Wednesday, August 1, 2012

2012 Pennsylvania 400 Preview: Lots of Data from Indy and Pocono

All signs pointing to 4-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin this week (Getty) 
By Micah Roberts

Because of all the data from recent races at the similar tracks of Pocono and the Brickyard, bettors have perhaps their greatest advantage over Las Vegas sports books out of any race on the season this week at Pocono. The edge comes from utilizing all the data given to us in those two races run within the last six weeks. Because the span between those two races and this weeks race is so short, everything is relevant, current, ready to rock and reload again.

Pocono and Indianapolis are both 2.5-mile tracks with different configurations -- Pocono has three turns in a triangular shape, they both are the same in regards to required horsepower to get down the long straightaways and both require similar balance set-ups. When watching the Brickyard race Sunday, it was amazing at how telling the June Pocono race was to what was currently happening.

Every calculation came up with using Pocono as the main initial source of a Brickyard rating system came through as though the race was scripted. Even without a system, anyone could have just looked at Pocono from June and narrowed it down to three or four drivers while comfortably watching all of them run well enough to win.

The objective is obviously to narrow down a driver to win, but there’s something more interesting and fulfilling in having a few drivers selected and watching them all run well. It’s a sense of accomplishment and keeps your head up high enough to absorb losses in other weeks.

Even a driver like Joey Logano, who won at Pocono but got involved in a wreck at the Brickyard, there was something positive gained despite the poor finish because he was running in the top-10 throughout while still on the track. He was a contender who ran as expected.

Last week we had the testing, practices and race results from Pocono to go off of. This week we have all that, in addition to the two practices and race results from Indy. Nine drivers finished in the top-15 of both races. Those that did well at Pocono, did well at the Brickyard, and should run well again Sunday at Pocono.

Speed will be the name of the game again this week on the new Pocono surface where we saw all track speed records shattered in June. It will be fast again and the same cast of characters will be the ones to watch from favorites like Jimmie Johnson to Denny Hamlin. Mid-ranged price drivers like Mark Martin and Logano will be fast and live longshots like Paul Menard and Sam Hornish merit consideration.

Martin will be using the same chassis that finished runner-up in June, a race where he set a record for most runner-up finishes (7) on a track without winning a race.

“You’re not owed this stuff, man," Martin said. "I’ve earned all those second-place finishes, and I’m proud of that. You’re not entitled. You’ve got to go get ‘em.”

Johnson has won twice at Pocono, the last coming in a 2004 sweep, and has finished fourth in the past three races there. Hamlin is a four-time winner and finished fifth there in June, and sixth last week at the Brickyard where he started from the pole.

The surprise entry into the Pocono-Indy alliance category this year is Dale Earnhardt Jr, who took the points lead last week with a fourth-place finish. Junior also finished eighth at Pocono in June. He’s never won at Pocono or Indianapolis over his career, but he’s also never won a championship and now looks like he’s got the muscle to possibly take care of both this year. In you're thinking championship, the LVH has him listed at 10-to-1 odds.

Nothing is ever easy in trying to pick the winner of a NASCAR race out of 43 drivers, but it's definitely a little easier to sort through when we have a nice cheat sheet to scan at.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
3) #55 Mark Martin (18/1)
4) #20 Joey Logano (30/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12/1)

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