With only six races left before the Chase, things are heating up. Who will take the checkered flag at Pocono Raceway? ESPN NASCAR analysts Ricky Craven, Andy Petree, Ken Schrader and Dale Jarrett share their predictions for the top-3 finishers.
Ricky Craven's winner
There's nothing quite like Pocono as far as describing a track, and there's nothing quite like Indy, either. But if you want to draw a comparison, Pocono and Indianapolis are probably the closest to one another of all the tracks. Based on how well Jeff Gordon ran last week at Indy and his win the first time around at Pocono, I've got to take him to win this weekend.
Denny Hamlin is another one who's good at Pocono -- he swept Pocono in his rookie season. Not everyone likes this track, but there are some drivers who love it and Denny is definitely in that camp. He's a flat-track expert.
I saw an interesting stat about Jimmie Johnson. Going into Indianapolis, Jimmie's average finish through 19 races has been better this year than in each of his past four years. He's been better on average this year than the past four! And we know how those ended up -- four titles. This is the time of year Jimmie's team always seems to get better, so I'm going to take him on the podium.
Andy Petree's winner
I'm going to have to go with Jeff Gordon because of how he ran at Indy last week. He had the best car, and he did win at Pocono last time, so he's really the obvious favorite. I like Kurt Busch to finish second even though he didn't have a great race at the Brickyard. He handled Pocono well back in June, finishing second, and that Penske bunch has a lot of good things going on right now. I think they're going to be strong. Kasey Kahne has something to prove right now, so I'm taking the No. 4 at No. 3. He had a really good car at Indy last week, and I think he can carry over that momentum.
Ken Schrader's winner
Jeff Gordon just has too much momentum to pick against him. He just keeps improving, and he's good every place. He was so close last week that his car is looking dominant. He's looked too good not to win at a course he runs well at.
Denny Hamlin is a good bet at Pocono, given his history. He's aware of anything that can come up to bite you at this track, and he's ready to handle it. He's been very strong lately, but his team hasn't been able to achieve the consistency it wants. This is a great time for the No. 11 team to put it all together.
Carl Edwards is too strong everywhere to avoid the podium here. He has consistently been near the top group all season, and there's no reason to pick against him here. He doesn't have to push hard for the win because of where he is in the points standings, so he can focus on running a good race and finishing in a good position.
Rusty Wallace's winner
Denny Hamlin got his first career Cup series win at Pocono, and he's dominated the track ever since. He loves the flat track and does a great job handling it. Every time I go to Pocono, I think of Denny Hamlin as a top competitor in that race.
That said, Jimmie Johnson is a second-half driver, and I really think it's his time to do some damage. He excels on a flat racetrack, as well, and I think we're going to see a big resurgence out of the 48 car.
Tony Stewart is another driver who comes to mind when I think of Pocono. His team has been doing well lately, and he's due. There's also added pressure for him to step up his game because he needs the win to continue contending for the Chase.
Dale Jarrett's winner
Jeff Gordon won the first race at Pocono this year, and that says a lot to me. He also ran really well at Indy last week. In talking to Jeff, it seems like his team feels it has its program in order on these types of racetracks. When Gordon & Co. have speed at these types of places, with the good fuel mileage they get, that's a great setup to win a race. He's won at Pocono five times, which ties him for most with Bill Elliott, so I feel the No. 24 car is a solid bet to take the checkered flag this weekend.