NASCAR Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono

2012 NASCAR Pennsylvania 400
Pocono Raceway – Long Pond, Pennsylvania
2.5 mile tri-oval (160 laps)
Sunday, August 5, 2012, 1:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Defending Champion: Brad Keselowski
All Odds courtesy of Bookmaker

Jimmy Johnson Brickyard 400
Jimmie Johnson is favored to win the NASCAR Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono.

It was less than 2 months ago that NASCAR last visited Long Pond, Pennsylvania and it’s 2.5 mile tri-oval Pocono Raceway. In that race Joey Logano won from the pole for his first and only win this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, although he has won numerous times on the Nationwide series this year.

With only six races left before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, some drivers are trying to shore up their position in the top 10. Others though are just trying  to get into the chase, whether it is through one of the 10 automatic spots or one of the two wild card spots.

In Saturday’s qualifying, Juan Pablo Montoya surprisingly won the pole. He has struggled all season. Denny Hamlin completes the front row. Here is the complete starting grid.

Let’s take a look at the favorites and contenders with odds courtesy of Bookmaker.

Jimmie Johnson (5/2)

Johnson is 4th in the race for the Chase Standings, 27 points behind leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Through 20 races, he has 15 top ten finishes including 10 top 5’s and 3 wins at Dover, Darlington, and last week at Indianapolis. He became the third driver along with Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski to win 3 races. The drivers are reseeded when the Chase starts based on how many wins they have. Johnson qualified 10th at Pocono. In 21 starts at the track, Johnson has 15 top 10’s, including 9 top 5’s and 2 wins. His two wins at the track both came in 2004. He had one finish of 42nd, but otherwise hasn’t finished lower than 15th at the track. Johnson, finished 4th here in the June race,  for the third straight race at Pocono. I see another top 10 finish this week barring accident or engine problems. He might even win the race.

Denny Hamlin (4/1)

Hamlin is 5th in the points, 67 behind Earnhardt. In 20 races this season, Hamlin has 11 top 10’s, including 9 top 5’s and 2 wins at Phoenix and Kansas. He has 3 top 6 finishes in his last 4 races, including a 6th place finish at the Brickyard last week. He came in 5th in the June race at Pocono, and will start second this week. In 13 career races at Pocono, Hamlin has 9 top 10’s including 8 top 5’s and 4 wins. His last win came in 2010, but he has had great success at the track. He is my pick to grab his third win of the year.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (9/2)

Last week, by virtue of his 4th place finish at Indy, Dale Jr. took over the points lead for the first time since 2004. He leads Matt Kenseth by 14 points. Earnhardt has been very consistent this season with 15 top tens in 20 races, including 9 top 5’s and a win at Michigan. He hasn’t finished lower than 23rd in any race. He finished 8th in the June race at Pocono, and will start 8th for this week’s race. He has never won at Pocono in 25 career starts at the track, but does have 9 top tens with 5 top 5’s. I think he gets another top ten this week.

Kyle Busch (17/2)

Busch is 11th in points, 143 behind Earnhardt. However, he holds the second wild spot. Busch has 9 top tens in 20 races with 6 top 5’s and a win at Richmond. He finished second last week at Indy, only his second top 10 in the last 8 races. He finished 30th at Pocono in the June race, and will start 20th for this race. He has never won at Pocono, but has 5 top 10’s including 4 top 5’s in 15 races. He had three straight top 3 finishes at Pocono before the June race. The younger Busch brother has had some bad luck recently with accidents and engine problems, but he has the talent to win every race. I think he can get a top ten this week.

Tony Stewart (10/1)

Stewart is 8th in points, 79 points behind Earnhardt. He has 10 top tens this season, including 8 top 5’s and 3 wins at Las Vegas, California, and the summer race at Daytona. He came 10th at the Brickyard last week. Stewart came in third in the June race at Pocono but will start 28th this week. In 32 Pocono races in his career, Stewart has 19 top 10’s including 10 top 5’s and 2 wins. His last win at the track was in 2009, but he has had top 3 finishes in 5 of the last 8 races here. I like Stewart to grab a top 10,  and he has a good shot to win his fourth race of the year.

