Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pocono Preview

by Micah Roberts

Kyle Busch, Get it Together!
This weeks race at Pocono marks the halfway point in the Race to the Chase. Only six races remain until NASCAR’s ten race playoff format starts. If the Chase for the Championship started today, Las Vegas’ very own Kyle Busch would be outside looking in.

Last week’s awful 38th place showing at Indianapolis plummeted Busch four positions from tenth to fourteenth. Only the top-12 make the chase and as hard as it seems to believe, Busch is in serious danger of not making the Chase if he doesn’t get things turned around.

We are going into race 21 of the season and but Busch has been mired in a ten week slump. May 2nd was the last time Busch had a top-5 finish. May 2nd? Kyle, are you kidding? A driver of Busch’s stature with all the great Joe Gibbs Racing equipment should be able to run in the top-5 consistently, but it seems like Busch’s style of driving that has made him so good is having the reverse effect now.

Busch runs so hard on each and every lap trying to be the fastest, even if the car may not be capable of keeping up with his desire. Last week at the Brickyard is a perfect example. Busch had a car that was maybe a top-15 car, but Busch tried to get a win by going all out. All the great drivers in NASCAR have been able become great simply because they can feel the car’s limitations and get the most points possible out of it.

Maybe all the hype has gone to Busch’s head. He’s been called the next Dale Earnhardt because of his style and has taken on the villain role with open arms. He has shown his immaturity on several occasions by taking verbal jabs at the struggling Dale Earnhardt Jr, the driver that forced Busch out of Hendrick Motorsports.

In the process through all his antics, Busch’s focus on driving his Cup car has struggled. Now, more than ever, all the anti-Busch fans have more to cheer about because he finishes so poorly these days.

Perhaps part of his struggles could be that he’s spending too much time driving his Nationwide car. He currently leads in points in the lower level NASCAR Series and seems very focused there, but it’s not helping him in the big leagues.

He’s now got six races left to get his act together, make the Chase, and make a run for the Sprint Cup Championship. Titles are why each and everyone of these drivers play the game. Right now, Kyle is playing a totally different game, and he’s losing.

Pocono - Race 21: Sunday, August 2, 2008
Just about every team who had decent runs last week at Indy will be bringing the same chassis
to Pocono this week. All the data and information collected from Indy and last Pocono race run in June is very relevant for this week.

Four drivers have finished in the top-10 from both races, and a few others were very close to making the list. Tony Stewart tops the chart due to his Pocono win and third place finish last week at The Brickyard. The current point leader is in cruise control and got his series leading twelfth top-5 finish as well last week.

Last weeks winner, Jimmie Johnson, has the most impressive streak of anyone coming into this week using the Indy-Pocono mix. Not only has Johnson finished in the top-10 in the two races this season, but his streak extends to all of last seasons races as well giving him five straight. During his steak, Johnson has two wins.

With his win last week, Johnson also moved into second position in points passing his teammate Jeff Gordon. This is usually the time of year he takes it up a notch. Points mean little going into the Chase because start position is determined by wins. Right now Johnson would start the Chase in second as a result of his three wins on the season. Mark Martin’s four wins would make him the leader. Kyle Busch has three wins and would start right behind Johnson, but doesn’t qualify at the moment.

Jeff Gordon finished fourth last month at Pocono and ninth at Indy and has finished in the top-10 in four of the five last events run on those tracks. His last win at Pocono came in 2007. Gordon’s approach and style is one driver that Kyle Busch should take notice of. Gordon sitting third in points has the advantage of being older and wiser with all his race experience, but he only takes what the car gives him and that style could possibly net him his fifth Cup title.

The surprise of the group of top-10 finishers at both tracks this season is David Reutimann.
While fuel strategy at Pocono in June may have played a role in getting his third place finish there, his eighth place last week at Indy was just flat out good driving in a really good car. He already has a win this season, but still continues to be offered by Sports Books in the 60 to 1 or higher range. This week might be a good week to try and catch a shooting star.

Ryan Newman looked to be the car to beat the last time the Cup series went to Pocono. He was extremely fast in practice, but it only translated to a fifth place finish. At Indy, Newman was just as good in practice, and even turned the fastest lap late in happy hour there, but settled for a fourteenth place finish. We know he’s got the goods to get it done and get his first win of the year at some point, and this week at Pocono seems like a good fit.

Carl Edwards finished second in the first Pocono race, but only finished fifteenth at Indy. His poor qualifying session at Indy doomed him, even though he looked to have the 2nd best car to Johnson’s during happy hour. The long green flag runs and jumbled traffic made it tough for Edwards to make a move with a car that was very good. In nine career starts at Pocono, Edwards has two wins and three other top-5 finishes.

Kasey Kahne was solid at Indy with a seventh place finish to go along with a great happy hour session there. He should be all set for a similarly good run this at Pocono, a gtrack he won at last season. Like Gordon, Kahne has finished in the top-10 in the last four of five races combined on the two facilities.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s story last week at Indy is a sad one because he was on his way to what looked like a runaway victory almost in the same dominant fashion as his 2000 Indy 500 win. However, Montoya got a little antsy on pit road and was caught speeding and had to come back to the pits and serve a penalty that ultimately cost him the race, or at least a top-3 finish. He ended up finishing eleventh and when mixing in his eighth place run last month at Pocono, Montoya looks like a nice stab this week at 25 to 1 odds.

The mystery driver this week is Denny Hamlin, winner of both Pocono races in 2006. That car he won with is long gone, but Hamlin has shown an extreme like for the flat tracks on the circuit, this year however, he doesn‘t have the results to show it.

If practice times actually won something, Hamlin would be leading the league based on his two pre-race sessions at Pocono and Indy. In each of those instances, Hamlin wasn’t able to get it done in the actual race. He’s got the car capable of winning and his set-up is perfect, but it’s somewhat risky based on what he’s trending in like-instances. For that risk, the sports books should give a nice price.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
2) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
3) #9 Kasey Kahne (15/1)
4) #99 Carl Edwards (10/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (13/1)

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