The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series goes from four turns to three as it heads to Pocono Raceway this week for the Axalta Presents the Pocono 400. Pocono is nicknamed “The Tricky Triangle “for the site’s unique 2.5-mile layout. Pocono also has that tag due to the varied banking of its three corners that are fast, but tricky to navigate. Place Differential will be challenging to gain than at other courses. Most drivers run at similar speeds at this track.
TOP PRICED PICKS
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,300) has led 871 Laps this season, the most of all drivers. In 22 starts at Pocono, Truex has one win and seven Top 10 finishes. In his last four starts at the site, Truex has 72 of the Fastest Laps and 119 Laps Led, which are second of active drivers, and is 11th in Driver Rating at 93.9. Truex starts second and was 15th in final practice. Truex has not been outstanding enough in practices, and as the most expensive driver this week, you can find better options with more cap flexibility.
Brad Keselowski ($10,100) has finished inside the Top 3 in the last three Pocono races. In 14 races at the site, Keselowski has one win, seven Top 10 finishes, and an Average Finishing Position of 11.2, which is fourth of active drivers. In the past four Pocono races, Keselowski has the eighth-best Average Running Position of 12.3, the seventh-most Laps in the Top 15 with 440, and the seventh-best DR of 98.9. Keselowski starts sixth and was second fastest in final practice. Keselowski has a car that will finish in the Top 5, making him worth his expensive salary.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,000) is looking for his 84th career victory to tie Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for fourth on the all-time wins list. In 30 starts at Dover, Johnson has three victories, 19 Top 10 finishes, and 734 Laps Led, the most of active drivers. In his last four starts at the site, Johnson has the ninth-best ARP of 13.1, the fifth-most Green Flag Passes with 318, and a DR of 94.5, which is 10th. Johnson starts 19th and was eighth in final practice. Johnson will not get his 84th career victory this week, but will earn a strong finish.
Kyle Larson ($9,900) registered his sixth Top 2 finish of the season last week at Dover. In six starts at Pocono, Larson has three Top 10 finishes and an AFP of 8.8, which is the best of active drivers. In his last four starts at Pocono, Larson has the sixth-best ARP of 11.3, 79.9% Laps in the Top 15, which is fourth-best, and the eighth-best DR of 95.6. Larson starts seventh and was third in final practice. Larson has been one of the fastest across all tracks this season. He will compete for the win and lead a good number of laps.
Pocono is one of two tracks where Kyle Busch ($9,700) has never won in the Cup Series. Pocono also is the only track where Kyle Busch has led less than 100 Laps in his entire career. In 24 starts at PR, Kyle Busch has nine Top 10 finishes. In his last four starts at the site, Kyle Busch has the second-best ARP of 9.5, the most Laps in the Top 15 at 523, the second most Quality Passes (passes of cars inside the Top 15 under green flag conditions) with 132, and the ninth-best DR of 95.3. Kyle Busch starts on the pole and was fastest in final practice. Based on practice speeds, he will finish in the Top 3 and may lead a significant amount of laps.
Kevin Harvick ($9,600) has finished in the Top 5 four times in the last five Pocono races. In 32 starts at the site, Harvick has 13 Top 10 finishes. In his last four starts at Pocono, Harvick has led the third most Laps, with 58. He has 99 of the Fastest Laps, the most of active drivers, and the sixth-best DR of 102.0. Harvick starts 12th and was fifth in final practice. Based on the practice speeds, Harvick will net a Top 5 finish.
Chase Elliott ($9,300) will be making his third start at Pocono. In two starts at the site, Elliott has the third-best ARP of 10.0, 84.6% Laps in the Top 15, which is second-best, and a DR of 102.7. Elliott starts 25th and was fourth in final practice. Elliott is one of the best plays and one of the few drivers that will earn plenty of points based on PD.
Matt Kenseth ($9,000) is looking for his first win of the season. Don’t count on him winning this week, but expect him to be a solid fantasy value. In 34 starts at Pocono, Kenseth has one win and 13 Top 10 finishes. In his last four starts at the track, Kenseth has the third-best AFP of 7.8, the best ARP of 9.2, the most Laps in the Top 15 at 525, and the second-best DR of 105.6. Kenseth starts third and was 11th in final practice. Expect Kenseth to remain in the Top 5 by the end of the race.
MID-RANGE PRICED PICKS
Clint Bowyer ($8,800) had his second finish outside the Top 15 last week at Dover. Bowyer has only achieved two Top 5 finishes in 22 starts at Pocono. Bowyer is not going to score a Top 5 this week but he will be a favorable fantasy play regardless. Bowyer starts 20th and was 12th in final practice. Bowyer’s practice speeds are indicative of a finish close to the Top 10, which allows him to gain some points based on PD.
