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NASCAR at Pocono odds, expert predictions: The usual suspects are favored, but who needs this win the most?


NASCAR at Pocono odds, expert predictions: The usual suspects are favored, but who needs this win the most?

It’s “Tricky Triangle” time! The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Long Pond, Penn., this week for the Great American Getaway 400 at Pocono Raceway. The race is unique among all NASCAR tracks for its triangular shape and three wildly different turns.

Our NASCAR experts, Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi, explain more about what makes this race special and answer our questions about the Cup playoff picture, takeaways from the Chicago street race and their favorites and long-shot picks for this week.

NASCAR at Pocono is set for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET, broadcasting on USA.

The Chicago Street Race is notable for the fans that show up: Jeff reported that the race president, Julie Giese, said ticket buyers represented 23 different countries and that 60 percent of ticket buyers had never previously purchased a NASCAR ticket. Do you think this sort of attention makes another big-city street race appealing to NASCAR higher-ups? Is this always going to be an outlier?

Jeff: It’s very much at the heart of why NASCAR would want to spend $50 million to put on a race like this. A street course, bringing the race to the people, undoubtedly reaches a different demographic of fans than the typical NASCAR event. And while traditional fans might bristle at that, it’s vital to the sport’s growth; with 85 percent of last year’s ticket-buyers being first-time NASCAR attendees and roughly 60 percent this year, it’s indicative of an audience who might have never otherwise given NASCAR a chance. While it’s expensive for NASCAR, it’s essentially a giant marketing tool. You can show all the advertisements and televised races you want, but actually getting people to the racetrack is what truly creates lifelong fans. The excitement of NASCAR definitely has to be experienced in person, and this achieves that.

Jordan: Having a race in downtown Chicago is a big deal. It feels like an event; a type of energy that not many other races on the Cup schedule can come close to replicating. The upside is too great not to want to continue this for the foreseeable future. Of course, putting on an event of this magnitude comes with a hefty price tag. And it’s these expenditures that will factor heavily into whether NASCAR continues racing on a street circuit, be it in Chicago or elsewhere.

Jordan wrote about how important the win at Chicago is for Alex Bowman, who has been winless since March 2022. Is one win enough to relieve any fears about his position on the team? Do you think he’s on an upward trajectory?

Jeff: One thing that’s always important to remember when we talk about driver job security is sponsorship. Aric Almirola, for example, had undying loyalty from sponsor Smithfield and made a career out of it. I’m not saying Ally is as committed to Bowman as Smithfield was to Almirola, but there’s no question Ally loves Bowman. He’s a great fit for their marketing initiatives and is an ideal ambassador for their brand. So if the sponsor is happy and he’s doing well enough, what else is needed? Yeah, he hadn’t won lately while his teammates had performed well. But it’s not like he was 25th in points and wrecking every week. Bowman was likely going to make the playoffs even without this win, so to me, there wasn’t much imminent threat of a change. And now that he has a win, it should only solidify the status quo of the No. 48 team.

Jordan: One win doesn’t necessarily change anything, as Hendrick exec Jeff Gordon indicated Sunday night that Bowman was always returning next year. But what the win does do is alleviate the pressure that has been building on Bowman and the No. 48 team, a level of pressure that can reach a point that becomes paralyzing. As Gordon and crew chief Blake Harris said Sunday night, the team can now be freer to pursue wins rather than race concerned if they’re going to fail and miss the playoffs.

With Bowman’s win, the cut line hasn’t changed, but he has moved himself out of danger of falling off. What does the playoff picture look like with six races left? What are the chances someone below the cut line wins? How much danger are Martin Truex Jr., Ty Gibbs, Ross Chastain and Chris Buescher in?

Jeff: I’d be shocked if Truex missed at this point. He’s up by 125 points on the cut line with six races to go, and he’d still be more than 70 points to the good with a new winner. Gibbs is in relatively good shape as well, assuming there aren’t several new winners in the next few weeks. With Bowman removed from the bubble and Bubba Wallace seemingly in a must-win situation, it comes down to Chastain and Buescher if there’s another new winner from below the line. Chastain and Buscher are only separated by eight points, so that could be quite a scramble if there was an upset. And let’s be honest: With Daytona still on the schedule before the playoffs, there’s certainly a chance for someone to steal a playoff berth.

