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Pocono Raceway will host the second NASCAR flat track race in as many weeks, but this course does not bear a lot of similarities to New Hampshire Motor Speedway other than the minimal banking. Three distinct corners and lengths of straightaways make this a study in compromise and drivers are rarely happy for two-thirds of their lap.
A little bit of a lot of things can go into the recipe for handicapping this track. Flat courses often behave like road courses and the patience required to ease into the corners is like the intermediate, flat tracks and short, flat tracks, but ultimately it comes down to who has run best on the Tricky Triangle.
With Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s oval configuration no longer on the schedule, Pocono is one of the few tracks that we pretty much handicap on its own and now that this place hosts only a single race, that is going to get increasingly difficult. For now, however, we have a pair of doubleheaders from 2020 and 2021 to consider.
1. Kevin Harvick
We've said it a few times and eventually will be right: This may be the best opportunity Harvick has to win and get in the playoffs because he has eight top-fives in his last 12 Pocono starts, including a win and second-place finish in 2020. (33)
2. Chase Elliott
Elliott is the hottest driver on the circuit right now with four consecutive results of first or second. Pocono has been kind to Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) in the past, but Elliott has only one top-10 in the last two seasons there. (78)
3. Kyle Larson
Larson swept the top-10 at Pocono last year and has a fifth from 2019 to give him a three-race streak. He nearly padded his wins total in the Sunday race of 2021 with a second to the No. 18. (25)
4. Ryan Blaney
Blaney finished on the cusp of fifth in both races of last year's doubleheader. The team knows they need to win and Blaney did just that on this track in 2017, but that is one of only two top-fives there. (67)
5. Denny Hamlin
In last year's Sunday half of the doubleheader, Hamlin snapped a six-race streak of top-10s at Pocono. A pair of wins in the past three seasons trump that 14th-place finish, however. (4)
6. William Byron
Byron started strong last week but faded. He recovered to finish 11th, but that is the 11th time in the last 12 races he's been outside the top-10. (11)
7. Aric Almirola
One of Harvick's biggest rivals for the win this week - a win that would advance either of them into playoff consideration - will be his teammate Almirola with a worst of 16th in his last six Pocono starts. (75)
8. Martin Truex, Jr.
Truex has been hard to handicap for the past couple of years. Whenever we forget about him, he finds the right setup and has a dominant day like at New Hampshire. (53)
9. Joey Logano
Logano failed to crack the top 20 in the 2020 doubleheader at Pocono. Last year, he swept the top 10, so we are left to wonder exactly where he will finish this week. (50)
10. Ross Chastain
This has not traditionally been a good track for Chastain with a career-best of 24th. In six races there, he's alternated results in the 20s with some in the 30s. He's never had this kind of momentum before, however. (35)
11. Tyler Reddick
Pocono is a track on which it seems a switch flips and then racers run well for a time. Reddick finished 11th and ninth in last year's doubleheader. (41)
12. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski earned his first top-10 on an unrestricted oval in 2022 last week in New Hampshire. Pocono is another flat track that could tip the balance in his favor. (18)
13. Austin Cindric
Cindric's four-race, top-10 streak ended last week in New Hampshire, but with a 13th-place finish, he now has six consecutive top-15s. (70)
14. Daniel Suarez
Suarez is gunning for his third straight top-10 and sixth consecutive top-15 this week on a track where he finished 13th and 15th last year. (7)
15. Kurt Busch
In his last nine Pocono races, Busch has earned only two top-10s, but one of these was a sixth in the Saturday portion of last year's doubleheader and he's coming off a strong run at New Hampshire. (9)
16. Bubba Wallace
Wallace had one of his best-ever efforts on an unrestricted oval last week with a third-place finish in New Hampshire. Last year, he finished fourth in one of Pocono's two races. (80)
17. Christopher Bell
The pressure is off Bell's shoulders for now, which is great considering that he's been outside the top 15 in his last three Pocono starts. (61)
18. Austin Dillon
Dillon has been consistent at Pocono with his last five results ranging between 13th and 21st. That's not great, but given his recent bad luck, he'll take it. (30)
19. Chris Buescher
Buescher scored his first, and so far only, win at Pocono in 2016 in a weather-shortened race. He hasn't been in the top-five since, but does have a 10th in the Saturday portion of the 2020 doubleheader. (46)
20. Michael McDowell
McDowell has sporadic top-10s on a variety of unrestricted ovals. One of these was a 10th in the Saturday race in 2020. (64)
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21. Alex Bowman
From the Bristol dirt race through the Coke 600, Bowman scored five top-10s in six starts. He hasn't had another in the last six races. (57)
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Three of Stenhouse's last four Pocono attempts ended in the mid-teens, so look for a result in that range. Don't get sucked in if he qualifies well, he's fallen back from top-10 starts in his last three races there. (72)
23. Justin Haley
Haley finished 27th in his only Pocono start last year, so you should probably look at his 2022 record instead. He's been 24th or better in his last six attempts. (22)
24. Kyle Busch
It is highly likely that Busch's contract situation is proving to be a distraction for both him and the team. It's rare to see him go 0-5 in terms of top-10s. (15)
25. Chase Briscoe
Last year was the first time Briscoe raced at Pocono in the senior series. He finished 24th on Saturday and 21st on Sunday to show reasonable strength and remarkable consistency. (27)
26. Todd Gilliland
Pocono is a quirky track that is hard to learn. In four Truck Series races, however, he's swept the top-10 with a best of fourth in 2020. (86)
27. Erik Jones
Don't be surprised if Jones beats this prediction: Four of his last seven races on this track ended in top-fives and this is a drivers' track where technique is a big part of the equation. (38)
28. Cole Custer
Custer got off to a relatively strong start on this track with a 16th and 17th in 2020's doubleheader. Last year he was outside the top 20 in both starts. (88)
29. Harrison Burton
If one drops out the pack racing lottery finish of 10th at Atlanta, Burton has been in the mid-20s since Gateway - and that still shows a lot of improvement for this rookie driver. (44)
30. Corey LaJoie
If LaJoie avoids trouble on Sunday, he should finish in the mid-20s. Four of his last five Pocono attempts landed between 21st and 26th. (82)
31. Ty Dillon
Last week did not go very well for Dillon and he is riding a two-race streak of finishes outside the top 25. In 10 Pocono starts, he's beaten that mark seven times. (84)
32. Cody Ware
Ware was respectable in last year's races with a 25th on Saturday and 28th on Sunday. This is a track on which he can find clean air and work on his race craft. (90)
33. Noah Gragson
Gragson gets a second opportunity to race in the Cup Series, but since this will be his first attempt on a flat track, it may be best to wait and see how he performs in practice before making a wager. (73)
34. JJ Yeley
Yeley was not entered in last year's Pocono doubleheader, but he was on the cusp of 30th in both 2020 races. That is the ballpark he'll play in this week. (89)
35. BJ McLeod
It may take some attrition, but McLeod is capable of finishing in the top 30 for the M&Ms 400 this year. In the 2021 doubleheader he scored a 29th and a 30th. (87)
36. Josh Bilicki
In five starts on this track, Bilicki has not yet cracked the top 30. He came closest in the first race of the 2020 doubleheader. (85)
The number in parentheses after the handicap refers to our confidence level for that driver compared to the field. A low number does not necessarily mean we do not have confidence this week, but that contrasted with the others in the field in previous races, we have missed more often in their handicaps. Starting with a confidence level of 90 percent, because 100 is impossible to achieve, this number decrements by percentage to a low of about five.
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