The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway this weekend, and if the 2.5-mile oval's triangular shape didn't already do enough to make it stand out compared to other tracks on the schedule, Pocono will also play host to a weekend doubleheader. The action kicks off on Saturday with the Pocono Organics CBD 325, and it will wrap on Sunday with the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350.
While the results and points from the two races are independent of each other for both the drivers and fantasy owners, Saturday's opener will have significant implications on the second leg of the doubleheader. NASCAR will set part of the field for Sunday's race by inverting the top 20 finishers from the first race of the weekend. The remaining spots will be filled out with the typical qualifying formula.
At a low-banked track at Pocono, where tire wear is minimal, and passing is difficult, track position is crucial. Drivers who start up front Sunday could parlay the clean air to solid showings, and it also means that drivers could coast at the end of Saturday's opener to secure a stronger starting spot.
For drivers already locked into the playoffs, the loss of points from finishing eighth compared to 15th on Saturday means nothing, but starting near the front on Sunday could mean a better chance at a stage win or the race win.
From a fantasy standpoint, I'll be leaning heavily on how drivers have performed this year, especially at flatter tracks and 550-horsepower tracks, and on how they have performed at Pocono in recent years. I will also be paying close attention to Saturday's race. I am not opposed to running back a similar lineup if I have success in the opener, but if I notice some potential sleepers, I will try to take advantage in the second race.
- Kyle Larson: His last start at Pocono came in 2019 when he finished fifth but as dominant as he has been recently, Larson would be the favorite regardless of his track history. He heads into the weekend, having won three straight races, four if you throw in the All-Star Race, and three consecutive runner-up efforts preceded his winning streak. Larson is on an all-time hot streak.
- Denny Hamlin: The six-time Pocono winner remains one of the best in the business at the triangle-shaped track. He finished second and first during the doubleheader weekend last year, and he has two wins and a 2.5 average finish in the last four races here.
- Kevin Harvick: He finished first and second at Pocono last year, and over the last 10 races here, he leads all drivers with seven top-5s, nine top-10s, and a 5.6 average finish. Harvick has also led double-digit laps in five of the last six Pocono races, and he is set to start third on Saturday. This is a great spot to try to steal a start from Harvick in the Driver Group Game.
- Chase Elliott: Elliott has to start deep in the field after his Nashville disqualification, but he has otherwise been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks, and he has six top-10s in the last eight Pocono races, including a fourth-place run last year when he gained 21 spots. He is a must-own option in Slingshot Fantasy Auto, and Elliott should be one of the top DFS scorers.
- Kyle Busch: He has piled up eight top-10s in the last nine races at Pocono, and Busch has notched a series-high three wins at the track in that span. He has also led double-digit laps in six of those nine starts, leading 50+ laps five times. Armed with a top-5 starting spot, Busch should be a fantasy force in just about any format.
- William Byron: Byron has been challenging for top-5s on a routine basis lately, and I don't expect that to change at Pocono. He has four top-10s and a 9.7 average finish in six starts here, and he will roll off from the front row. Don't hesitate to use him in your Fantasy Live and DGG lineups.
- Martin Truex Jr.: He has logged three straight top-10s at Pocono, and Truex has finished sixth or better in five of his last eight starts at the track, picking up a win in 2018. He has been a bit boom or bust compared to some other big names this year, but he has plenty of upside in all formats.
- Alex Bowman: Bowman's results at Pocono have been a mixed bag, but he had solid cars in both races here last year, and he logged a top-10 in the second race. Like the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Bowman has been ripping off string finishes in recent weeks, and I expect the No. 88 to be fast again Saturday. He is a top-10 contender with top-5 upside.
- Brad Keselowski: It has been a quiet stretch for Keselowski the last several weeks, but a trip to Pocono could be just what the doctor ordered. He has an 8.8 average finish in the last 10 races here, logging nine finishes of 11th or better and six top-5s. Starting 18th, he should be a safe play at the DFS sites.
- Ryan Blaney: The former Pocono winner will start 27th after last weekend's crash at Nashville, but Blaney has finished 12th or better in eight of his last 10 starts here. He should be one of the biggest movers on Saturday, and Blaney is positioned to be an ideal fantasy play in Slingshot and for DFS contests.
- Christopher Bell: It was a tale of two races at Pocono for Bell as a rookie, and after finishing fourth in his track debut, he crashed out in the second leg of the 2020 doubleheader. Still, the top-5 is intriguing, especially since he now drives for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team that was excellent here with Erik Jones in recent years. Bell is a high-risk, high-reward, but he could be a real X-factor for a lineup.
- Joey Logano: The 550 tracks haven't been his strong suit this year, and I wouldn't put a ton of trust in Logano this weekend. He has gone nine straight starts at Pocono without a top-5, and he has finished outside the top 20 five times in that stretch. This is not the week to target Logano in the season-long contests.
- Aric Almirola: His 2021 season as a whole has been terrible, but Almirola has run well at most flatter tracks, posting a 7.0 average finish across races at Phoenix, Richmond, and Nashville. He also finished in the top 5 in both Pocono races last season. This is a good spot to try to steal a start from him in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
- Ross Chastain: He continued his recent surge with a runner-up effort at Nashville, and Chastain has now logged three finishes of seventh or better in the last four races and has just one finish worse than 17th in his last 10 starts. He has to be considered the No. 1 Group C option in the Driver Group Game, and since he gets to stat sixth on Saturday, you could even roll the dice on him as a Fantasy Live sleeper.
