy last week, something he’s done at Pocono in eight out of 23 attempts.
Stewart’s first points-paying win as an owner-driver came at the track last year, and since that race, he’s also had finishes of tenth and third.
He says he’s been looking for a little more out of his team, and Pocono seems to be the place to find it: no Stewart-Haas car has ever finished outside of the top 15.
Finally, Kevin Harvick has improved over the years at Pocono, going from run-of-the-mill midpack finishes earlier in his career to a solid top-10 to 15 finisher in more recent years.
His two finishes of fourth in the past four Pocono races, including one earlier this year, are his career bests; he’ll look to improve on them this weekend.