Following Martin Truex Junior’s third win of the 2019 season, and what felt like everyone wrecking (especially everyone I rostered for the Coca-Cola 600), the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads back north to the Pocono region of Pennsylvania for the Pocono 400. It’s never a good sign when you’re this deep into the season and your race still sits unsponsored. Neither was the Xfinity race.
The “Tricky Triangle” as its affectionately known is literally a 2.5-mile-long triangle with its three corners styled after three more infamous tracks in the racing world – Trenton Speedway (turn one), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (turn two), and the Milwaukee Mile (turn three). Despite nicknames, beautiful backdrops (although the weather has tended to not cooperate numerous times), and doppelganger track features, Pocono has not been an exciting race to witness over the years and what makes it worse is the fact that in a little over a month the series will be back to race at Pocono again.
The only thing worse than hearing the doctor say you need two spinal taps is knowing you’ll have to get one shortly right after the first one. Well, perhaps, it’s not that bad but it is bad. Somehow NASCAR’S solution to this conundrum was to schedule both Pocono races on the same weekend next year, without the use of the road course in either race, so let us not be surprised one iota when viewership for the Sunday Pocono race is worse than a WNBA game. In the end, who cares, the people spending the majority of money at Pocono next year will be turning the dual race weekend into an excuse to throw raging benders and get completely sh&t faced.
Regardless, back to the mediocre fantasy racing analysis. Pocono races have been fairly milquetoast events, especially since 2017 with the additions of the stage cautions. Since that Spring 2017 race, we’ve seen yellow flag (minus stage cautions) totals of 2, 3, 4, and 5 with lead change totals of 13, 16, 11, and 13. Perhaps, if this race didn’t feel like a battle of wills among who has the fortitude to hold the throttle open the longest along the straightaways and not miss a shift out of a corner then I might look at this race with a little more intrigue. Plus, the expectation is that when you take a track where it’s infamously hard to pass at, once you get past green flag restarts, and add a package that has shown to be tough to pass in you conceivably have a race that mirrors an F1 race. How so? F1 is notorious for qualifying position mattering more than anything else and if you take a track that is hard to pass and make it even tougher to pass then this race may just be about who qualifies where.
Thus, because of those factors and the lack of laps, you may very well see some teams approach this race like a road race, opting to pit early and gaining track position for the next stage instead of winning stage points. That would be three-dimensional chess for some of these teams and we would definitely hear some chatter from pit road should this happen, but just know that it’s on the table. I, on the other hand, assume teams approach this like a normal Pocono race and base my dominator, cash, and tournament picks on the idea that this race looks like last Spring and not like what we expect at Sonoma in a few weeks.
Before we dive headlong into those driver selections let’s talk about roster construction. Pictured to the left is the optimal (Draftkings) lineup from last Spring’s Pocono race – essentially a dual dominator lineup. Thanks in part to just 160 laps on the docket, you will need to look no further than two dominators whether you’re running cash or tournament lineups, however, the biggest decision you’ll have to make is whether to go heavier on singular versus dual hog lineups. In past years, siding with two Hogs would have been the safe bet as the secondary lap leader had hit double-digit fastest laps in 7/10 instances. Although the laps led totals for the driver who led the second most laps was fairly miniscule, compared to other races, with totals of 19, 43, 24, 30, 39, 19, 32, 37, 20, 31, 31, and 30 since 2013 – the fastest laps points have been enough to merit rostering that driver. However, with this 550 Horsepower/ Aero Duct package that bet is off the table. We’ve seen at the other 5 races utilizing this package that the fastest laps can come from anywhere in the field, and it makes even more sense that at a long relatively flat track that those fastest laps will show up just about anywhere but most likely happen in a draft along the straightaways. Thus, if we’re going to give secondary Hogs long looks then there has to be a legitimate thought that Driver X can actually lead enough laps to make worth paying up for them. If trends continue as they have since the launch of the Gen 6 car, we should expect the secondary lap leader to lead around 29 laps or a hair under 7.5 fantasy points. Yes, that secondary Hog will see some fastest laps but banking on double-digit numbers may be a stretch. Thus, when building lineups you may find that going with more balance, due to the lack of a second high priced potential Hog, suits you instead of dipping your toe in with the cheap crowd trying to make your dual dominator lineups work and we happen to have enough mid to top tier drivers starting in the middle of the pack to warrant such a build. Without further ado, let’s talk dominators.
|Starting Position||Final Position||Place differential||Total Laps Led||Fastest Laps|
The above graph indicates the starting and finishing position of the top two lap leaders in each Pocono race since 2013. If we disregard the results from last Summer’s race when 1/4 of the field failed post-qualifying inspection, and those top two lap leaders were Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick albeit who in fact failed technical inspection, we appear to have a fairly narrow pool of where our potential Hogs come from – the top 5. 2016 was definitely our outlier year as far as starting position was concerned with no top-two dominator starting any farther up than 9th, but in our other races we hear a very strong drumbeat for the top 5 (14/20). Heck, even if we hearken back to that odd race last summer, our next four top lap leaders started 1st (Daniel Suarez), 6th (Chase Elliott), 3rd (Erik Jones), and 7th (Kurt Busch) and it wasn’t until the final segment that both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick finally made their way to the front and started to lead laps which just emphasizes how tough it is to pass and how incredibly long it took the two strongest cars to march through the field and finally get out front. Thus, with my expectation that this Pocono race is going to look eerily similar to past Pocono events – my preferred list is fairly narrowed down save for the exception of a driver who qualified poorly and has enough place differential to compensate for the lack of laps they may not lead.
