Pocono provides high speed action, three unique turns as opposed to the traditional four, and the longest straightaway in NASCAR. Although, it has been criticized as of late from many in the racing world for not only being far too long of a race, but there has also been concerns of the overall safety of the track.
You may recall last seasons’ races at Pocono ending with a couple violent wrecks, one involving Kasey Kahne climbing the wall and obliterating several hedges on the outside of the track. The other, one of the most vicious wrecks I have witnessed with Elliot Sadler slamming the wall at the entrance of the Tunnel Turn and subsequently sending his engine flying from his ravaged race car.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Pocono International Raceway, and might I say that the folks in Long Pond were quite hospitable in my particular case.
I would like to give Pocono International Raceway and the Mattioli Family Kudos this week for their efforts making Pocono Raceway the largest solar-powered sports facility in the world. Following last year’s race in June, PIR began a project to satisfy the entire energy consumption for the track, as well as help to power an additional 1,000 homes. By December 2010, the 25 acre solar module facility was fully operational and had already produced over 1,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. Being that my career (besides providing readers less than helpful NASCAR picks each week) happens to be in the energy industry, this story really hits home for me.
Another race and another Top 5 for my pick of the week was the story from Kansas. I will have to admit that submitting my picks before qualifying does get me nervous from time to time, but never as much as it did last week.
My Dark Horse last week started the race in the 26th spot, and couldn’t manage to improve his spot in the end either. A.J. Allmendinger had a rough go of it last Sunday, fighting a loose race car for all 400 miles. Allmendinger flirted with the Top 15 just after the midway point in the race, but never really contended to bring me points for a Top 10 finish as a Dark Horse.
I did have a high-quality pick in my pick of the week as Jeff Gordon drove his Drive to End Hunger Chevy to a fourth place finish. Gordon had me second-guessing my pick following his qualifying efforts on Saturday, putting his #24 machine in 22nd spot; however he put my indecision to rest quickly following the green flag. Gordon flew into the tenth spot just 22 laps into the 267 and never really looked back from there. It took Gordon just 118 laps to reach the Top 5, and reached a race high second place on lap 171. The #24 would end up in the fuel-mileage game at the end, and would eventually finish fourth. Kudos to me for another Top 5.
This week, I have decided to go with a driver who is very familiar with Victory Lane at PIR. For my winner pick, I am going with a guy who has finished outside the Top 10 only twice in ten starts at the Tricky Triangle. As a Rookie, he swept the pole in both races at Pocono, and went on to win both races. Denny Hamlin is my winner pick this week not only for his history at Pocono, but for his strong finish last week at Kansas. Coming off a third place finish last week, Hamlin will be hungry to improve his chances of making the Chase – sitting in 11th currently with no wins on the season. Hamlin won this race last June, and is no stranger to the front of the field at Pocono.
Juan Pablo Montoya seems to have something when it comes to high speeds. With the Long Pond Straight, NASCAR Sprint Cup cars can reach speeds topping 205 mph. Montoya started outside pole last week at Kansas, and I expect him to be towards the front again this week. Pocono seems to cater to drivers who start near the front, and Juan has laid down some fantastic qualifying laps this year. He has three Top-10’s, including a runner up finish in 2009, in his last four starts at Pocono, so this week look for him to surprise you Sunday Afternoon.
On a side note, I would like to say Happy Fathers Day to all the dads who read my column each week. And in honor of my father, I will add in a bit for his favorite driver Tony Stewart. Watching the show from Eldora this past Wednesday night brought me back to my days of going to Brewerton and Fulton Speedways in Upstate New York. My dad introduced me to the sport of racing with Quarter-Midgets and hometown tracks at a young age, and has given me a sport that I will continue to enjoy for days to come. So Kudos to Smoke on yet another successful Prelude To A Dream, and Kudos to you dad for introducing me to one of the most joyful parts of my life.
Until next week, you stay classy NASCAR NATION!!!