Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Pocono: 5-Hour Energy 500

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Track history: Pocono Raceway is a very demanding track not only on the drivers, but on the equipment as well. It is a 2.5-mile triangular oval with different length straight-aways and different banking in the three turns. The front stretch is 3,740 feet where the cars are going 200 mph into a tight 14-degree banked first turn. The backstretch is 3,055 feet leading into an 8 degree sweeping turn 2. The short straight is 1,780 feet running into a tight 6 degree turn 3. The track has been described as "the superspeedway that drives like a road course". The facility was built in 1968 as a three-quarter mile raceway and was expanded to its current 2.5-mile configuration in the early 1970's.

August 4, 1974: The first 500-mile NASCAR race, the Purolator 500, was held on August 4, 1974. With a 144.122 mph lap in the Bud Moore No. 15 Ford, Buddy Baker qualified on the pole to lead the 35-car field. He led 11 laps and finished 2nd. Richard Petty started his No. 43 STP Dodge 3rd on the grid, led 152 laps and took the win in the rain-shortened (480 miles) inaugural event.
June 6, 2010: Pole-sitter, (18) Kyle Busch, brought the field to the green for the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 after a 2-hour rain delay. He led 32 laps and finished runner-up to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, (11) Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, who started 5th in the lineup, was ahead of (14) Tony Stewart (finished 3rd) by over 2 seconds with two laps to go. Hamlin's other JGR teammate, (20) Joey Logano (finished 13th), spun and brought out the caution forcing a green-white-checker finish. Hamlin held off a charge from Busch during the overtime GWC and took the white flag before a multi-car wreck caused the race to finish under caution. This was Hamlin's fourth victory in nine starts at Pocono Raceway.
August 1, 2010: Greg Biffle won the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, his 15th victory in 279 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. It was the No. 16 Ford driver's first victory and 12th top-10 finish in 2010. Biffle broke a 64-race winless streak. No. 14-Tony Stewart, the pole-sitter, led 2 laps and finished in 2nd place. Drivers leading 5 or more laps: No. 42-Juan Pablo Montoya (5 laps, finished 16th), 77-Sam Hornish Jr. (9, finished 11th), 11-Denny Hamlin (19, 5th), winner Biffle (28 laps), 24-Jeff Gordon (39, 6th) and 48-Jimmie Johnson led the most laps (96) and finished 10th.

Fantasy games won't allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend's Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday's 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Mid-Pack picks

In all 12 of his starts at Pocono Raceway, Brian Vickers is the only driver who completed all laps (2,310). He has started in the top 10 in eight of those races and earned four top-five and five top-10 finishes. His 159 laps led are 5th best and his average finish of 14.3 is 8th best among drivers entered this weekend. He's a decent charger as well. NASCAR Statistics ranks him 4th in their "Quality Passes" (passing while running in the top 15) category. He passed 416 cars during those 12 races. Vickers is our top mid-pack pick this week and we expect him to maintain his 14.3 average finish.

Kasey Kahne's first trip to the Tricky Triangle in 2004 started from the pole position and ended in a 14th place finish. He scored a 2nd pole in the June 2008 race and went on to take the win. Kahne's average starting spot in the lineup for his 14 Pocono Cup races is an 8.9 and a 16.6 is his average finish. He was one of the drivers involved in the last lap wreck during the Green-White-Checker finish here last June and was credited with a 27th place finish. His last 6 Pocono starts resulted in finishes of 1st, 7th, 15th, 5th, 27th and 19th. We feel Kahne's good for another top 15 or better this week.

Some consider Jeff Burton's teammate, Harvick, a "closer" at most tracks but NASCAR Statistics ranks Burton #1 in that category at Pocono Raceway. According to their loop data for the most recent 12 races at this track, Burton improved his position by 61 spots in the last 10 percent of those events. In 34 starts here, he has a respectable 15.9 average finish. He picked up top tens in three of his last four Pocono starts. Give the No. 31 Cat car a look for possible top 15 on Sunday.

Okay, it's a decade since Bobby Labonte scored three Pocono victories (swept the 1999 races and won the July 2001 race), and the last two years have not been what you would call 'career years'. So why are we looking at the veteran? NASCAR allowed the teams to change gear ratios so that they will be able to shift 2 or 3 times around the triangle's three distinct corners and straight-aways. The last time drivers were shifting gears at speed (not just on restarts and during pit stops) at Pocono was around the time Labonte won those races. Most of the other drivers just don't have that kind of experience at this track. Labonte, probably a reasonable buy in most leagues, is a good fit at the end of your roster this week.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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