Jordan: Barring a free fall combined with a new winner or two emerging, Truex and Gibbs should be considered virtual locks to make the playoffs. The same cannot be said for Chastain and Buescher, both of whom are at risk of falling below the cut line. The positive news for them is that the list of realistic winners not already playoff eligible is a short one. And Daytona is the only “wildcard” track left of the six remaining in the regular season.

Noob Question of the Week: In F1, winning pole position is a massive advantage toward winning the race. In NASCAR, the pole winner has only one once this whole season (William Byron at COTA) if you don’t count non-points races (the Clash and All-Star). Can you explain that to a newer fan?

Jeff: A feature of NASCAR races is the best car doesn’t always win. As discussed here recently, the fastest car of the race typically only wins about half of the time. That goes a step further when you’re talking about the pole position because the pole winner often doesn’t have the overall fastest car for the weekend. A team could hit on a short-run setup and have blazing speed for one lap, but that doesn’t mean the car will be as fast over the course of a long green-flag run. So while the polesitter certainly has an advantage (No. 1 pit stall selection, clean air and good track position to start the race), it doesn’t guarantee that much. Whereas in F1, it’s so much harder to pass and the top cars are light years better than the midfield entries, so winning the pole correlates to a victory much more often.

What’s your favorite thing about the Pocono race?

Jeff: It’s quirky. The “Tricky Triangle” is such an odd, unique place. I once hated it, back when it had two 500-mile races less than two months apart. But now, with only one 400-mile race per season, it definitely feels like NASCAR will stay there for years to come. Track organizers have done a tremendous job with their fan zone and camping, and it’s a very laid-back environment overall. Plus, it’s the closest track to New York City (only two hours from the heart of Manhattan to the racetrack, depending on traffic).

Jordan: It’s such a unique track that’s unlike any other on the schedule. Sure, Indianapolis has some similar characteristics, but it’s definitely not triangle-shaped. Another aspect about Pocono that Jeff touched on but deserves another mention is how fan-friendly the track is and what tremendous fan support it gets on an annual basis.

Who do you like to win on Sunday?

Jeff: For the next two weeks, we’re back to the absolute favorites. Pocono and Indianapolis both have long straightaways and flat corners and demand a lot out of the engines. I would think whoever is good at Pocono will also be good at Indianapolis. And if it’s anyone but Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing running in the top five, I’d be fairly surprised. We’re looking at a mix of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., William Byron and Christopher Bell in the next couple of weeks, I would think. But practice will also tell us a lot more, including whether the Ford resurgence translates from shorter tracks over to larger ovals (or triangles). So if possible, wait until practice on Saturday before making your picks to see if Hendrick or JGR has the edge.

Jordan: Pocono is a track where the usual suspects tend to do well because factors like horsepower, handling, strategy and having a fast, mistake-free pit crew are essential elements to doing well here. So expect the teams/drivers Jeff mentioned to be the favorites to win on Sunday. One additional name that warrants mentioning is 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who comes in having nearly won the past two races and has the ability and team to beat Hendrick and JGR.

Who is a long shot you like for Pocono?

Jeff: I don’t like any long shots this week, but I would go as low as the group of drivers at +3000 (Bowman, Wallace, Buescher, Joey Logano). Depending on what RFK Racing brings, Buescher could absolutely win at Pocono. Remember, he barely lost to Larson in the all-time closest finish at Kansas in May, and then RFK again showed strength at Darlington (Buescher’s teammate Brad Keselowski won that). And honestly, those were the last two full-distance bigger tracks to run. So I wouldn’t discount Buescher’s chances at all, and it’s also surprising to see Bowman available in this tier.

Jordan: Another overlooked driver is Ross Chastain at +2500. Chastain’s results don’t necessarily indicate it, but he’s had much more speed in recent weeks to give the impression he’s on the cusp of getting his first win on the season. And as laid out above, he needs a victory considering his precarious spot on the playoff bubble.

Odds for NASCAR at Pocono race winner

Odds, via BetMGM, update live.

(Photo of Ross Chastain: Meg Oliphant / Getty Images)

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