Kasey Kahne (10/1)

Kahne is 13th in points,152 behind. He does hold the first wild card spot by virtue of his two wins at Charlotte and New Hampshire. Kahne also has 10 top 10’s and 5 top 5’s. He finished 12th last week at Indianapolis.  Kahne finished 29th at Pocono in June, and will start 4 th for this race. In 17 career Pocono races, He has 5 top 10’s including 3 top 5’s and a win in 2008. Kahne has finished 12th or worse in his last 5 starts at Pocono, and 19th or worse in 4 of those 5.

Carl Edwards (10/1)

Edwards is currently on the outside looking in for the Chase. He is 12th in the standings, 149 behind Earnhardt and 61 behind Clint Bowyer for 10th. His best hope of making the chase is to grab one of the two wild card spots, and he needs to win at least once to do that. Edwards has 9 top tens and2 top 5’s in 20 starts this year. He had a 29th place finish last week at Indy, and it hurt him this close to the Chase. Edwards finished 11th in the June race here, and will start 17th this week. In 15 career Pocono races, Edwards has 7 top 10’s, 5 top 5’s and 2 wins in 2005 and 2008. Engine problems knocked him out of this race in 2011, where he finished 37th.

Greg Biffle (11/1)

Biffle is third in points, 22 behind. He has 12 top 10’s with 9 top 5’s and a win at Texas. He came in 3rd at the Brickyard last week, his second straight top ten after back to back 21st place finishes in July. Biffle had his worst finish of the season in the June Pocono race at 24th place, and will start 12th for this race. In 19 career Pocono races, Biffle has 4 top 10’s with 2 top 5’s and a win in 2010.

Matt Kenseth (11/1)

Kenseth led the points standings for most of the season until last week when he gave up the lead to Earnhardt. He is in second, 14 points behind. He finished 35th at Indianapolis, by far his worst finish of the season. That broke a streak of 14 straight races where he finished 13th or better. For the season,  Kenseth had 13 top 10’s, 9 top 5’s and a win in the Daytona 500. He finished 7th in the June race here, and will start 7th this week. He has never won at Pocono in 25 career starts, and has 10 top 10’s with 3 top 5’s.

Jeff Gordon (12/1)

Jeff Gordon is 15th in points, 167 behind Earnhardt and 79 behind Bowyer for 10th. Gordon has 8 top 10’s with 3 top 5’s and no wins. He has finished 12th or better in his last 6 races, and 5th or 6th in 5 of the last 6. It isn’t nearly enough to dig him out of the hole he is in thanks to way too many bad finishes earlier in the season. Gordon finished 5th at Indy last week. He came in 19th in the June race, and will start 27th this week. In 39 career Pocono races, Gordon has 27 top 10’s, 17 top 5’s and  5 wins. He won the June race here in 2011. He could get another top 10, but he needs wins.

Brad Keselowski (15/1)

Keselowski is 9th in points 82 behind the leader. In 20 races, he has 10 top 10’s 6 top 5’s and 3 wins at Bristol, Talladega, and Kentucky. He also has 3 finishes of 32nd or worse this season, which is why he is only ninth in the standings. Keselowski finished 18th in the June race, and will start 31st for this race. Keselowski won this race last year, despite driving with a broken ankle. It was his only top 10 in five career races at Pocono.

Other drivers and their odds include Mark Martin (18/1), Juan Montoya and Kevin Harvick (both 25/1), Martin Truex, Jr. , Clint Bowyer, and Joey Logano (all 30/1), Ryan Newman (35/1), Jeff Burton (40/1), and the field is 18/1.

It should be an exciting race at Pocono as the Chase draws near.

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