Mid-Pack: The Tricky TriangleThursday, June 07, 2012
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.
In the fall of 2010, improvements to the facility included extended SAFER barriers and over 6,000 feet of new catch fences. After the 2011 season, the entire track’s surface was removed and repaved in time for the 2012 season. The last time Pocono was repaved was in 1995. Pit road was also improved, made wider, asphalt pit stalls were replaced with a concrete surface and a new outer pit wall was installed.
This season will mark the first time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono will be scheduled for 400 miles. Prior to 2012 all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were 500 miles at Pocono Raceway.
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 second. Richard Petty started his No. 43 STP Dodge third on the grid, led 152 laps and took the win in the rain-shortened (480 miles) inaugural event.
June 12, 2011: Jeff Gordon won the 5-hour Energy 500, his 84th victory in 631 Cup races. It was the No. 24 Chevrolet driver's second victory and fifth top-ten finish in 2011. It was his fifth victory and 26th top-ten finish in 37 races at Pocono Raceway. Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 22 Kurt Busch, the pole-sitter (37 laps, finished second), No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya (38 laps, finished seventh), winner Gordon (39 laps) and No. 11 Denny Hamlin led the most laps (76) and finished 19th. Four-time Pocono winner Hamlin was the car to beat until he got a flat and lost his brakes on lap 163 of 200.
August 7, 2011: Brad Keselowski won the Good Sam RV Insurance 500, his third victory in 74 Cup races. The driver of the No. 2 Dodge started 13th and had to tough out this event driving with a broken left ankle suffered in a practice wreck at Road Atlanta the Wednesday before the Pocono race. It was his second victory in 2011 and first at Pocono in four starts. Drivers leading five or more laps: race-winner Keselowski (19 laps), No. 18 Kyle Busch (27 laps, finished second), No. 22 Kurt Busch (38 laps, finished third), Pole-sitter No. 20 Joey Logano (44 laps, finished 26th) and No. 11 Denny Hamlin led the most laps (65) and finished 15th.
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 Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday’s Pocono 400 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
In nine Sprint Cup starts at Pocono, AJ Allmendinger is still looking for a finish better than his tenth place (June 2010). AJ was one of the seven drivers who participated in the April 24-25 Goodyear tire test on the newly paved Pocono surface so he already has a leg up on the competition this weekend. He’s also driving a familiar chassis on Sunday. It’s the same car he drove at Martinsville where he started 27th and finished in second place. Overall, Allmendinger has an average finish of 21.7 for his nine starts but this will be his first trip to the Tricky Triangle with an organization that has accounted for a few recent wins and a bunch of top tens (think Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Rusty Wallace).
This will be Mark Martin's 51st Cup start at the Long Pond track where he has a very respectable 9.2 average start and an 11.2 average finish. Along the way, he's earned three poles, 33 top-tens and his 19 top-fives are the most of any driver. Martin also finished 41 of those races on the lead lap. His last three Cup finishes here were a seventh, an 18th and a 13th. He entered his first Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono last season; started fifth and finished seventh. Martin owns three poles in just ten races in the 2012 season and looks to add to that this weekend. He may not start on the front row on Sunday but we think he’ll be near the front at the end of 400 miles.
Juan Pablo Montoya has an average finish of 18.7 for ten starts at Pocono. He earned the fifth-most driver championship points in the last six races by finishing four of them in the top ten. His average finish for those races was a 12. 1 so he’s heading in the right direction. In this race last season, he spent all but two laps running in the top 15, had an average running position of fourth, led 38 laps and crossed the finish line in seventh. Montoya has a string of four consecutive races going with finishes 20th or worse, including getting caught up in the 12 car wreck on lap 9 last week at Dover, but we think this might be a turn-around week for the Target Chevy.
We’re going deep with a Pocono “rookie” this week. Aric Almirola will be making his first Cup start at the 2.5 mile triangle. He was another of the seven drivers who got some track time in the April 24-25 Goodyear tire test but he hasn’t really done any serious Cup racing at the raceway. Almirola did run a Camping World Truck Series race in 2010; started fifth and finished fourth. He’s coming off a sixth place finish at Dover which moved him up two spots in the points to 17th. The week before that race, he scored his first Cup career pole at Charlotte and finished 16th in the Coke 600. Almirola has climbed six spots in the points over the last four races. We like that progress.