Pocono is one of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s (8,500) more favorable race tracks. Earnhardt swept both Cup races at Pocono in 2014 and should be a good pick for PD for this week. In 34 starts at the track, Earnhardt has two wins, 15 Top 10 finishes, and 182 Laps Led, which is seventh of active drivers. Since 2015, Earnhardt has the best AFP of 5.7, the seventh best ARP of 11.6, and the fifth-best DR of 102.1. Earnhardt starts 28th and will move to the rear of the field after changing engines following first practice. This move will not affect him that much, as he has displayed speeds that are better than his starting position in pre-race events.
Kurt Busch ($8,200) won this race last year. In 31 Pocono starts, Kurt Busch has three wins, 18 Top 10 finishes, and 538 Laps Led, which is third of active drivers. In his last four Pocono starts, Kurt Busch has the 10th best ARP of 13.3, the eighth-best AFP of 13.2, the eighth-most Laps in the Top 15 at 436, and the third-best DR of 104.5. Kurt Busch starts fifth and had the second-best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. Kurt Busch is very likely to stay around his starting position for most of the race, making him a very favorable pick around this range.
Jamie McMurray ($8,100) has never finished inside the Top 5 at Pocono. McMurray will not change that outlook this week but will easily deliver a Top 10 finish. McMurray has finished 12th or better in the last seven races this season. McMurray starts eighth and had the fourth-best 10 Consecutive Lap Average during final practice. Look for McMurray to stay around his starting position for most of the race, making him one of the better choices in this price range.
Ryan Newman ($7,600) is one of the best picks in the $7,000 plus range. In four of his last six races at Pocono, Newman has finished 12th or better. Newman starts 14th and was seventh in final practice. Newman’s practice speeds show that he will finish ahead of his starting position, making him a very good choice.
Ty Dillon ($6,800) starts 27th and is one of a few bargain drivers to have practice speeds that indicate he can improve from his starting position. In two starts at Pocono, Dillon has finished ahead of his starting position and has one Top 20 finish. Dillon has finished in the Top 15 in three of the last four races this season, so look for him to be a nice value play this week.
Paul Menard ($6,400) was 16th in final practice, faster than most of the other drivers in the $6,000 plus range. In 20 starts at Pocono, Menard has seven Top 20 finishes. Menard starts 13th so it’s likely that he will drop back a few spots, but he can still have more points than most drivers in his salary range.
TOP DRIVERS IN EACH PRICE RANGE FOR AXALTA PRESENTS THE POCONO 400 – BASED ON COMBINATION OF PROJECTED PERFORMANCE AND VALUE
$10,000 – Plus Range
1: Jimmie Johnson ($10,000) – Johnson is the cheapest driver in this range and starts the furthest back compared to other drivers in this tier. He should easily move up into the Top 10 from 19th and earn some PD points.
2: Brad Keselowski ($10,100) – Keselowski has looked very fast in practice to the point where he will easily finish in the Top 5.
3: Martin Truex Jr. ($10,300) – Truex had the slowest practice speeds of the three drivers in this range. He will very likely to drop back from his starting position.
$9,000 – Plus Range
1: Chase Elliott ($9,300) – Elliott delivered Top 5 speeds throughout the most recent practice and starts 25th. He will gain a lot of points from PD.
2: Kevin Harvick ($9,600) – Harvick has produced Top 5 speeds throughout all pre-race events. He will score a strong finish and some points from PD as well.
3: Kyle Larson ($9,900) – Larson has displayed Top 3 speeds throughout all practice sessions. He will move ahead of his starting position of seventh and compete for the win.
$8,000 – Plus Range
1: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,500) – Based on practice speeds, Earnhardt will very likely gain a high amount of points through PD.
2: Clint Bowyer ($8,800) – Through pre-race events, Bowyer has showcased the speeds of a car that will finish just outside the Top 10.
3: Kurt Busch ($8,200) – Kurt Busch starts fifth and will remain around his starting position for the whole race.
$7,000 – Plus Range
1: Ryan Newman ($7,600) – Newman starts 14th but has demonstrated the speeds indicative of a Top 10 finish. He will be a solid play that will gain a nice amount of points based on PD.
2: Kasey Kahne ($7,700) – Kahne starts 26th and was ninth in final practice. He will gain a decent amount of points based on PD, but won’t finish as high as Newman.
3: Austin Dillon ($7,500) – Austin Dillon starts 17th and has demonstrated speeds around his starting position in pre-race events. He will finish around his starting position.
Below $7,000 Range
1: Ty Dillon ($6,800) – Ty Dillon will finish ahead of his starting position of 27th and gain a fair amount of points based on PD.
2: Paul Menard ($6,400) – Menard has finished 15th or better in two of the last four races this season. He will drop back from his 13th starting position a little bit, but still earn more points than other drivers in this value range through his finishing position.
3: Darrell Wallace Jr. ($6,200) – Wallace will be making his Cup debut at this week’s race at Pocono, where he starts 18th. The No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team has finished in the Top 15 four times this season. Wallace has achieved practice speeds that point to a Top 20 finish.