Kyle Busch (2nd) – This is the easy pick in our field of potential lap leaders and if Kyle isn’t the highest owned driver on either DraftKings and FanDuel I’ll be legitimately shocked. Kyle showed great short-run speed (4th, 5th) while also running the fastest 10 lap average in practice 2 on Friday, while also having some of the best recent history at Pocono with two wins, another top five, and two more top-tens in his past six Pocono races. The only thing separating Kyle from the lead will be pole sitter William Byron who should initially lose a restart drag racing challenge to Kyle.
Kevin Harvick (11th) – Though Kevin has no wins to show for it, no other driver in recent memory has been as consistently good at Pocono as Happy with five top-five finishes and another top-ten finish in his past six Pocono races with a field-best average finish of 4.2 which includes finishes of 4th and 2nd last year. Harvick’s 11th starting position matches his average starting position for the past three years which may be an indication we see another 3-5th place finish with about 20-25 laps led giving him a nice projection of around 63.5 DraftKings points. While it will take a little longer for Kevin to ascend to the lead, his cushion of place differential makes Kevin my second highest ranked potential lap leader.
Brad Keselowski (5th) – Brad has been just as good as Kevin at Pocono save for a lone DNF in last Summer’s race with five top-five finishes in the past six Pocono races. Besides recent history, and showing some chops in this package with finishes of 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in the five 550 HP/ Aero Duct package, it’s the speed Brad showed in practice running the 5th and 2nd best single lap speeds with the 2nd best 10 lap average in the final practice session.
As stated previously, you could opt to run two of the above drivers as a dual Dominator lineup, however, the option of a single dominator and then opting for drivers with place differential/ high potential finishing position appeals more to me. In order below are the drivers I like as second and even third lineup options.
- Kurt Busch (21st) – It’s not often you get a former race winner (Spring 16) starting this far back in the field who owns three other top-ten finishes in his past six Pocono races but when you do you don’t overthink it.
- Ryan Blaney (17th) – Copy and paste Kurt Busch’s information into Blaney’s line and move on. If you only pick one between Kurt and Blaney I would wide with Kurt who has four more spots to gain.
- Martin Truex Junior (20th) – Would outrank either of Kurt or Blaney based on talent, car, and momentum but with the considerations of cost (assuming Truex leads no laps) I have to give the nod to both Kurt and Blaney as better plays.
- Chase Elliott (12th) – A distance 4th thanks to his salary and starting position; probably a lock for a top-ten but you can get that for cheaper with either Kurt or Blaney. He’s close enough to the front that he might lead some laps, and with the third best 10 lap average, he may have the long run speed to eventually run down a leader into a long green flag run.
What you do with the rest of your lineup will be largely dependent on how many of the above drivers you roster. Another reason I like the more balanced lineups this week is that it keeps you from having to mess around with the cheapies – several of whom on DraftKings inexplicably saw their salaries raised without real merit. Among that pack of drivers, notably priced from $7500 to $6500 on DraftKings, my favorite cash place differential driver is Chris Buescher (24th). A former winner himself, albeit thanks to the fog on a Monday afternoon, Buescher rolls into Pocono with momentum after finishing 10th at Kansas and 6th at Charlotte. After Buescher, I like Ty Dillon (25th) as a consistency play with four lead-lap finishes in five Pocono races with an average finish of 20.6. There is truly nothing sexy about playing Ty Dillon, it’s just knowing that he’ll finish the race on all four tires unlike the cheaper Michael McDowell (28th) and Ryan Preece (29th) who both own three DNF’s on the 2019 season.
As far as cheaper tournament selections your eyes have to gaze upon pole sitter William Byron (1st) just like they did last week. Chances are that he loses the lead early to Kyle Busch but thanks to his starting position he should be able to hang around the top five-ten all day as he showed good enough speed in practice and possibly outscore the drivers around his price range. If playing around with Byron is a bit too much for your heart, then going down to the Roush-Fenway teammates of Ricky Stenhouse Jr (18th) and Ryan Newman (19th) makes sense as safer place differential plays then Byron who both should grab a few spots and finish around 14th.
I save the toughest part for last because nothing about these punt plays looks remotely appetizing but we know that punts are viable as evidenced by the optimum lineup from last Spring. Looking at track history you can’t really find a driver you like as none of these guys priced under $6K on Draftkings has finishes south of 30th or even a lead lap finish at Pocono since 2016 for Pete’s sake. Thus, we may as well side with the driver who starts the furthest up in the best equipment – hoping perhaps they can just linger on the lead lap and outscore the rest of the pack by virtue of finishing points and that would be Daniel Hemric (23rd).
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