Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: The Tricky Triangle

Thursday, August 02, 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 marks the first time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Pocono were scheduled for 400 miles. Prior to 2012 all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were 500 miles at Pocono Raceway.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Joey Logano 6/10/12, Brad Keselowski 8/7/11, Jeff Gordon 6/12/11, Greg Biffle 8/1/10 and Denny Hamlin 6/6/10.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Stephen Leicht 7/23/06, Chad McCumbee 6/10/07 and Jason White 8/7/11.
First Cup pole: Casey Mears 8/1/04.
First Cup win: Denny Hamlin 6/11/06.

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.

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.

June 10, 2012: Joey Logano won the Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR, his second victory in 125 Cup races. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota started on the pole, and at 22 years, 17 days old, he became the youngest series winner at Pocono. Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 17 Matt Kenseth (11 laps, finished seventh), No. 1 Jamie McMurray (14 laps, finished 10th), No. 16 Greg Biffle (19 laps, finished 24th), No. 11 Denny Hamlin (21 laps, finished fifth), No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (36 laps, finished eighth) and race-winner Logano led the most laps (49 of 160).

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 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, 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 Pennsylvania 400 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Mid-Pack picks

Average finishes don’t always show a true picture. Before Joey Logano’s win here in June, he had an average finish of 21st; now it’s down to 18th. Also, that 21st number doesn’t tell the whole story. In this race in 2009, he was running in the top-15 but got collected in ‘someone else’s wreck’ (finished 27th). In June 2010, he was running fifth with two laps to go but got booted by Kevin Harvick. After his spin and the GWC finish he was scored in 13th place. Numbers that do mean something? He’s going for his third straight Pocono pole this weekend. He had an average running position of fifth place and led a total of 93 laps in the last two Pocono races. It's very possible the defending track winner could pull off a season sweep this weekend.

Mark Martin has yet to score a win at The Tricky Triangle but he does own seven second-place finishes at this track. The most recent was this past June. Martin was in the lead with only three laps to go when he was passed by Joey Logano. Logano beat Martin to the finish by a mere .997 seconds. The No. 55 Toyota team is happy to return to the track with the “same driver, crew, car and Goodyear tire compound in a bid to finish one spot better.” Martin’s 11.1 finishing average in 51 Cup starts here add to the reason we like his chances of finally clicking off that W.

According to NASCAR's loop data statistics for Pocono, Jeff Burton is the series best Closer. Over the past 15 races at the Long Pond track he has improved his position 57 spots over the last 10 percent of the race. He's also ninth-best in the Quality Pass category for passing 581 cars under green-flag conditions in those races. Burton’s worst finish in his last five starts at Pocono was a 20th place. The others included two top-tens. In 37 starts here, he has a consistent 16th place finishing average. Give the No. 31 Chevrolet a look to maintain that average finish on Sunday.

Now that Penske Racing has released AJ Allmendinger and placed Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 22 Dodge “for the foreseeable future” (Roger Penske’s words) he becomes a driver to watch at some tracks. Pocono is one of them. Before Penske Racing ran out of funding for his Cup ride at the end of 2010 and moved him to the Nationwide Series, Hornish made six starts at Pocono. He scored top 11 finishes in his last four. His fourth-place finish in the August 2009 Pennsylvania 500 was the best of his Cup career. Hornish will be out to show Roger he’s capable of keeping the 'double-deuce' ride beyond the “foreseeable future”.  

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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