Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pocono Preview: TNT Coverage Not That Bad If You Listen To MRN Audio Feed

by Micah Roberts

The first 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup races are in the bag and we begin a march through the lean coverage of the season which is what I call the six race stretch that TNT covers. Not many folks give the FOX television coverage as much credit as it deserves. The coverage is always great and the announcing crew is by far the most entertaining and insightful group that has ever covered the sport.

The color commentary of analysis from Wally Dallenbach and Kyle Petty is dull, and very few times will they offer insight that wasn’t known to the common race fan, as opposed to the type of data and information routinely given by Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond on FOX. McReyonlds will be a part of TNT’s team, but only for brief moments as he’ll show insights on a cutaway car.

The lead commentator, Adam Alexander, will be new to the TNT team this year and has been solid in this past with his duties on SPEED and MRN Radio. However, there is nothing he can do to balance out the dumb and dumber commentary -- and not in the funny way either -- of Petty and Dallenbach. Alexander will also have the tough task of easing fans into his style and matching the top flight bench mark set by auto racing’s greatest commentator, Mike Joy. Tough shoes to fill for sure.

My strategy this week will be to watch the Pocono race, but keep the MRN radio feed on which gives constants updates from all corners of the track for each driver throughout the race. It’s still a race and still has to be bet on, but no one said you had to be annoyed at the same time. Somehow, I know I will listen to the TNT feed at some point in the same fashion we all rubberneck when there is a car accident on the highway.

Pocono Raceway is a unique 2.5-mile triangular shaped track with three vastly different turns that each get gradually flatter making it a difficult track for teams to set up. There is no way to get a car perfect for each of the three turns, so it’s almost like they have to choose which of the three they want to be quickest at.

Over recent years, the main ingredient for success has been flat out horsepower. Drivers that have done well on the down force tracks leading up to Pocono have fared well. Another driver, Denny Hamlin, who has become somewhat of a specialist on flat tracks like Martinsville has also shown that his particular entry and exit skills at smaller tracks have helped his cause to winning three times at Pocono.

It doesn’t hurt that Hamlin also has a great engine also, but what’s amazing about Hamlin is that he came in as a rookie and swept the Pocono season in 2006. This was after a disastrous 2005 season with Jason Leffler driving the same car -- well obviously it wasn’t the same car, just car number, owner, and sponsor.

Hamlin won for the third time at Pocono last season and currently has the best average finish of any current driver at just under 10th per race. When he won last season, it was the 21st race of the season and it was his first win of the season. Coming in this year, he’s already got three wins and is charging hard to be the one who stops Jimmie Johnson from winning his fifth straight season championship.

Juan Pablo Montoya is an interesting look to contend for the win this week. He’s been so up and down in performance, but if we look at last season through this year, Montoya fit’s the profile of a driver who should run well here. If there is one thing his Ganassi car isn’t missing, it’s horsepower. Their problem seems to be more about the car chief, crew chief, and pit road, because this team should have one at least one race over the last 39 races based on the equipment they have.

Last season Montoya finished in eighth and second-place in the two Pocono races and he’s shown enough horsepower at tracks like Atlanta, Texas, and Charlotte to believe he should be set in that category this week. As for the driver himself, nothing against Hamlin, but Montoya’s entry and exit through odd turns can’t be matched…..The guy won at Monaco!

Montoya’s teammate Jamie McMurray will also be one to watch this week just because of how fast they have been on the down force tracks. He’s a former pole-sitter at Pocono, but hasn’t mustered a better finish than ninth, which he’s done twice. Look for a career performance this week from McMurray.

The driver that really needs some love right now is Jimmie Johnson. Everything was so easy for the team out of the 2010 gate with three wins in the first five races, but since then, it’s been tough for the defending four time series champion. If including the All-Star race, Johnson hasn’t had a top-5 finish in his last six starts; that’s all this guy ever does is finish in the top-5. I’d like to believe things will get better this week, but he’s not exactly bringing a confidence builder to the track with him this week. The team is opting to bring a primary chassis that finished 16th at Dover and using a backup that has won three times. You can never count Johnson out, but it’s getting easier week by week.

Kurt Busch is riding high right now after winning the All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte the last two weeks. He and crew chief Steve Addington have things figured out pretty good, especially in the horsepower department and that will give him a nice edge this week on the long straightaways. He’s bringing his chassis from the February California race that finished sixth and that Busch noted “was strongest late in the race”. With the way this team is running right now, it would be foolish to bet against him on any track that asks for pure horsepower like Pocono does.

Mark Martin has six career second-place finishes at Pocono with no wins, a NASCAR record. He’s always run well on the track but has come up just short, but he needs a good run this week to regain some momentum for the stretch run in the race to the Chase where he currently sits 10th in points.

Jeff Gordon is a four-time Pocono winner with his last coming in 2007. This race brings out the best of Gordon because he's able to use some of his road racing skills along with perfect car. His car has been one of the most consistently good ones all season long and that shouldn't change this week. Look for a strong run this week with a chance at winning.

Carl Edwards is another driver who needs to start piling up solid finishes as he sits 11th in points. He’s a two-time Pocono winner, but that was in the glory hey-day of Roush racing super power under the hood. He should be expected to finish within the top-10, but a win may too much to ask this week. This week he’ll be using the same chassis that finished 15th at Darlington.

Tony Stewart won this race last year, but he’s a hard sell this year with the way they have been running. He’s got two wins at Pocono, but what’s more telling is that he’s run on just about every type of track thus far and only has one top-5 finish this season (Bristol). At this stage, Ryan Newman is a much better candidate to finish better than Stewart.

Kyle Busch started his Pocono career like a monster worth a fourth-place finish in his first race, but has yet to match the effort in nine races since. What’s worse for Kyle this week is he’s got an angered Jeff Burton looking to even the score after getting wronged last week by Kyle at Charlotte. Burton isn’t the type of driver Kyle should mess with because Burton never forgets and will get even. Kyle dismissed the anger of Burton who got in his face after Charlotte race, but you can bet he’ll stay as far as possible away from Burton this week and beyond. It takes a lot to get Burton going, and Kyle pushed that button.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (5/1)
2) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (15/1)
3) #2 Kurt Busch (8/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)

No comments: