Pennsylvania 400: Driver Picks and Strategy

Here we are, back at it again for another week of NASCAR action! This week, the drivers head to Pocono Raceway, otherwise known as the “Tricky Triangle.” NASCAR was just here on June 5th for the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 where Kurt Busch finished it off and ended up in the winners circle.

Weather might play a role in tomorrow’s race so keep an eye on that, but they were able to get all qualifying and practice completed.  The forecast does not look promising as there is a greater than a 60% chance for thunderstorms for most of the afternoon. If the race does get postponed it will be the second time there will be Pocono racing on Monday this year. For everyone’s sake, if the race is postponed hopefully that call will come down before lock, so editing lineups will be allowed up until race time on Monday.

Some notable qualifying spots include Martin Truex Jr on the pole with a Pocono victory under his belt from last year. Kyle Busch who has been quite dominate the past few weeks will be starting from the 16th position. Something to keep in mind, this track is a track where you want as many drivers starting inside the top 15 as possible. Let’s dive into some picks and hopefully build money makers!

Martin Truex Jr: $10,200- Tournaments

MTJ is in a great position for Sunday, starting on the pole at a track where the race has been won from the front row a total of 24 times. To bolster the fact that he is in a perfect spot to rack up a ton of fantasy points, in the last five races excluding Daytona and Sonoma, the pole sitter has led almost 38% of the total laps and ran 14% of the fastest laps in those races. Not included in that data is the absolute pounding Truex JR put on the field at Charlotte where he led a total of 392 laps, a NASCAR record for most miles led in a single race.

In the June race at Pocono last year, MTJ started third and ended up winning the race while leading 97 laps. In his last two races at here at Pocono he has not had the same success, finishing 19th in both races after starting 13th and 17th respectively. In this same race last year, Truex started 13th and ran 19th, but did manage to lead six laps. Do not let this scare you off though, he’s in a great position for this weekend and has been very fast so far.

MTJ was 6th quick in the first practice session and was 1st overall in the second practice session, all while posting the fastest 10 lap average in the second and final practice session. While he does come in as the third highest priced driver this week I have no problem paying up for him as there is some good value spread throughout the field. In the June race, the laps led were spread pretty evenly throughout a handful of drivers, but I think this race will be dominated by one driver and that will be MTJ.

Kurt Busch: $8,900- All Formats

Kurt comes in very under-priced this weekend, especially after his win here in June. He has been incredibly consistent so far this year, one of the most surprising stats is that he has been able to finish on the lead lap in every single race. Busch was 14th and 4th overall in the two practice sessions respectively and will roll off 15th on Sunday, making him another one of my favorite plays. The set-up comes at somewhat of a premium with this new package, and Kurt is a very experienced racer and knows his way around the track.

On his way to the win in June, Kurt was able to drive from the 9th starting spot and led a total of 32 laps. In his last 6 races here, excluding the 37th place finish he had in this race last year, Kurt has finished no worse than 13th. Outside of those two finishes; he has finished 3rd twice, 5th once, and has the one win. In each of those four races he started inside of the Top 10, but his starting position does not worry me at all. I have no doubt that he will be able to work his way through the field and easily be in contention for a Top 5 if not the win.

Jeff Gordon: $8,800- Tournaments

Jeff did not have the performance I was hoping he would have last week after finishing 13th at Indy. This is a new week, a new track, and a track Jeff has had great success at. He now has a full weekend in the car under him and has had some time to figure out how this new package handles, but it has not translated into much speed so far this weekend. Gordon was 22nd overall in the first practice session, 24th overall in the second session, and will start 24th on Sunday afternoon.

In the 7 career races at Pocono where Jeff has started outside of the Top 20 and finished on the lead lap; he has a total of four Top 10’s, three Top 5’s, and a win. I think with the lack of speed Jeff has shown so far this weekend, his somewhat lackluster performance at Indy, and his pride will help to keep ownership down making him a great tournament play.

Kyle Larson: $8,300- All Formats

Let’s take a look at another driver who is once again under-priced. In his five career races at Pocono, Larson has finished no worse than 12th. His five finishes in order from his first career race here are 5th, 11th, 8th, 12th, and 11th. With the exception of his first 11th place finish in which he started on the pole, Larson has started no better than 14th at Pocono in every race. He has recorded positive place differential points in every race except for the race in which he started on the pole, he has a good chance to pick up a handful of positive place differential points once again this weekend as he will start 11th.

Kyle was only 21st overall in first practice, but was able to redeem that with an 11th place qualifying effort. He did seem to find some more speed in race trim in the second practice by posting the 7th fastest lap. Kyle can flat out drive anything, there is no doubt about that, I still feel like his true talent is being overshadowed by the equipment he is in. That being said, he has still posted some great finishes and been in contention for a few wins this year. At his price, there is no reason not to have him in your line up. Without a doubt Young Money will come out with a great showing at Pocono barring any freak on track incident.

Chase Elliott: $8,700- Tournaments

Chase Elliot comes in as a very good tournament play this weekend. The last time out at Pocono, Elliot started 13th and ended up with a fourth place finish. During the race he led 51 laps and had 17 fastest laps for a total of 70.25 Draft Kings points. This started a very strong month of June for Elliot who followed up his 4th place finish with a 2nd place finish at the FireKeepers Casino 400. He has struggled a bit in July but coming back to a track where he has had success is good news for Elliot fans.

Elliot qualified 8th for the weekend which is almost the exact same spot he started last time out here. His car is very fast and being inside the top 15 is great news for people who roster Elliott. At his price he is one of my favorite plays of the weekend and I will have my fair share of exposure to him.

Kevin Harvick: $10,400- Tournaments

Harvick has become one of my favorite plays for Sunday after posting a somewhat disappointing qualifying effort as he will start 17th. We all know that Kevin has the potential to get out front and dominate most races; while I am not expecting that on Sunday, I am looking for his very valuable place differential points. He was inside the Top 5 in each of the two practice sessions, posting times fast enough for 5th and 3rd quick respectively. In the second session he was able to run the 3rd best overall 10 lap average and was very close to the same speed as MTJ.

At minimum, I expect Harvick to be easily in contention for a Top 5. In his last five races here at Pocono, excluding the DNF he had due to engine failure in this race last year, he has finished no worse than 14th. The other three races were two 2nd place finishes and a ninth place finish. He has really turned on his qualifying efforts here over the last few races as he has started no worse than 6th in his last five, but seemed to miss something in qualifying on Friday afternoon.

While it is hard to rely on older statistics due to the newer aero package, Kevin has shown his ability to drive through the field to the front here in the past. It may be quite difficult to make yourself comfortable with rostering both MTJ and Harvick in the same line up because as you will see below the two highest scoring line ups took more of a balanced approach, but with the way races have been so far this season a totally radical approach may not entirely be a bad thing. I will definitely have some exposure to Harvick, and you should too.

Kyle Busch: $10,600- Avoid

Kyle Busch comes into this week as the most expensive driver on DraftKings. He won in dominating fashion at the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 starting on the pole and leading 149 laps for a whopping total of 107.3 DK points.

The previous week at the New Hampshire 301 he also had a dominating performance starting from the second spot and lead most of the afternoon(133 laps lead) until late car trouble dropped him to 8th but still had a nice total of 89.3 DK points.

In both of these races it was hard to find a tournament where Busch was under 50% owned, so coming to the Pennsylvania 400, this is the perfect storm to fade him. With his recent performances driving ownership, expect his to be very high again.

I think PD points on this track are very hard to come by. Busch qualified 16th and while that might be attractive for PD points having drivers inside the top 15 at the start is the way to go. I know, a great driver starting 16th could potential drive to the top but at his price and his ownership it will be very very difficult to make a serious cash if Kyle struggles at all.

In GPPs it would be a very good idea to find a lower owned driver with upside in the same price range like Martin Truex Jr who is on the pole. If you’re looking at someone not in the top 15 with lower ownership than Busch but in a similar price bracket I would take a hard look at Kevin Harvick starting 17th.

Trevor Bayne: $6400- Tournaments 

Trevor is a definite tournament play and tournament play only for a number of reasons; his track history, inconsistency, lack of speed, and the possibility of his ownership increasing due to his finish here in June. In order from his first career race here in June of 2015, Bayne has finished 24th, 40th, and 13th. He was able to post that 13th place finish in the June race this year after starting 24th, his best starting spot in his career at Pocono. Rolling off 31st this weekend once again leaves Trevor with the chance of gaining valuable place differential points if he manages to stay clean throughout the race.

