Vegas has spoken: Jimmie Johnson is the favorite to win the Pennsylvania 400, held this weekend at the 2.5 mile tri-oval known as Pocono Raceway. Just because he’s the frontrunner, however, doesn’t mean Jimmie is the “best bet” to cross the finish line first. Only the gods of NASCAR know where you should put your money, if you were to hypothetically bet that is. Spontaneity is the beauty of sport, particularly motorsport, where cars break down, stamina wears out and a mistimed pit stop can prove the difference between failure and success. There is, however, a method to the madness that occurs on the asphalt. See below for the drivers we think have the best shot of crossing the finish line first.
Photo Credit: DigitalRedEye / Flickr.com
Brad Keselowski – Sprint Cup: No. 9 – Vegas Odds: +1,500
Last year, just four days before the green flag was waved at Pocono, Keselowski crashed while testing his Dodge at Road Atlanta, fracturing his left ankle in a wreck that could have been much worse. The injury didn’t slow Keselowski down. In fact, maybe it’s what kept his foot off the brake at last year’s Pennsylvania 400. After the final restart, Keselowksi gunned past second place finisher Kyle Busch, edging him by .79 seconds. This year, he’s fully healthy. While Vegas might be surprised to see Keselowski come out first this year, it won’t surprise us.
Photo Credit: tedmurphy / Flickr.com
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Sprint Cup: No. 1 – Vegas Odds: +1,000
At least one man is betting on Dale Jr.: Pocono Raceway’s president and CEO Brandon Igdalsky. If Earnhardt wins on Sunday, Igdalsky has promised to give $100,000 of his own cash to one lucky fan in attendance at the race. Igdalsky’s bet isn’t blind. Earnhardt had an excellent chance to win at the last race held at the “Tricky Triangle,” June’s Pocono 400. A mistimed pit stop was all that held Dale Jr. back then. This time he’s poised to learn from his mistake.
Photo Credit: The Freewheeling Daredevil / Flickr.com
Joey Logano – Sprint Cup: No. 17 - Vegas Odds: +1,500
More than the other drivers on this list, Joey Logano needs to win this weekend. Currently ranked 17th in the Sprint Cup Standings, he is very much on the outside looking in at the Chase, which begins September 16 at the GEICO 400. He has the skills and machine to come out on top. He won the last race at the track, the Pocono 400, in June, and he was the pole winner at the 2011 Pennsylvania 400. That track record (and desperation) should give Logano the drive he needs this Sunday to cross the finish first.
Photo Credit: panarama73 / Flickr.com
Denny Hamlin – Sprint Cup: No. 5 – Vegas Odds: +700
Speaking of track record, perhaps no driver in Sunday’s field has had more success at Pocono than Denny Hamlin. In 2006, Hamlin swept the races at Pocono on his way to earning the Nextel Cup Series Rookie of the Year. In 13 career starts on the raceway, Hamlin has won 4 times, earning 9 top-10s, and amassing an average Pocono start position of 5.9, an all-time record for the raceway. The odds reflect Hamlin’s past success. At +700, Hamlin is favorite to win the Pennsylvania 400, behind just one other driver.
Photo Credit: President Bertho / Flickr.com
Jimmie Johnson – Sprint Cup: No. 4 – Vegas Odds: +600
Jimmie Johnson is hot. Last week, he dominated the Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In his past 10 races, Johnson has won 3 times, posting 5 top 5 finishes. He has won at Pocono twice before, though not since 2004. Driving a car, however, is kind of like, well, riding a bike. When you win once (or twice) at a track, there’s always a decent chance you’ll win again. A lot of prognosticators are picking Jimmie Johnson to do just that.
Photo Credit: pamarama73 / Flickr.com
Kyle Busch – Sprint Cup: No. 11 – Vegas Odds: +800
Last week, Kyle Busch finished second at the Crown Royal 400, breaking through a 7-race slump during which he did not finish better than 10th. Today, Busch has a tenuous grip on the last Chase wild card spot. Kasey Kahne, ranked No. 13 on the Sprint Cup, sits a spot above Busch for the Chase. Kahne has won 2 races on the circuit, to Busch’s 1. Two other drivers not currently in the Chase have also won 1 race this year: Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. To hang onto his spot in the Chase, Busch needs to finish strong at Pocono this weekend. To cement himself into the Chase, he needs to win. He has never done so at Pocono. This weekend would be a good time to get his first.