Gander Outdoors 400 Preview

Almirola and Truex, not enough to do it
how ’bout Harvick and Kyle, bump and run in style!
Keselowski and Bowyer, where the hell did you go?
Ooooo I want to take us up to Pocono,
we’ll go real fast until they wave a yellow
That’s where we want to go, way up to Pocono…

(Ed. – Now go back and sing that to the tune of Kokomo by the Beach Boys)


Pocono Raceway, affectionately nicknamed “The Tricky Triangle”, is a 2.5 mile superspeedway in Long Pond, PA. In addition to being a triangle, the “tricky” part comes from its 3 distinct turns, all of which are modeled from other tracks. Turn 1 is modeled after Trenton Speedway at 14 degrees. Turn 2, also known as the “tunnel turn,” is modeled after Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 8 degrees, and turn 3 is modeled after The Milwaukee Mile at 6 degrees. As you might imagine, the different banking and unique turning radii present an added challenge to car and crew chiefs, exacerbating normal variables like track and air temperature. A compromise must be found with each driver to determine where to capitalize, and where to sacrifice handling to make the fastest lap averages overall. No matter what, carrying maximum speed out of turn three’s exit into the front-stretch is a critical priority, as any split-second mistakes on corner exit are magnified into larger setbacks by the time they get back to turn 1. At 3,740 feet, Pocono’s front-stretch is the longest in all of motorsports. Lastly, unlike most tracks, drivers will be downshifting to 3rd gear in turns 1 and 3 to maximize RPMs. Missing a shift can end a day quickly with a blown transmission.


This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch have been purposely omitted because they are obvious options each week. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Brad Keselowski – Brad has six consecutive top-5 finishes going at Pocono, and has averaged 43 points over the most recent three races. After the brakes on the #2 failed last weekend, this team will need to get back on track with a solid performance. Any team looking to compete with the “big 3” in the playoffs knows they have to start accumulating playoff points with stage and race wins. Brad is relatively safe in the points race, but nothing is guaranteed unless they can notch a victory.

Chase Elliott – I still don’t believe a Chevy can win this race based on what I’ve seen this year, but I do believe they can compete for respectable points. Chase has 5 career starts at Pocono, and 4 of those have landed him in the top-10. He’s averaging 35 points over the last three events, finishing 8th, 10th, and most recently 10th again.

Kyle Larson – Of course, if I had to pick a Chevy to go to victory lane, it would be the #42. Kyle finished 2nd in the previous Pocono race this year, and his dirt track experience lends itself very well to Pocono’s flat corners. Additionally, the #42 has been the outlier to the Chevy blues this season, seemingly impervious to the growing pains other teams are having with the new Camaro.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney has a similar resume to Chase Elliott at Pocono, with 4 of 5 races in the top-11 (close enough). Ryan is a previous winner at Pocono (2017) and finished 6th earlier this season. He’s averaged 30 points over the last 3 events despite a disappointing 30th place finish in this race last year.

Kurt Busch – Kurt had a disappointing P-19 finish earlier this season, but I’d go back to the well with him again regardless. He has two consecutive top-10 finishes going lately from Kentucky and New Hampshire, including a pole last week. Despite the mediocre finish in the first Pocono race, Kurt still ranks 4th among active drivers in Pit Stall Rating (98.83) at Pocono.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Erik Jones – Like Kurt, I’m not ready to write off Erik Jones here either. He finished a lap down in 29th in the first race this season, but finished 3rd or 8th prior to laying the egg. With the win at Daytona, this team is solely focused on accumulating playoff points and putting Erik in a position to gain valuable experience by competing under pressure.

THE DRAG (use caution)

Denny Hamlin – At some point during the race broadcast, we are almost certain to see a graphic about how Hamlin was a ringer at Pocono prior to the last resurfacing. Here are the facts: In the 12 races prior to the resurfacing, Denny’s average finish was 9.7 with an average loop rating of 118.6. This led to a Pit Stall Rating of 122.27 for those races, which is exceptional. In the 13 races following the resurfacing, Denny’s average finish is 15.5 with an average loop rating of 90.5. This represents a Pit Stall Rating of 58.39, which is average to below average. All I’m saying here, is do not expect the #11 to perform in accordance with the pre-2012 years, especially given his recent woes in 2018.

AVERAGE FINISH POSITION @ POCONO (last 5 track events)

4.0, #2 Brad Keselowski
4.2, #4 Kevin Harvick
9.4, #41 Kurt Busch
10.6, #18 Kyle Busch
11.2, #6 Matt Kenseth

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ POCONO (last 5 track events)

119.5, #4 Kevin Harick
116.2, #18 Kyle Busch
103.2, #2 Brad Keselowski
99.7, #9 Chase Elliott
97.3, #42 Kyle Larson

2018 PTS MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races this season)

46.8, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
40.4, #4 Kevin Harvick
36.0, #18 Kyle Busch
32.6, #42 Kyle Larson
31.6, #9 Chase Elliott

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