The Sprint Cup Series is making its second trip of the year to Pocono Raceway today. The track colloquially known as the “Tricky Triangle” put on a rousing show here in June, as heavyweights Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fought tooth and nail for the win over the final 10 laps of the race with Earnhardt, Jr. coming out on top. The stakes are higher this time around, as winless drivers are growing ever more desperate to get a win and a Chase berth. Rain is also looming today as well, and as we have seen multiple times this year, the threat of rain can drastically impact the intensity of a race.
Throw in a rookie driver on the pole, and you have a recipe for a storyline filled day.
Will rain affect the outcome of today’s race?
For whatever reason, mother nature is not a NASCAR fan, and her vitriol for the sport seems to be at full strength in 2014. Multiple races have been affected by rain this season, including three of the biggest in the two Daytona races and Bristol. Unfortunately, rain is looking to be a factor again today.
The most optimistic forecasts at the moment are calling for a 50% chance of precipitation this afternoon. So, essentially, there is a 50-50 chance that NASCAR will get the race in today. Considering the fact that Pocono does not have lights, any rain that falls is a threat to getting the whole race in.
Even if the race does get started today, the very threat of rain could easily turn this race on its head. If you recall, the 2012 edition of this very event was called after halfway because of rain, and this race today could have a similar look to it. If rain is even close to Pocono Raceway at any time during the course of green flag racing today, expect to see strategy shuffles and a dramatic increase in the intensity of the on-track racing, especially if it is after lap 80. We could very well be racing to halfway today.
Will today be Kyle Larson’s day?
Kyle Larson has, for the most part, lived up to the incredible hype that preceded him heading into this season. Larson has been fast nearly every week and has been a true threat to win in multiple races in 2014. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Larson’s 2014 performance has been his versatility.
Given Larson’s past racing history, one would assume that he’d really only be strong on super-abrasive tracks and/or short tracks, but Larson has been fast just about everywhere this year, including Pocono. Larson earned a solid fifth-place finish here at Pocono in the June race and then backed up that performance by being the most impressive car throughout all of the preliminary sessions in the lead up to today’s race. Larson qualified on the pole (the first of his career) and was uber-fast in all of the practices on Friday and Saturday. There is really no reason to think that Larson won’t be a contender to win today. He could very well be the first rookie to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race since 2011.
Should Larson win, it would be a huge story for a variety of reasons. Not only would he lock up a Chase berth, he would be the first rookie since 2006 (!!!) to earn a spot in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
Larson has already proved that he can hang in this series; winning today would simply serve as validation. Let’s see if he can pull it off.
Will Brad Keselowski avenge his loss in the June race?
Brad Keselowski truly should have won the June race here at Pocono. Keselowski had the fastest car all day long and was in control late in the event…until a rogue piece of trash derailed his race. As we all know, once the trash attached itself to Keselowski’s car, he was forced to make the ill-advised move to draft off of Danica Patrick’s slow-moving machine, which ultimately handed the win to Earnhardt, Jr.
Keselowski is the kind of guy who does not easily move past these sorts of let-downs. I am not a psychologist, but I’d wager any sum of money that Keselowski has been thinking about the end of that race all weekend long, and knowing how Keselowski is, it is likely only driving him to work harder towards getting a win today.
If nothing else, the time-sheets certainly seem to indicate that that previous sentence is factual. Keselowski qualified strong (P3) and won final practice. Keselowski appears to have what it takes to win here at Pocono once again.
All told, assuming rogue pieces of trash don’t block Keselowski’s grille again, he will be a serious contender for the win today.
What is up with Jimmie Johnson?
Earlier this summer, Jimmie Johnson looked to be regaining the unstoppable form that vaulted him to the 2013 series championship. But as we all know in the world of NASCAR, your luck can turn around in an instant.
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team know all too well, as for the second year in a row, Johnson finds himself in the midst of a mid-summer slump. Johnson hasn’t posted a top-10 finish since Kentucky, and even that race was decidedly un-Johnson-esque: he ran around in the high teens for most of the night and came home a mediocre 10th.
Unfortunately for fans of the No. 48 team, the slump appears to be very much alive again this weekend. Johnson fought an ill-handling race car in all of the practices and nearly missed the cut in the first round of knockout qualifying. Johnson managed to muster up a 17th-place starting position, but that is not exactly an encouraging result.
Knowing how strong the #48 team is, I’m quite sure this lapse in performance is just an aberration. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch this team today if for no reason other than that they will be in the unfamiliar position of being something of an underdog.
Matt Stallknecht’s Pre-Race Predictions for the 2014 GoBowling.com 400
- 2-Brad Keselowski
- 42-Kyle Larson
- 24-Jeff Gordon
- 4-Kevin Harvick
- 14-Tony Stewart
- 22-Joey Logano
- 1-Jamie McMurray
- 18-Kyle Busch
- 88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
- 16-Greg Biffle