As the regular season winds down, we begin to see tracks for the second time. There was not much to learn from Daytona I that carried over to II, but that will not be the case at Pocono Raceway. This track is a rhythm course on which drivers develop and sustain momentum.
Traditionally the track with the closest two races each season, even when the race setups change the drivers’ comfort level on this course is high – if they performed well in June. If they struggled, the team has an opportunity make some adjustments. Even so, this is a track of streaks. This June, six of the top-10 finishers also ran that well last summer. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski all have recent long streaks. Several drivers have been almost perfect in regard to this track and they highlight this week’s list of favorites.
Common wisdom holds that once a driver (who had as much momentum previously as Harvick did) breaks back into Victory Lane after a long hiatus, a floodgate is expected to open. The difficulty in predicting this with unwavering certainty is that most of Harvick’s recent problems have come as the result of slipups – and those do not self-correct overnight. Still, Harvick had a streak of five consecutive top-fives to his credit before a mistake at Pocono this June that caused him to finish 22nd.
Elliott is losing momentum right and left. He is freefalling down the Fantasy Power Rankings and has not scored a top-10 in the last six weeks of this season. It is difficult to imagine he will not eventually rebound, however, and his last strong run came in the Pocono 400 with a fourth-place finish. That is part of a current five-race, top-10 streak on this track and during his career he has struggled at Pocono only once.
Like Elliott, Jones has struggled at Pocono only once. In five starts on this track he has earned three top-fives and an eighth. His only poor result came in June 2018 and was the result of crash damage. Jones’ best finish at Pocono is third – which he earned twice in his first and most recent attempts. That suggests two things: 1) he had an immediate affinity for the track and 2) he has not lost the feel.
Hamlin is returning to his old form on tracks he once dominated. We’ve seen this on the short, flat tracks of Martinsville Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway already this year. He wasn’t quite as strong in the Pocono 400 this June, but a sixth-place finish was more than enough to make him one of the top values that week. That is one of four top-10s in the last seven races on this tricky track. He has another pair of top-15s, which means he’s finished badly just once and that was because of an accident in June 2018.
Hendrick Motorsports may have peaked, but Pocono has always been a very special place for the drivers in this organization. From the Old Days when Tim Richmond, Terry Labonte, and Jeff Gordon dominated until the present, this is a track that has been more than kind and has provided more than 15 wins. Since this is a rhythm track, often when a driver develops an affinity for it quickly that skill remains. Byron finished sixth in this race last year (in his second start) and was ninth this June.
Understanding fully that many players have either exhausted him or are almost out of allocations, it’s hard not to recommend Busch this week. He dominated the June event and scored his third victory in four races. The one race that was not a win during that period was a third in June 2018. We hardly need to mention top-10s because anything less than a fifth-place finish this week will not be a good value, but for the record he has a current streak of six consecutive. We are making him a garage pick, however, so that you have an opportunity to see how many Stage Points he will earn before fully committing to using up an allocation.
Martin Truex Jr.
Allocation management is getting more difficult by the week. With six races remaining before the playoffs reset the Usage limitations, drivers like Busch, Harvick, Joey Logano, and Truex have to be virtually guaranteed a top-five to make them a good value. We just can’t do that at the moment. Yes, Truex has a victory in June 2018 that capped off a three-race streak of top-six finishes, but his last two efforts ended in a 15th last summer and an engine failure earlier this year. Prior to his three-race streak, he has three results outside the top 15 so the balance of power in not in his favor.