This weekend NASCAR heads to Pocono Raceway, a 2.5-mile track dubbed the tricky triangle. Pocono has three distinct corners that all handle differently, which makes car setup a bit of a compromise.
Pocono is also unique in that, because it’s large, flat track, drivers can pit and not necessarily lose a lap, which will cause multiple pit stop strategies to play out throughout the race. There was no more evidence of this than Erik Jones leading 20 laps on an alternate strategy, and Ryan Blaney securing the win while not being on race dominator Kyle Busch‘s strategy in the first race at Pocono last year. With only 160 laps, and alternate strategies sure to be a part of the equation, finding race dominators is not as important as it is most weeks. For example, in the second Pocono race last year, Denny Hamlin had the third most laps led, and led over 10 percent of the race, but that only equated to 18 laps for a meager 4.5 fantasy points. We’re counting on one to two major dominators this weekend in the winning lineup. The rest should be a combination of place differential and finishing position.
So how do we predict finishing position this weekend? The key stats my model uses this weekend are:
- Long run speed (10-lap average)
- year-to-date driver rating
- starting position
- last eight flat track quality pass percentage
- last eight races driver rating (this one is debatable — it improves the model, but only slightly, and correlates highly with YTD driver rating, but does pick up shorter changes in quality).
All told, these stats combine together to give an out-of-sample r-squared of around 0.59, which is lower than quite a number of tracks, namely the 1.5-milers, and the short, flat tracks not named Martinsville.
The incident rate at Pocono is around 15.8 percent since 2015, which isn’t extremely high. Out of 38 cars entered this weekend, that would equate to about six cars having issues. That means Joe Dirt cheap drivers are in play, but not extremely so.
Another factor against Joe Dirt cheap drivers is the separation of speed between the top cars and the back markers thanks to the size of the track. Expecting someone like Gray Gaulding to pick up 15 positions is impossible without an abundance of cautions. Instead, it’s more likely these super cheap drivers go 1-3 laps down. However, the size of the track in combination with stages will prevent them from going 4 or 5 laps down, so with a caution-filled race, it’s possible they pick up a handful of spots through late wrecks.
What’s more likely is the slightly above Joe Dirt range hanging around, and then getting spots through strategy or late wrecks. That makes the Ty Dillon to A.J. Allmendinger price range appealing as the value range.
GPP strategy this weekend is to play 1-2 dominators per lineup and round out the rest of the roster with your best combination of place differential and finishing position. Because the r-squared is 0.59 and the incident rate is 15.8 percent, there is room for contrarian plays, especially with the amount of strategy that can take place at Pocono. Additionally, thanks to the way qualifying played out, there are some obvious names like Aric Almirola and Erik Jones that people will be penciling into lineups. Rostering two dominators, plus these two drivers will be a popular approach. Instead, using one dominator and/or fading one of Almirola or Jones is a strategy that could pay dividends in GPPs this weekend.
Cash Game Strategy
It’s not imperative to roster a ton of dominators in cash games given the race is only 160 laps, and there’s a question (as of the time of this article being published) as to which drivers will dominate. Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick are obvious candidates to dominate — but which of the two will it be? Will Kyle Busch and/or Martin Truex Jr. factor in as dominators starting fourth and fifth? How will different strategies affect the dominators?
I say pick your top candidate to dominate, then build the rest of the cash lineup with a combination of finishing position and place differential, with preference given to a higher floor.
Here are some early candidates I’m looking at for particular categories. Obviously, practice times will change my rankings, so I’ll update them after final practice in my normal article tomorrow:
- Kevin Harvick
- Ryan Blaney
- Kyle Busch
- Martin Truex
Other Cash Plays
Obviously you can’t play all these drivers in cash, but here’s a cash game ranking for non-dominator candidates in value (performance relative to salary, with floor considered as well) at this point in the week.
- Aric Almirola
- Erik Jones
- Brad Keselowski
- Kyle Larson
- Michael McDowell
- Matt DiBenedetto
Other GPP Plays
As a reminder, all cash game plays are fine in GPPs. Here are other drivers that I like based off the stats in the model, and possible ownership.
- Denny Hamlin
- Joey Logano
- Daniel Suarez
- Jimmie Johnson
- Chase Elliott
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stay tuned on Saturday for the weekly article with full driver dominator, cash, and GPP rankings.