Here's a viewer's guide for today's Pocono 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race:
Keys to Winning: Reliability and Fuel Mileage
The race may be 100 miles shorter and the asphalt might be brand new, but Pocono is still Pocono and that means high speeds and high rpms, which because of the increased speeds will put a greater strain on engines and transmissions. And don't be at all surprised if we see a replay of last weekend at Dover when four drivers exited the race with engine failures.
Along with mechanical reliability, the other two keys to winning today will be finding a compromise between what are three distinct corners and what is still essentially a one-groove racetrack and of course, as is always the case at Pocono, fuel mileage. And with long periods of green flag racing the standard rather than the exception on the triangle-shaped track, whoever can best save fuel and maximize the number of laps they can make on a tank of gas, will likely be the driver celebrating in Victory Lane later this afternoon.
Passing at a Premium
As mentioned above, because there is just one groove, passing opportunities could be limited today as there are questions as to whether drivers will be able to race side-by-side for any extended period of time. That said, after three days of testing/practice along with yesterday's ARCA race, the racing groove does appear to be getting wider, so just maybe there will be more passing than we expect? Otherwise, the majority of passing will likely occur in the pits and on restarts.
The Push to The Chase Begins Today
With this race marking the start of the second half of the regular season all one has to do is take a quick glance at the standings to see quite a few big names, who find themselves in a somewhat precarious position entering the stretch run to the Chase.
Among them is Carl Edwards, 11th overall but winless since March ‘11 and has yet to find the form which carried him to a second-place finish in points just last year; Jeff Gordon, who has fast cars but has been continually victimized by bad luck and costly mistakes; and Ryan Newman, who since winning at Martinsville has fallen off the map having finished no better than 14th in the last seven races.
- In six prior starts on the 2.5-mile track, pole-sitter Joey Logano has never finished inside the top 10 with his best result being an 11th-place finish in this race one year ago.
- Befitting because it is referred to as the "Tricky Triangle," since the track first opened its doors in 1974 only two drivers have been able to score their maiden Sprint Cup victory at Pocono. The first was Jeremy Mayfield in 1998, with the second being Denny Hamlin, who swept both races here in his rookie campaign of 2006.
- No driver in today's field has as many top fives (19) and top 10s (33) than Mark Martin, but surprisingly, the veteran driver has never won a race in 50 Pocono starts. His best finish is second, which he has done on six separate occasions.
1. Denny Hamlin
Although the track is now different it's still hard not to like the guy who has four wins in 12 and showed speed in both of Friday's practice sessions. One area of concern is if this race comes down to fuel mileage, know that fuel conservation is not an area of strength for Joe Gibbs Racing.
2. Carl Edwards
Last year's championship runner-up qualified on the outside of the front row and with two victories and having finished in the top 50 percent of the time, has a history of doing on the flat 2.5-mile track.
3. Jimmie Johnson
With wins in two of the last three races and having finished worse than 12th just once in the last nine events, no driver has been better recently than Jimmie Johnson. But after qualifying 24th, the five-time Cup champion and two-time Pocono winner will have his work cut out for him on a track where passing could be difficult.
He's never won here - or on any oval for that matter - but with four top 10s in his last six starts it is apparent Juan Pablo Montoya knows the fast way around Pocono. Whether that knowledge translates to track which has undergone a bit of a transformation remains to be seen.