Sunday afternoon’s Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 at Pocono Raceway is a difficult race to project.
Only four drivers finished in the top 10 in both the spring and summer race at Pocono last year: Tony Stewart (first, 10th), Juan Pablo Montoya (eighth, second), Sam Hornish (10th, fourth), and Jeff Gordon (eighth, fourth).
This is the ninth Sprint Cup Series event on a non-restrictor plate track of one mile and up, and on those configurations, points leader Kevin Harvick leads the way. Harvick has six top 10s in the eight races.
Kyle Busch is second in points in the eight races after leading in seven of eight events, while Matt Kenseth is third, Gordon is fourth, and Jimmie Johnson is fifth.
Bettors should also look at drivers that have done well on flat tracks, as Pocono is one of the flatter surfaces in the Series. Keep Indianapolis, Phoenix, and New Hampshire in mind when handicapping this week’s race.
Denny Hamlin is considered a flat track master, and is one of the favorites on Sunday. Pocono is admittedly one of Hamlin’s preferred tracks, and it’s easy to see why. Hamlin has three wins at Pocono, including in the race there last summer.
A disappointing 38th at last year’s spring race at Pocono, Hamlin is one of the hottest drivers in the Series, with three wins and five top 5s in his last eight races.
If Hamlin is sizzling, Kyle Busch isn’t far behind his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch has seven consecutive top 10 showings, with two wins and four top 5s during the stretch, but has struggled at Pocono. Busch does have a career-best fourth place at Pocono, but has an average finish of 29.2.
Kyle’s older brother Kurt doesn’t have the best overall statistics at Pocono, but he’s won there twice, and is a consistent threat on big speedways. The elder Busch dominated last week at Charlotte, and also won at Atlanta earlier this season.
Remember that Pocono drives like a road course, even if it only features three left-hand turns. That’s an advantage for former Formula 1 driver Montoya, who nearly won the summer race at Pocono last year.
Stewart has been the best driver at Pocono over the long haul, and should be given a long look by bettors this week. In the last nine Pocono races, Stewart has eight top 10s, including his second career win there.
That said, Stewart has struggled lately, and is on the outside looking in at the Chase for the Sprint Cup. In his last eight races, Stewart has only one top 10, with seven finishes between 15th and 32nd over that span.
Expect plenty of public bettors to side with Johnson, but the No. 48 should be faded this week. Sure, Johnson has won three races this season, but he has three finishes of 31st to 37th in his last five races, with only one top 10 during the stretch.
Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon, is a better bet on Sunday. Gordon has four victories at Pocono, and five runner-up results to his credit on the triangular track. With an average finish at Pocono of 10.0 in 34 starts there, Gordon has only done better at Martinsville (6.7 in 35 starts) and at Indy (8.6 in 16 starts).
Harvick and Jeff Burton should also provide value this week. The steady Harvick has five top 10s in his last six races, and was 11th last week at Charlotte. Harvick hasn’t been great over his career at Pocono, where Burton was ninth in the spring race last year.
Carl Edwards, like most of his Roush Fenway Racing teammates, has had a hard time on flat tracks, but he’s still a sleeper pick this week. Edwards has two wins at Pocono, and was second in the summer race last year.
With Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 300 taking place away from Pocono at the Nashville Superspeedway, most of the big names often seen on the Nationwide Series are taking the week off.
Edwards is in the field, however, and he’ll be challenged by Nationwide regulars Brad Keselowski, Reed Sorenson, Scott Riggs, and Paul Menard on Saturday night.