The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has started the process of winding down. A champion has yet to be crowned. The sport’s version of playoffs – the Chase for the Championship – is still six weeks away and the 12 drivers who will compete for the championship have yet to be determined. A total of 16 events remain on the 2012 schedule and, yet, the countdown to the season finale is well underway. Evidence of this is the series’ second visits to a number of upcoming tracks, including Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400.
This weekend’s race isn’t the first return visit of the season for the Sprint Cup competitors, but it is among the first of 12 repeat appearances that will make up the next 16 weeks of racing. Pocono’s “Tricky Triangle,” a staple on the Sprint Cup schedule since 1974, was last visited by the series a mere eight weeks ago, when drivers and teams encountered a whole new ballgame at the 2.5-mile triangular layout. Drivers and teams were treated to a “watered down” version of what they’ve experienced at Pocono in the past. For the first time, the length of the race had been reduced from 500 to 400 miles, which meant recalculations in race strategy. On top of that, it was the first event since the racetrack underwent an offseason repaving project.
With one race at the “new” Pocono in the books, teams go into this weekend’s event with a far better understanding of the strategy needed to get through 400 miles on the newly paved surface. Strategy, however, is only one part of the equation to finding success at Pocono.
Kurt Busch is one driver who not only has experience at the 2.5-mile track, he’s experienced success along the way. The driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet goes into the race weekend a two-time winner at Pocono. He has nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes, as well as a pole, to go along with his pair of wins in 22 career starts at Pocono. Busch has led at least one lap in 12 of the last 15 races at Pocono and has only one DNF (Did Not Finish) during that same stretch – an accident in the August 2010 race. He also finished third in this event a year ago.
Additionally, Busch’s solid performance statistics extend beyond tradition and into some pretty stout loop data statistics as he ranks in the top-five in a number of categories, including laps led, fastest laps run, speed in traffic, green-flag speed and average running position. Add it all up and it equates to a third-place driver rating, placing Busch behind only five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who’s second, and recent perennial Pocono favorite Denny Hamlin, who’s first.
The shininess of the “new” Pocono may have worn off a bit since the June debut of the new racing surface and race distance, but teams will still be looking for any advantage to find success at the tricky track that figures prominently into the last half of the 2012 season. The No. 51 Phoenix Racing team will look to take advantage of Busch’s experience and success to get the most out of Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400.