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Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Will Pocono cure what ails Denny Hamlin?

By Mark Garrow
Jayski.com

You could say Pocono Raceway is the house Denny Hamlin built. Question is, with the way he has run this year, will the FedEx Toyota driver feel right at home in Sunday's 5-Hour Energy 500?

The triangle-shaped, 2.5-mile track is unlike any other track the Sprint Cup Series competes on. It's truly a different animal with three straightaways of various length and three corners that are totally different. Some drivers never tame this beast, but right from the start for Hamlin it's been like walking the dog. In his first two visits to the former spinach farm in the Pennsylvania mountains, Hamlin captured the pole and the race going away. Since then, he's added five more top-5 finishes, made two more trips to Victory Lane and just happens to be this race's defending winner.

To date, 2011 has been so-so by Hamlin's standards. Still, it reminds me of 2006, when Hamlin struggled early, got a strong run at Richmond, reeled off a few more top-10s then walked away with the checkered flag at Pocono. It seems, whether he's struggling coming in or riding a wave, Hamlin consistently is a contender at Pocono and, with an ESPN SCC value of 21.1, could be a nice pick at a nice price for the season's 14th race.

Another driver at a midlevel value that should also be top-5 material Sunday is Greg Biffle (20.8). "The Biff" was the Pocono winner last August, and the Roush Fenway Fords are running way stronger now than they were back then. Teammate Carl Edwards (22.7) has been a points-making machine and has a shot to win. He and Jimmie Johnson (22.8) are good bets this week, and you're running out of time to afford them.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22.9) is currently the highest-valued driver. He's top-10 material this week, no question about that, with the way he's been running lately, but several other drivers have more upside at a better price. If you have Junior, it might not be a bad play to keep him. Buying him now, though, might not be a good idea.

I like Jeff Gordon (20.5) a lot this week for two reasons: He's got a great Pocono record and his mid-pack value could allow for some added flexibility in your five-man lineup. This has also been a pretty good track over the years for teammate Mark Martin (20.7), who isn't quite the bargain Gordon is, but has a chance to put up some good numbers.

As for the best values, sure Brad Keselowski (16.6) used fuel mileage to win at Kansas, but the Michigan driver and teammate Kurt Busch (22.0) have really come around lately. The fortunes of these two seemed to take a turn for the better when the lead engineer for Penske Racing left the team a month ago. In the four races since then, Keselowski has two top-5 finishes and has averaged a ninth-place finish.

Someone else in the lower tier to keep in mind is Jeff Burton (16.4). He was top 10 in both Pocono races in 2010. Even when RCR was behind the curve a little bit in recent years, the CAT Chevy driver was still able to come to Pocono and pound out a respectable finish. Brian Vickers (16.1) should also be up on the radar screen, especially if you see teammate Kasey Kahne running well. Vickers didn't run in either Pocono race in 2010 but finished sixth in his last appearance in August 2009.

Pocono Race-Day Chat

Remember to join us this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET for our Pocono race-day chat. Click here and you'll be ready to receive the inside information we get from the crew chiefs just hours before the race.

Who's Hot, Who's Not

Hot

Clint Bowyer has only six top-10s in his past nine races and only two finishes outside the top 15.

Kurt Busch has finishes of fourth and ninth the past two races and led 152 laps a week ago at Kansas.

In the past 12 races, Earnhardt has only one finish outside the top 15 with seven top-10s and is coming off a second-place run at Kansas. His average finish in the past eight races is 8.6.

Edwards has a worst finish of 16th and six top-10s in the past seven races, in which his average finish is a spiffy 6.2.

Hamlin finished third at Kansas, and that was his fourth top-10 in the past five races, which includes a runner-up at Richmond.

Johnson has been top 10 in five of the past seven Sprint Cup shootouts.

Coming off his Kansas win, Keselowski has averaged a ninth-place finish over the past four races.

Not

In the past four races, AJ Allmendinger has three finishes of 20th or worse.

Burton has not scored a single top-10 finish in the first 13 races this year.

A win at Richmond is one of only two top-10 finishes for Kyle Busch in the past seven races.

Gordon's fourth-place run at Kansas was just his fourth top-10 (all top-5s) in the opening 13 races.

In the past eight races, Kahne has had five finishes of 21st or worse.

Bobby Labonte's best finish in the past eight races is 18th, and his season average is over 21.

