It was just last month that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Pocono Raceway, but it is already time for a return trip to “The Tricky Triangle” this weekend for Sunday’s Gander RV 400. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were set for an epic battle here back in June, but a late pit road penalty for Harvick turned things into a runaway for Busch.
Track position and pit strategy are always crucial at Pocono, and while a small group of big names have piled up a bunch of excellent finishes at the track, stage points can actually be a little tough to predict. Since drivers running near the front can pit without losing a lap, you will often see several of the frontrunners pit right before the end of each stage, sacrificing stage points for track position.
In addition to some volatility with stage points, the running order can contain several surprises once you get past the typical Pocono studs. Back in the June race, Daniel Hemric and Chris Buescher picked up Top 15s, and Matt DiBenedetto and Michael McDowell cracked the Top 20. You also had some a couple of higher-end, second-tier drivers (Erik Jones and Clint Bowyer) finish in the Top 5.
Add it all up, and Sunday’s race is an opportunity to get a little creative with your season-long Fantasy NASCAR lineups for Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game. At the very least, I think you need to save starts from the top Group B and Group C drivers in the DGG, and unless you happen to have a bunch of starts remaining from the elite options at Fantasy Live, I’d consider allocating at least four spots to some of those second-tier drivers who show speed in practice and qualifying.
Busch continued his recent run of dominance at Pocono with a win back in June, and he will try for the season sweep this weekend. He has finished third or better in the last four races here, picking up three wins. Busch has also led laps in the last eight races at Pocono, leading 50-plus in four of the last five.
Don’t read too much into is 22nd-place finish at Pocono in June. Harvick was set to have the lead going into the stretch run of the race, but an uncontrolled tire penalty on the final stop ended his chances. Still, he is tied for the series lead with seven Top 5s in the last 10 races here, and he has finished fourth or better in five of the last six races.
Hamlin is no longer a dominant force at Pocono, but he remains one of the steadier performers at the track. He has eight Top 15s in the last 10 races here, including six Top 10s. Hamlin finished sixth in the June race earlier this year and should offer a Top 10 floor with Top 5 upside Sunday. This could be a good spot to use up one of his starts in the Driver Group Game.