From the concrete monster of Dover, the Sprint Cup Series tackles another beast this weekend -- Pocono Raceway. With its long straightaways and three unique turns, Pocono is a unique monster that get the best of even the best drivers. The crew chiefs will be earning their pay this weekend as they try to walk the fine line between horsepower and fuel mileage. The long straights beg for horsepower, while the track's layout and tendency for long green flag runs have crew chiefs treating this race almost like a road course, pitting once their fuel window opens.
Another new wrinkle this week is the introduction of the new double-file restart rule. Starting this week, lead lap cars will line up double file on all restarts; making staying on the lead lap paramount since lap cars won't be allowed to start on the inside line to try and regain their lap. This new shootout-style format seems to be a positive move for the drivers, and the fans will surely eat it up, but how will it play on your fantasy team if your driver falls down a lap early? That's something we'll all have to evaluate as the next few races unfold.
But to find out who should help you stay out of the doghouse this weekend at Pocono, read on to find out this week's favorites, sleepers and longshots.
Denny Hamlin- Some drivers have one track that they are forever identified with because of their past performance there. For Hamlin, that track is Pocono after sweeping both races from the pole in his rookie season. After a tough run at Dover that saw him finish 36th after crashing out of the race while running near the front of the field, Hamlin needs a good run, and Pocono should provide.
By the numbers: In six Pocono starts, Hamlin has two wins and five top-10 finishes.
Tony Stewart- Following his runner-up finish at Dover, Stewart enters this weekend's race at Pocono as the series point leader. Second only to teammate Ryan Newman, Stewart has an average finish of 9.8 in the past five races thanks to finishes of third or better in three of the past four races. Expectations continue to build for Stewart to claim his first win as a driver/owner, and if he could pull it off this weekend it would be his first win at Pocono since 2003.
By the numbers: Stewart has six top-10 finishes in his past seven Pocono starts, and over his career he has finished in the top 10 in 70 percent of the Pocono races he's entered.
Mark Martin- After getting off to a slow start to the season, Martin has positioned himself for one of the 12 coveted positions in the Chase as he looks for his first career championship. Since his first win of the year at Phoenix, Martin scored a second win at Darlington and has posted three more top-10 finishes. This weekend at Pocono, Martin looks to break into victory lane for the first time in his Cup career. Whether a win is in the cards or not, another top-10 finish should be a fairly safe bet.
By the numbers: Martin has scored four straight top-10 finishes at Pocono and in his career has 31 top 10s in 44 starts.
Joey Logano- It wasn't too long ago that there was talk that Logano should be replaced in the No. 20 Home Depot Camry to allow him to focus on gaining more experience in the Nationwide Series. All of that talk seems premature now looking at Logano's recent results. Since his ninth-place finish at Talladega, the rookie has scored two more top 10s and hasn't finished lower than 19th. This will be Logano's first start at Pocono, but with a solid, experienced crew chief like Greg Zipadelli he should be able to capitalize on his recent momentum and put in a solid top-15 run.
By the numbers: In the first seven races of the season Logano had an average finish of 30.2; in the past six races his average has skyrocketed to 13.6.
Kasey Kahne- After a rough month of May, Kahne has rebounded the past two races to move back to 14th in the Sprint Cup standings. Now just 66 points out of the top 12, Kahne looks to defend his title at Pocono this weekend. He may not have the new Dodge engine that helped power him to a sixth-place finish last week at Dover, but he does have the confidence and momentum that the finish brought him and his entire team.
By the numbers: In 2008, Kahne led 110 laps in the two races at Pocono; finishing first and seventh. In his career he has four top 10s at Pocono and no DNFs.
Kevin Harvick- Looking at the recent average finishes at Pocono, using Harvick could be a tempting proposition. But looking at his recent finishes in 2009, you'd quickly see that might not be a good idea. After an 11th-place finish at Martinsville in week six, Harvick was sitting tenth in the standings. But seven races later, Harvick is mired in 24th place with a shot at the Chase all but officially a pipe dream. Harvick's 15.4 career average finish at Pocono is good, but not good enough to overlook the trouble this team is having right now.
By the numbers: Since 2005 Harvick has scored four top 10s at Pocono and hasn't finished lower than 17th.
Next up: From the Pocono Mountains, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan.
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