In the past four races, Joey Logano has one top-10 (third at Charlotte), but his average finish in the other three events is 28.3.

Martin has just two top-10s in the past eight races and his average finish so far this season is 16.6.

Jamie McMurray's average finish in the past seven races is 22.3.

After finishing fifth at Texas, Paul Menard's average finish in the past six races has been 23.8.

Juan Pablo Montoya has not come home top 10 in the past seven events.

After recording four straight top-10s, Ryan Newman has had only one more in the past eight races.

David Reutimann has only one top-10 run in the initial 13 races.

Teammate Martin Truex Jr. has just two top-10s in the past 10 races, and on the season his average finish is over 19.

Did You Know

In the past 10 Pocono races, Chevrolet has won four, with Dodge, Ford and Toyota having two checkered flags apiece.

In 12 of the past 17 Pocono races, the winner has come from a sixth-place starting position or better and has been won from the pole six times. During that period, The farthest back a driver has started and won was 29th, which is where Carl Edwards started when he won the June 2005 race.

Pocono "Ponies"

Bowyer has three top-10 finishes and five top-15s in the past five races, in which he's averaged a ninth-place finish.

Kurt Busch has two wins and four second-place finishes, coming home sixth a year ago.

In the past 10 races, Burton has six top-10s and only one finish (21st) outside the top-15.

Biffle won the race at Pocono last August, but that was his first top-10 since June 2006.

In his past six starts, Edwards has a win, a runner-up, four top-10s and an average finish of 7.5.

Johnson has two Pocono victories and, in the past 10 races, has eight top-10 finishes.

Hamlin has four wins at Pocono, including this race a year ago, and in 10 starts has seven top-5s with an average finish of 8.2. He's also led seven of those races for 498 laps.

In the past nine attempts, Gordon has seven top-10 finishes, including a win in this event back in 2007, his fourth trip to Pocono's victory lane.

Kevin Harvick has finished fourth in three of the past five Pocono shootouts.

Martin has come home top 10 in six of the past eight races. He's also never won at Pocono but has been the runner-up six times.

Montoya had three top-10s in a row before he finished 16th last August, and his average finish in the past four races is a sporty 8.5.

Tony Stewart finished second and third at Pocono in 2010. That keeps a streak alive of five straight top-10s, which includes a June 2009 win. He's been top-10 in 10 of the past 11 at Pocono.

Pocono "Punies"

Allmendinger has just one top-10 finish in seven starts, but it was this race a year ago.

Marcos Ambrose finished sixth in his first Pocono start, but in the past three he has finishes of 34th, 30th and 39th.

Kyle Busch was the runner-up a year ago, but it was only his third top-10 in 12 starts. He was 23rd in the August race.

Earnhardt has only six top-10s in 22 starts and no top-10 run since June 2008.

In the past 12 Pennsylvania showdowns, Matt Kenseth has just three top-10s.

In his first two Pocono races, Keselowski finished 21st and 20th.

McMurray had a DNF in June 2010 and has just one top-10 in his past 11 attempts.

Reutimann finished third in June 2009 but in his past three starts has finished 29th, 15th and 17th.

Menard was 13th last August, which was his first top-15 finish in his eight Pocono starts.

In eight starts at Pocono, David Ragan has a fifth-place finish and next best of 14th. The other six finishes were 22nd or worse.

Regan Smith has never finished better than 18th in five starts.

Truex finished ninth last August, his first top-10 in his past seven tries.

ESPN Stock Car Challenge Scoring -- Kansas

After just two of the 16 races that make up Segment 2 in the 2011 ESPN Stock Car Challenge, Beckster is on top with 381 points. After that, we have six folks tied for second with a tally of 374.

Overall, sagekane used a 180-point day at Kansas to take over the No. 1 spot by a mere six points over Nowaitin. Black Beauty is third with 2,149, while JIMBOCAR3 is just one back and joejoedavillan is fifth, 15 points out of first.

When Logano and Ambrose didn't come through for "The Guru" at Kansas, I had to settle for a score of 151. The high score for the week was a 205, with the average score a 156.

In my Jayski Junkies league, J. Joyner is on top with a score of 2,084, with M. Cleaver and L. Duke tied for second at 2,076. Also still in the hunt: B. Torrelli at 2,069 and J. Stinchcomb at 2,065.