- Kurt Busch: Busch has turned in his share of impressive performances at Pocono over the years, including a trio of wins. He has been a little more inconsistent here in recent years, but he has managed a pair of top-15s in four starts in the No. 1. Armed with a top-10 starting spot, Busch could be worth a look as a Fantasy Live or DGG sleeper.
- Tyler Reddick: He had two terrible outings at Pocono as a rookie, but Reddick has come alive after a slow start to the 2021 campaign. He heads into the weekend on a streak of 11 straight top-20s, logging seven top-10s in that span. At this point, Reddick has to be considered a potential Group B option in the DGG regardless of his track history.
- Austin Dillon: Pocono won't qualify as Dillon's best track, but he does have three straight top-20s here, including a 14th-place effort in the second race last season. Perhaps more importantly, he owns a career-best 12.9 average finish so far this season, so a top-15 isn't out of the question.
- Matt DiBenedetto: He has been slumping a bit coming into Pocono, but DiBenedetto had two solid runs here a year ago. He followed up a 13th-place finish in the first race with a sixth-place run in the second event, and DiBenedetto earned points in all four stages in those events. Starting 21st, he is at least worth a look for DFS contests.
- Chris Buescher: Buescher's fog-assisted win will always be his biggest Pocono highlight, but he has also finished 16th or better in three of the last four races here, notching a top-10 in the first race last year. Throw in his top-15 results at many of the 550-horsepower tracks, and I like him at the DFS sites and for Slingshot from the 25th starting spot Saturday.
- Ryan Newman: He won't wow you with upside, but Newman has a 14.8 average finish in the last 10 Pocono races, notching seven top-15s. He only has one finish worse than 18th in that stretch, finishing between 14th and 18th in all four starts here with Roush Fenway Racing. Newman's steady floor gives him some value as a cash game option at the DFS sites.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse is coming off a strong sixth-place effort at Nashville, and for the most part, he has been a top-20 performer with top-15 upside all season. He finished 17th and 15th in the two Pocono races last year, and he has an 18.1 average finish in the last 10 races here. Stenhouse will be hard to trust at the DFS sites on Saturday when he starts in the top 10, but I like him as a Group C alternative to Ross Chastain in the Driver Group Game.
- Daniel Suarez: Throw out last year's results with an overmatched Gaunt Brothers Racing team, and Suarez has finished in the top 15 in four of his six starts at Pocono, logging three top-10s. We have seen him outperform expectations with Trackhouse Racing this season, and while a top-15 starting spot kills his DFS appeal, it does make Suarez a potential Group C play in the DGG.
- Chase Briscoe: The rookie has been improving in recent weeks, cracking the top 20 in five of the last seven races. A brake issue at Nashville ruined another solid outing, and it also has him starting 28th on Saturday. Stewart-Haas Racing had a strong team showing at Pocono last year, so I think Briscoe could be a Group C sleeper in the DGG or a lower-priced option at Slingshot.
- Erik Jones: Pocono will be an interesting test for Jones. He was a stud here in his time with Joe Gibbs Racing, logging six top-10s, including four top-3 finishes, in eight starts. He isn't going to be challenging for a top-5 now that he is in the No. 43, but maybe he can push for a top-15 at one of his best tracks. Starting 22nd, he is worth using in some DFS lineups.
- Bubba Wallace: Wallace was a mid-pack performer at Pocono his last couple of years with Richard Petty Motorsports, finishing between 20th and 22nd in each of his last four starts. He is set to start 20th on Saturday, and there is a good chance he hovers in that range all afternoon. Wallace doesn't offer a lot of fantasy upside.
- Cole Custer: Custer cracked the top 20 in both Pocono starts as a rookie, gaining nine spots in the first race of the doubleheader. As I mentioned with Chase Briscoe, SHR has been fast as an organization at Pocono, so Custer has some DFS appeal from the 26th starting spot. I'd throw him in a few lineups.
- Michael McDowell: He had a surprise eighth-place finish in the first race of the Pocono doubleheader last year, but he has typically been a mid-pack performer at the track. McDowell has had some success at 550-horsepower tracks this season, but starting inside the top 20 on Saturday limits his value to GPP contests at the DFS sites.
- Ryan Preece: Preece has been struggling in recent weeks, and while he has cracked the top 25 in three of his four Pocono starts, his best finish at the track is 20th. Starting 31st should ensure that Preece has a positive place differential, but he is still a low-ceiling punt play, at best.
- Corey LaJoie: He finished 21st and 23rd in the two races at Pocono last year, and LaJoie has quietly been running better in recent weeks. He has finished 22nd or better in seven of his last nine starts, reeling off four straight top-20s. It would be nice if LaJoie were starting deeper than 23rd on Saturday, but he could still be worth a look as a GPP-only, low-priced flier.
- Anthony Alfredo: Alfredo has cracked the top 25 in five of the eight races leading up to Pocono, and he has finished 28th or better in all but one of those starts. Unfortunately, for fantasy purposes, a surprise top-20 last weekend at Nashville has him starting 24th, making him a reach as a differential-based play.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.
This article is free, but Brian also provides a premium service which is an integral part of SI Fantasy Pro. Hit the button below to learn more about the advantage you'll gain across from our DFS & gambling experts.