Bayne was only 27th and 29th overall in the two practice sessions, but don’t let that totally scare you off. He seems to be another one of those drivers, who if they can stay clean and work their way through the field give you the potential to take down a GPP. At his price and starting position it is easy to plug him in to fit a few higher priced drivers. He’s worth a look.


This week I will once again dive into breaking down the two most recent highest scoring lineups for the last two races here at Pocono, as well as some interesting stats that will help when it comes to building your team.

Axatla ‘We Paint Winners’ 400

Axalta 400 winner

Windows 10 400

Windows 10 400

Spending by Starting Position

One area I want to focus on this week is spending by starting position, I want to use this to be able to help you figure out where it is best to pay up for pay down for a driver based on their starting position. In the two winning line-ups there was not a single driver priced over $10,000, meaning you do not necessarily have to pay up for one of the higher priced studs. In each of these two entries, drivers that were priced at $9,000 or above all started inside the Top 10, with the exception of Dale Jr who started the worst out of all drivers in this range by starting 15th.

Out of all the drivers that were priced in the $8,000 to $8900 range, only one started inside of the Top 20. That driver was Chase Elliott who started 13th and was able to lead a bunch of laps and was a key piece to the winning line up in the last race here. Any driver in this price range needs to be a place differential monster in your line-ups.

Place Differential

The Top Five

One of the last things I want to touch on is drivers starting inside the Top-5 over the last few races as their numbers have been very impressive. I did not include the races at Daytona or Sonoma in this research as the stats in those races do not have enough correlation to Pocono.

As we all saw last weekend in Indy, Kyle Busch was able to stay out front and absolutely dominate the race, and that has been the theme so far this year with drivers who are able to qualify well. Over the five races that are included in my research for this section; Pocono, New Hampshire, Michigan, Kentucky, and Indianapolis, the pole sitter in those races has led an astounding 37.9% of the total laps ran and has accounted for a total of 14.1% of the total fastest laps ran in those races.

Those numbers are absolutely incredible and just goes to show how big of an advantage clean air really is. Only one time in that five race stretch has the pole sitter finished outside of the Top 10, Jimmie Johnson at New Hampshire. The other four pole sitters were able to record two wins, a third, and a ninth place finish in that span. Further, the pole sitter in those races was able to lead 128 or more laps in those races, but also led a combined total of one lap in the other two races, one of which was Pocono.

While the driver who has started off-pole in the same five races does not have quite as impressive numbers as the pole sitter, they still stand out. In these races the driver who started P2 has led a total of 21.4% of the total laps ran and accounted for a total of 9.5% of the fastest laps ran. If you take the numbers from the drivers who have started P1 and P2 during this time, they have totalled nearly 60% of laps led and almost 24% of the fastest laps ran. Much like the pole sitter, drivers starting P2 have posted great finishes. In four of the five races the driver who has started P2 has finished no worse than 12th, with the worst finish coming from Carl Edwards who finished 35th last weekend in Indianapolis.

Now let’s take a look into the stats for the drivers who have started inside the Top Five over the last five races as a whole group. In that period drivers who have started inside the Top Five are responsible for almost 78% of all laps led and 36% of all fastest laps ran. This leaves a very small margin of laps led available from the rest of the field, so it is essential to find yourself a driver who can scoop you up a ton of points from laps led.

This highlights the importance of starting position and laps led. In the last race here, only two of the drivers who started inside the Top Five finished inside of the Top Five, but they all did manage to finish inside of the Top 10. The pole sitter did not manage to lead a single lap in the race and ended up with a third place finish. Matt Kenseth, who started third, was able to lead the most laps of any driver starting inside the Top Five by leading 31 laps in the race.

That does it for this week. Good luck tomorrow!Check back tomorrow for our podcast, and check out our projections here.

Tyler Salisbury

I am the Lead NASCAR Analyst at DFS Datalytics. I have played daily fantasy sports for over 3 years, but have focused on NASCAR DFS since its introduction last year. Outside of NASCAR, I enjoy playing in NFL, MLB, and NBA contests. I use my experience in racing and the accounting and finance fields to provide excellent NASCAR stats and content. Follow me on Twitter @tsals23

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