NASCAR betting: Pocono 400 preview and picks
The summer stretch for NASCAR begins in earnest this week as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway for Sunday’s Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR.
Pocono is a 2.5-mile track unique to any other on the schedule with three distinctly different turns and three straightaways of varying lengths and top speeds.
Sunday, however, there are new challenges to deal with. Pocono’s surface has received a new coat of asphalt - the first since 1995. And for the first time in the track’s history, neither 2012 race will be a 500-miler. Instead, both have been shortened to 400 miles.
The track is holding an open test this week to get ready for Sunday’s race on the new surface and Goodyear Tire engineers expect speeds to be higher than years past.
This week’s favorite is again Jimmie Johnson. The Covers favorite last week delivered, scoring a dominating win at Dover. Now that the fuse seems lit, Johnson is ready to go to the front again Sunday.
Johnson said the repaving shouldn’t be a radical departure from the past because the same kinds of materials were used in both old and new asphalt.
“Normally, it’s an edgy race track regardless of the tire that you come with on a new repave,” said Johnson, whose two Pocono victories came in 2004. “It sounds like we didn’t have that (during the test) and Pocono made sure they used the same mix, the same asphalt that we were racing on.”
“I would imagine that it’s going to be super smooth and really fast,” he added.
Jeff Gordon needs to turn his luck around and Pocono might be the place he does just that. Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate has shown moments of competitive fire this season, but has run into terrible luck.
However, Gordon is the defending winner of this race and finished sixth in the August event. He leads all active drivers here with five wins and if Gordon hopes to turn around his season and get back to Victory Lane, Sunday could be his best chance. Wednesday Gordon was one of the first drivers to hit the newly repaved track.
“They did a great job; (the) track was really nice and smooth (with) good grip,” said Gordon. “We have had some repaves where it is a handful and pretty slick. That was not the case at all today.”
Kyle Busch has never won here, but with second and third-place showings here last season, he will look to rebound after being sidelined by mechanical issues last Sunday. With the kind of strong season he’s having, Busch could spoil the Hendrick party and score his first career win at Pocono Sunday.
Johnson was third fastest during the first test session Wednesday, Busch was ninth and Gordon eleventh.
Denny Hamlin vs. Greg Biffle: Both drivers are recent winners at Pocono. Biffle won in August of 2010, while Hamlin swept both races in August 2009 and June 2010. Hamlin also swept the races in 2006, giving him four wins overall. He also has the highest driver rating among all active drivers. You might think that would give him the edge to take it all, but in the last few races here, Hamlin has struggled while Biffle comes into Pocono wanting to protect his points lead. Look for Biffle to prevail in this matchup.
Tony Stewart vs. Brad Keselowski: Stewart has two wins here, the last coming in July 2009. Keselowski scored his lone Pocono victory the last time the series visited here in August. Both have struggled at times the season, but Stewart has been able to put together more solid finishes. Look for Smoke to come out ahead of Keselowski Sunday.
Thirteen of the 68 races have been won from the pole, Bill Elliott (1985, 2002) and Denny Hamlin (2006 sweep) are the only drivers to have done it twice. Tony Stewart is the most recent driver to win from the pole in 2009. Forty-seven of the 68 Pocono races have been won from a Top-10 starting position. The June 2005 race was won by Carl Edwards from the 29th starting position - the deepest in the field that a race winner has started.
Jimmie Johnson (+484)
Jeff Gordon (+825)
Kyle Busch (+950)