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The last two weeks in racing have really been something special. It is always tough to know how things are going to turn out, but it was a great sign seeing the Truck, Open, All-Star, ARCA, XFINITY, and Cup series races absolutely providing pillar to post excitement. We can only hope as the regular season ages on, it will continue to provide an extreme level of enjoyment.
I typically look at the Coca-Cola 600 as the point where drivers who are on the outside looking in start to take a few more chances. There are a lot of drivers who are on the cusp of getting to that next level, and I think some of these bigger tracks and road courses, as well as another trip to Daytona, will provide some unexpected results.
Takeaways from Last Week
The hope spot for Stewart-Haas is over. For those not familiar, in the professional wrestling industry, the hope spot is a spot before the end of a match where the eventual loser of the bout will do something to give the crown hope that they will win. After Kansas and some solid practices, I am pretty close to writing Stewart-Haas off as dead. The cars continue to overqualify, show speed and then fade to black.
Huge props to both Chris Buescher and Corey LaJoie for their unexpected finishes. Buescher has been potentially the biggest surprise of the year, notching 3 top tens on 1.5-mile tracks this year. LaJoie has consistently been showing more speed than Front Row Motorsports, but this is likely not something we are going to see again.
Pocono has been a track where we have typically seen stacked fields, but this week, the only Cup series drivers present are Austin Dillon and Ryan Preece, who has not really gotten far along in the Cup series. It will be interesting to see how these two will impact the race.
Christopher Bell had a very fast car last week, but it was Tyler Reddick who came out on top after Bell and most Toyotas lost tires. This week, I have a feeling we are going to see a first-time winner for the year. This is not a highly volatile track for accidents, averaging only a few cars that are out per year, and that includes the start and parks.
There have not been a lot of cautions at this track since XFINITY started running here, and I am going to expect a lot of green flag runs again this week.
Prediction: I am going with Jeffery Earnhardt. He has been performing well in this car. He had a third-place finish last week. If not him, I would look at either Brandon Jones or Chase Briscoe.
This race has mostly resulted in Busch or Truex winning over the last few years, with Ryan Blaney sneaking one in during that point. While it is safe to say that Gibbs has the drivers who excelled at this track in the recent past, I would not rule out Hendricks Motorsports or Team Penske. Those are the teams that have been showing speed and contesting for wins, and I do not see a reason while this would change this week.
The profile of these race seems to fit that similar to XFINITY: around 3 cautions on average with around 5 cars not finishing the race. This is a longer race than what the XFINITY series offers (all of them are), so you will see far more vehicle attrition in the Cup race. On average, 25% of the field finishes this even 2 laps or more down. This is a track where you need your driver to stay on the lead lap, as the lack of cautions will really not give them an opportunity to get back on it.
From a daily fantasy perspective, you do want to find someone who can lead a lot of laps, but place differential can end up playing a much larger role than on smaller tracks. Qualifying always plays a very important part in our choices, but if we get some decent cars starting near the back (and being scored from there), it can certainly alter how lineup builds come together this weekend.
Prediction: After a somewhat chalky winner in Martin Truex Jr. last week, I am going to go out on a limb and say we see Eric Jones pick up the win here. I think now we start seeing drivers really push it, and Jones can do it with the best of them.