Weren't we just here? This weekend the Sprint Cup Series makes a trip to Pocono for the second time in as many months. And in a serious case of déjà vu, qualifying was once again rained out, putting point leader and winner of last month's race at Pocono Tony Stewart once again on the pole. The way Stewart is running lately, if you've got him - use him, I'm not going to waste a slot below telling you that. Again pit strategy and fuel mileage will be key at Pocono. Drivers, and yes I'm talking to you Juan Pablo Montoya, will have to be mindful of their speed on the long pit road and crew chiefs will have to be on top of their game calculating fuel mileage down to the last drop.
Just six races remain before the Chase field is set and the battle for the coveted 12 post-season spots hasn't cooled off a bit. For the drivers that seem to have a spot locked up, wins are their main objective to earn the most bonus points possible. For those drivers that are still fighting to be in the game after Richmond, it's all about solid top 10 finishes and not making mistakes. So which drivers will keep your team in the fight and which ones could be a mistake in the making? Read on to find out this week's favorites, sleepers and longshots.
• Jeff Gordon: At the last stop at Pocono, Gordon led nine laps en route to a fourth place finish. In the six races since, Gordon has finished outside the top 10 only once when he was caught up in a wreck at Daytona. The four-time champ is all but locked into the Chase, but with just one win he'd be in the bottom half of the standings once the points are reset. Gordon needs wins and soon, and with his strong starting position and record at Pocono; he should be in the mix this weekend.
• By the numbers: In the last five races at Pocono, Gordon has one win and four top 10 finishes to combine for an average finish of 6.6.
• Carl Edwards: Last month Edwards thought he had victory in his grasp, but unfortunately for the No. 99 team Tony Stewart's gas tank had other ideas. Nevertheless, Edwards is in a good position for the post-season, but with zero wins to his credit this team isn't heading into the late part of the season quite on the roll they were on last year. Since the last trip to Pocono, Edwards has developed a kind of pattern - two finishes outside the top 10, one top 5, two outside the top 10, one top 5. Guess which part of the pattern is up this week? If the trend holds, look for a top 5 from the 99.
• By the numbers: Edwards is the defending champion of this race and with his runner-up finish in June; he has scored top 10s in the last three Pocono races.
• Juan Pablo Montoya: Most of us at one time or another has been busted for speeding, but rarely have we paid the price that Montoya did last week. A dominating performance at the Brickyard, turned from a sure victory to a 11th place finish in a blink of an eye. As Montoya continues his unlikely Chase bid, a repeat of last week's show of power isn't likely; but another big, flat track could bring him the top 10 finish that will make his Chase dreams come true.
• By the numbers: Montoya finished 8th at Pocono in June and has followed it up with six finishes inside the top 12.
• Marcos Ambrose: If you're looking for a low priced bargain or driver from a low end group this week, take a serious look at Ambrose. When the Aussie first came on the scene, many speculated that his success would be relegated to the road course events alone, but this season he has shown that he's not just a one trick pony. Ambrose has earned five top 10 finishes this year, one coming at Pocono in June and two in the six races since. He may not bring you another top 10, but a solid top 15 finish isn't out of the question.
• By the numbers: Ambrose has been running at the end of 13 straight races and has finished on the lead lap in all but two of those events.
• Denny Hamlin: When Hamlin burst on the scene in 2006 and swept both Pocono events, it would be hard to fathom a time he would be considered a sleeper pick at this track. It's not so much Hamlin's Pocono performance that puts him on this list, but his recent bout of bad luck that may keep him off the top of fantasy owners' lists. His last trip to Pocono proved showed what kind of bad luck he's had to deal with. Before finishing the first lap, his Toyota lost fuel pressure sending him to the garage for an extended stay. Last week at the Brickyard, the mechanical gremlins struck again; this time a broken drive shaft forced to a 34th place finish. The good news for Hamlin and his fans is that he bounced back the following week with a strong finish. Go ahead and take the chance, he certainly knows what it takes to run well at Pocono.
• By the numbers: After his troubles at Pocono in June, Hamlin scored two straight top-5 finishes. Then after a mediocre 15th place run at Loudon, he was back in the top 5 for two more events before last week's trouble at Indy.
• Kyle Busch: If I had told you that 20 races into the season that Kyle Busch would have three wins and yet be outside the top 12 in the standings, you probably would have thought I was crazy. Well I've been called worse, but I would have been right (not that I would have taken that bet either). The question isn't whether or not Busch has the talent or equipment to make up the ground he has lost lately, but does he have the patience. Can he be the dominant driver we know he can be without letting desperation and his emotions ruin their chances?
• By the numbers: For those reasons above and the fact that Busch hasn't finish better than 22nd in the last three Pocono events, I'm throwing out a caution when it comes to playing him this weekend.
• The Sprint Cup boys make one more go around on a road course at Watkins Glen.
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