THE LEFT TURN
NASCAR Pocono 400 preview
This Sunday, we head for the tricky triangle at Pocono Motor Speedway for the annual Pocono 400. Pocono is a 2.5 mile triangle, the only race track on the schedule that has three turns as opposed to four. Last week, Kyle Busch dominated the Coca-Cola 600 as he led 377 laps en route to his fourth victory of 2018.
Throughout the weekend, Busch and his team never really had any competition as he not only won the race but the pole position as well. Aside from Busch, the other big story was the radio and the issues that the drivers faced. Somehow, a fan or a group of fans were able to tap into the radio communications of the drivers and their crew chiefs. This proved to be an issue with drivers like Busch, Alex Bowman, David Regan and Jamie McMurray. Busch who was leading at the time, was shocked to hear a muffled voice “how his tires were.” this caused Busch to be without communication with his team for five laps.
The snafu brought on debate of whether or not NASCAR should better encrypt the radios to where fans can not hear the teams' communications with the drivers. I personally believe taking away these capabilities amongst fans would make the sport less unique but if it comes down to where it is a distraction maybe upgrading their means of communications would not be a bad idea.
One of the biggest surprises of last week's race was Jamie McMurray after he was able to come out of Charlotte with his second top 10 of the season. The veteran was near the front for most of the race and even ran as high as second at one point. Even though McMurray did not have a car capable of winning, this run was still a big confidence booster for a driver that has struggled immensely this season. McMurray and his Earnhardt-Ganassi teammate Kyle Larson both were able to finish sixth and seventh respectfully. The Driver that I had winning last week was Denny Hamlin. Going into the weekend, Hamlin and his team had an impressive qualifying effort as Hamlin rolled off third; he would go on to finish exactly where he started in third.
Kevin Harvick came into the week as one of the heavy favorites to take his third Coca-Cola 600. Prior to the weekend, he won the last three races at Dover, Kansas and the All-Star race. Going into the race, Harvick was not able to make a qualifying attempt and was forced to start last. When the race began, Harvick appeared to be on the move but on lap 85, he cut down a tire and slammed the wall in turn four ending his day. Look for Harvick to be a threat to bounce back at Pocono this sunday.
The favorite going into this weekend is Brad Keselowski. Over the past four races here at Pocono, Keselowski has an average finish of 3.75 and has not finished lower than fifth. He also has a victory here in 2011 when he beat Busch for his third career victory. Not only was this win important for that season for Brad, it was also a major step forward for his career as he went on to win two more races that season at Bristol and Dover and then win the championship the following year. Look for Brad and his team to try and duplicate what he did then and get his first win of 2018 and solidify his spot in the chase.
The driver that I predict will take the checkered flag is Kurt Busch. The 2004 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Champion has flown under the radar this year. He has seven top-10s and two top fives and is currently sixth in the points standings. While he has been consistently in the top 10 for nearly half of the season, he still has yet to claim his first win of 2018.
This should change come Sunday. Kurt is going to a race track where he has ran well at over the years, as in his 33 starts, Busch has won here three times. In all active drivers, only Denny Hamlin has more wins here. Look for Kurt Busch to become the third Stewart-Haas racing car to go to victory lane in 2018.
A dark horse driver to keep an eye on this week is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as 2018 has been pretty solid for the sixth-year driver as he has four top 10s and two top fives so far. He currently sits in 15th in the points and is in contention to make the playoffs for a second consecutive year. By no means has Pocono been a good race track for Stenhouse Jr. In fact, he has never finished higher than 11th here but I think this weekend will be different. Last week he claimed his third top 10 of the season in the Coca-Cola 600, so look for Stenhouse to build on last week as he continues to try and get Roush Racing back on track.
(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).