At first glance, this stage of the schedule appears to have a lot of variety. Last week, the Cup series ran a short, 318-mile sprint on a 1-mile track. This week, the race is contested over 400 miles on a triangular-shaped 2.5-mile track. Next week will be the second road course race of the season.
There is actually more in common among these three tracks than meets the eye.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway are both flat tracks. They share a characteristic with Watkins Glen International in that drivers need to slow down before the corner and accelerate at the apex. Some of the driver who ran well in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 will repeat this week and should be watched closely at the Glen.
Flat tracks are rhythm courses and that means that the drivers on this list should dominate the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster for the Gander Outdoors 400.
1. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 4.00)
When looking for a driver to pair with the Big 3, Keselowski is the obvious choice at Pocono. He enters the weekend with a current six-race streak of top fives that includes second-place finishes in 2015 and 2016. His last three races on this track were fifth-place results.
2. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 4.20)
Harvick has not yet won at Pocono and that could prove to be a big motivating force this week. Along with Kentucky Speedway, this is the only active track on which he’s failed to find victory lane, but he’s finished second four times in the last eight races.
3. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.40)
Busch won the 2016 Pocono 400 that was delayed by rain until Monday. He finished fourth the following year in the June Pocono race. Unfortunately, his other three races since his latest win have not been quite as strong as the drivers that surround him in this week’s top 10 with a best of 10th and a worst of 19th this spring. Use him only if he has great practice times.
4. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 10.60)
Busch was winless at Pocono until last July. He started on the pole, led the first 21 laps, won Segment 1 of the race, and then put himself in position to take the lead when it mattered most. He paced the field for the final 17 laps. This spring, he finished third for his fourth consecutive Pocono top 10.
5. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 10.60)
The Pocono 400 this June was one of Kenseth’s best runs in the No. 6. In his third start of the season, he cracked the top 15 for the first time in his new ride. He finished 13th. Last week, Kenseth got his second top 15 (15th) on another flat track. Those two factors combine to suggest he could finish that well again. That makes him a good value in salary cap games where he is moderately priced, but it’s not enough to add him to the Fantasy Live roster.
6. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 11.60)
In his rookie season, Blaney finished 11th and 10th. Last year, he won his first Cup race, but almost as if Fate demanded balance, he fell two laps off the pace in the second race and finished 30th. He was back inside the top 10 this spring with a sixth in the Pocono 400, but it remains to be seen if he can regain his consistency.
7. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 11.80)
Larson’s average is deceptive. It is skewed by a drive train failure last July that sent him behind the wall for 12 laps. If that is removed from his record, he has a career average of 7.75, which would make this his third best track. Larson is a driver who historically has run the high line, so such a great record on a track with a single groove at the bottom is exceptional.
8. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 13.00)
Like Larson, Elliott has only one bad finish during his Pocono career and that makes his average look worse than it should be. Crash damage in the second race of 2016 gave him a 33rd-place finish, but the remainder of his five career races ended in the top 10.
9. Erik Jones (three-year average: 13.33 in three starts)
Will Jones repeat the theme of the two drivers above him? He swept the top 10 in his rookie season before finishing 29th this spring with crash damage. If he follows true to form with Larson and Elliott, that might be his only poor result for quite some time.
10. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 13.40)
Truex won the 2015 Pocono 400, but he had trouble on the 2.5-mile flat track in his next three attempts. From summer 2015 through the end of 2016, his best effort was 19th, which he scored twice. Last spring, he finished sixth and has steadily improved since until he won this spring’s race in dominant fashion.
Pole Winner: Kyle Busch swept the pole last year at Pocono. He’s started on the front row five times in 2018 and among the top 10 on 14 occasions. Blaney won this spring and could be a long shot to sweep the season.
Segment Winners: Brad Keselowski has scored points in every stage of a Cup race at Pocono, but he has not yet won a segment. That could mean that he is due to win this week and if a player needs to roll the dice to move up in their league, he is an excellent choice. Make the final decision based on practice, however, and select the driver with the best 10-lap average who qualifies on the first three rows.