Monday, 27 January 2020

The Oddities: Pocono & Indy – Yahoo Sports

The Oddities: Pocono & Indy – Yahoo Sports
24 Dec

Every track is unique. Some are just more unique than others.

When NASCAR visits Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it is as much a geometry lesson as a race. Pocono’s distinctive shape makes it a scalene triangle – a three-sided track with uneven lengths of straightaways. Indy is a true rectangle.

The two courses share more than just odd configurations, however: both are minimally-banked and 2.5-miles in length. In fact, Indy’s corners served as inspiration for one of Pocono’s three turns and while the radius had to be altered to make it fit, the similarity between these two tracks is among the greatest of all 24 courses NASCAR currently visits.

The 2-mile tracks of Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club rival Pocono + Indy and will be profiled later in the off-season.

In 2020 NASCAR will race a double header for the first time in their history. Back in the early days, running back-to-back races on different tracks was commonplace; this year, NASCAR will experiment with two points’ paying events on a single course in consecutive days.

In order to accommodate the two races, NASCAR has shortened both events. Instead of 400-mile races, the Saturday race will be 325 miles; Sunday’s race will be 350 miles for a total of 675 miles. For a complete look at the schedule, visit NBC NASCAR Talk.

This will make it the longest weekend ever, but the cars have been subjected to 600-mile races since 1960 with the creation of the World 600 and NASCAR is confident they can stand up to the strain.

It seems reasonable that a few drivers will be well-suited to this type of schedule and some new names will rise to the top of the order. For the moment, all fantasy players have at their disposal are historical stats.

On flat tracks, both long and short, Kevin Harvick rules the roost. When parsed down to Pocono and Indy, Harvick has a near-perfect record of top-10s dating back to the start of 2016. He has only one win, but that was a dominant performance in last year’ Brickyard 400. His only stumble came last June in the Pocono 400, but he still has an average finish of better than sixth on the combined courses in the past four years.

In that same span of races, Kyle Busch has the most wins with four – including a victory in the 2019 Pocono 400. He was riding a six-race streak of top-10s on the 2.5-mile flat tracks entering the Brickyard 400 last year until a blown engine on Lap 87 sent him home 37th. Busch has been an all-or-nothing driver on these two tracks throughout his history. Counterbalancing his 26 top-10s are 10 results of 30th or worse. Three of those were engine-related, so the extra miles could play a factor in the Pocono Sunday 350-miler.

Last year’s Pennsylvania 400 winner is widely considered one of the best flat track racers of all time. Ever since he swept Pocono’s Victory Lane from the pole as a rookie, Denny Hamlin has loved coming to the triangular track. He added another pair of wins at Pocono in 2009/2010. He has not been quite as strong at Indy, but on the two tracks combined he has six top-10s in his last seven races.

William Byron was the only driver in the field to sweep the top 10 in all three races on the 2.5-mile flat tracks last year. He finished ninth in Pocono 1 and was fourth in Pocono 2 and at Indy. He continues to mature on every type of track and after avoiding a sophomore slump in 2019, he could have an even better season in 2020. Both tracks have been kind to Hendrick Motorsports, so Byron could get his first win in one of the double-header races.

Clint Bowyer came close to adding his name alongside Byron. He finished 11th in the Pennsylvania 400 and was fifth in Pocono 1 and at Indy. He had another fifth and 11th in 2018 to give him a current five-race streak of results 11th or better on these two tracks. When Bowyer misses, he still manages to go the full distance nearly every time. Bowyer has finished on the lead lap in 38 of 42 attempts on this track type for a 90.5% completion rate.

Erik Jones took to this track type immediately. He finished third in the 2017 Pocono 1 race and was eighth when the series returned in July. He entered last year’s Brickyard 400 with a four-race, top-five string on the 2.5-mile flat tracks, but he was eliminated early with an accident on Lap 48 and was not able to keep his streak alive. With a great set of notes from teammates Busch and Hamlin, he will be one of this year’s top contenders again.



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