So, here we are kicking off the second half of the NASCAR regular season, and the month of June. Once again, it is time for the tricky triangle of Pocono Raceway. Pocono is a three turn, 2.5 mile flat track in the middle of the beautiful Poconos of Pennsylvania. Racing aside, this track always takes the best pictures with the mountains surrounding the area. And as of late, the racing has been more exciting as well. Don’t tell the France family, but I actually think NASCAR got it right when they shortened the events from 500 to 400 miles a few years ago…Now I know what you’re thinking. “Richard, you constantly complain that the races are too short, and they are taking exciting laps away from the fans, and ruining the overall product by making the races a 2.5-3 hour affair instead of the all-day marathons they used to be.” And, you are correct. That is me every week. Except here. And there is a very complex and good reason for that.
Over the years, the racing here has been boring at best, and nap inducing at its worst. If you want to sleep with a race in the background, this track almost always worked. I can think of many exciting moments that have happened here, but they are just moments, in a four hour afternoon. I think back to this exciting finish. I think to the race where this happened. and I think of some very hard crashes, some career ending. But for all that, the track is wide enough for side-by-side-by-side racing, but it almost never happens for long. The better cars with the best set-ups, and best pit strategy pull away, and dominate these events. For instance, in that 1995 race where Jeff missed the shift, Those were the most competitive five laps of the entire race, and if not for that restart, no one had anything for the 24.
Again, that is not to say, that we can’t have a barn burner today, but history is not on our side. That being said, I love to pull for the underdog, so I will go in, beverage in hand to undertake this endeavor with narrowed eyes, and the intensity of a champion… Or I will just watch the race on what looks like it is shaping up to be a soggy Sunday afternoon here in Indiana. So here is some stuff to know for today.
31 drivers have found their way to Pocono’s victory lane in NASCAR’S top series. Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with six wins here. Oddly enough, he also leads all active drivers with six runner-up finishes as well. Jeff leads all active drivers in top-fives (19), and top-tens (29). So naturally, he does NOT lead all active drivers in average finish. Jimmie Johnson holds that distinction with an 8.83. Six drivers have won consecutive races here. Most recently, it was Denny Hamlin who pulled the season sweep in his rookie year of 2006. Hamlin also leads all drivers with a 6.5 average start here. BTW, Hamlin is your polesitter. Joe Nemecheck leads all active drivers in trips to Pocono without taking the trophy home with 38 races here. The stat becomes very interesting when you see that the next two are tied at 28. Neither Dale Earnhardt Jr., or Matt Kenseth have won here. That may be about to change today…(a little foreshadowing if you will)
15 of the previous 72 Cup races here have been won from the pole. (20.8%) 24 have been won from the front row. (33.3%) That is good news for Hamlin and Kurt Busch. 50 have been won from a top-ten starting position. Once again, the good cars start up front, and pull away. Only five times has a winner started outside the top-20, and found his way to the winner’s circle. So naturally, I am going to pick a driver who is starting in the 26th position. He has historically struggled here, but I am going with Matt Kenseth to pick up his first career Pocono win. As far as a dark horse goes, how about Jamie McMurray. He has been running a lot better lately. He has never been particularly strong here, but this season just seems to be shining on him. He won the All-Star race a few weeks back, and ran 5th in the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend. A 13th place finish last week isn’t indicative of where he was running in the late stages. This team is turning the corner to make a run at the Chase this season. With the new format, some wily pit strategy late in one of these races can get him a victory and ensure his post-season berth.
Speaking of ensuring his post-season berth, how about that Jimmie Johnson? It wasn’t three full weeks ago, we were all wondering what was wrong with six-time. “Oh Lawdy, could the team turn it around in time for the chase?” Now, I literally heard someone last night complain that he is winning everything. It has just been two races people! And both of them were at tracks he has dominated over his career. I have to laugh. There is definitely a bi-polar reaction to the most successful driver in this generation of NASCAR racing.
The MRN broadcast begins at Noon. Tune into 100.3 FM if you live in the Central Indiana area, or visit www.korncountry.com to listen live to the Pennsylvania 400. Join my Facebook group to talk racing at For The Love Of Racing.