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Pocono Raceway is one of the quirkiest tracks on the schedule. With three unique corners and straightaways, it requires a measure of compromise that, if it is not at the top of the chart, is certainly near there.
For the second consecutive season, Pocono hosts a doubleheader. Drivers and teams have practically no time to react between Saturday and Sunday’s race and that means now more than ever, they need to build adjustability into the cars. Of course, even when these two dates were on different weekends, they were extremely close to one another on the schedule and track conditions did not change drastically between the two events.
Last year five drivers swept the top 10 in the Pocono pair. That kind of momentum is not uncommon because the same thing happened in 2019. In 2017, seven drivers doubled down in regard to top-10s, so choosing which drivers are worthy of a portion of your Sunday betting budget is going to be – well, not easy, but perhaps not as difficult as for some races.
Winning four consecutive races is difficult. In the Modern Era since 1972, it has been done eight times, but only twice in 21st Century. Jimmie Johnson was the last to do it in 2007, a little less than 14 years ago. That is pretty much the only reason we are not going to recommend Kyle Larson this week.
In his stead, we are putting our money on Chase Elliott (+850) for a couple of reasons. Primarily that is because of how strong Hendrick Motorsports has been on this track. Their 17 wins have come with six different drivers. Elliott is not one of them, and strictly by his track record, one might be prone to avoid him since he has only three top-fives in 10 starts – but then there is the second reason.
Never underestimate the determination of a ticked off driver. If Elliott was not already determined to end his teammate’s winning streak and put the spotlight back on the No. 9, he wants to make a statement about the penalty from NASCAR for last week’s loose lugnuts at Nashville Superspeedway.
Best Bets for a top five
Of course, by the numbers it is impossible to ignore Larson (+225). He is performing so well at the moment that he is changing the betting lines for drivers throughout the field, and until he cools off he has to be considered one of the top choices. But NASCAR is inherently risky and if a bettor is going to take that gamble, he probably wants a greater return than $2.25 on the dollar.
Last year Kevin Harvick (+900) and Denny Hamlin (+775) were the drivers to beat at Pocono. Harvick won on Saturday and finished second on Sunday. Hamlin was second on Saturday and won on Sunday. Of course neither of these drivers has been nearly as strong in 2021, but as they both struggle to get their first win of the year, their odds are getting longer. Last week, Harvick showed more promise than we’ve seen in several months. Hamlin is a flat track master who swept this track from the pole in his rookie season. Both deserve a couple of units for the outright win.
If last week is an indication, it is going to take a little while for the traders to catch up to Aric Almirola’s (+6000) potential. He crashed out of the Daytona 500 and has been playing catch up ever since. But last week, things finally turned around for the Stewart-Haas racer. It could not have happened at a better time because he is heading to a track where he had a ton of success last year. He swept the top-five at Pocono and was third at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – another flat 2.5-mile track. Currently at PointsBet Sportsbook, he has a line of +1600 for a top-three and we will take that bet.
Best Bets for a top 10
Kyle Busch (+850) was a huge disappointment last week. We fully expected him to breeze to a top-three, but as the race progressed, either something degenerated on his car or he was unable to keep up with the track. Every weekend is a fresh start, however, and Busch had five wins at Pocono and Indy from 2015 through 2019. Last year he probably would have swept the top-six on these two tracks if not for an accident in Pocono’s second race.
Hendrick Motorsports has rarely had more momentum than at this moment. With their Pocono success, they should easily be able to sweep the top 10 – and as has become the form, the finishing order should be Larson or Elliott fighting for the win, followed by William Byron (+1100) and Alex Bowman (+2000). While the outright odds for the top two drivers drag Larson and Elliott’s subsequent lines to an unattractive place, Byron at +270 for a top-three is a great value. Bowman should join the organization in the top 10, but his minus odds for that result make him a bad bet.
Team Penske has been erratic so far in 2021 and we typically handicap Brad Keselowski (+1600) at the bottom of their group. We’ll give him a little love at Pocono, however, because he was solid on this track and at Indy last year. In three starts, Kez’s worst finish was an 11th in Pocono 2 and his fourth in the Big Machine 400 at Indy soothes any concerns about him getting a top-10.
Cole Custer (+35000) is our wild card, dark horse this week. If SHR has corrected their path, all four drivers should do better this week than what we’re accustomed to seeing. Custer showed a lot of promise at Pocono and Indy last year with a worst finish of 17th at Pocono and a fifth at Indy. So far in 2021, he has four top-15s including recent 10th-place finishes at Talladega Superspeedway and Dover International Speedway. He’s a longshot, but at 350/1, it’s worth risking a little on his outright odds.
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