Are you prepared for Indianapolis, Part 2?
A long-standing belief across NASCAR shops is that what works at big, flat Indianapolis Motor Speedway also works at big, flat Pocono Raceway. Statistically, it’s true. A study on MotorsportsAnalytics.com this year proved that the two facilities closely correlate (with a comparatively high coefficient of 0.465) in results getting.
So in terms of both mechanical setup and actual results, the two tracks offer heavy similarities. But goodness, what took place between June at Pocono and last week at Indianapolis was just crazy beans.
6 Six drivers — Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Joey Logano — finished inside the top 10 at both Pocono and Indianapolis this season.
Going a step deeper, Juan Pablo Montoya finished 14th at Pocono and ninth at Indianapolis. Similarly close, Kurt Busch finished seventh at Pocono and 14th at Indy, while Jeff Gordon finished 12th and seventh. This is all a numerical way of saying that the win this weekend at Pocono will come from someone that was a strong performer last week at the Brickyard. For some drivers, though, success at multiple tracks should no longer be considered surprising.
7.500 Johnson leads NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in PEER — a measure of performance in equal equipment — at Pocono with a 7.500 rating.
He led 128 out of 160 laps (80 percent) of June’s race and won without — and I’m assuming here — breaking a sweat. His Hendrick-powered No. 48 car ranked first in average green-flag speed by a half of a mile an hour. Unless he forgets the act of being a race car driver between now and Sunday, it’s close to a forgone conclusion that the win goes through Johnson.
100% In the June race at Pocono, Johnson retained position from the preferred groove 100 percent of the time on six restarts.
Restarts were easy sailing for a guy who calls restarts the weakest facet of his game. Note that just three drivers – Josh Wise, Sam Hornish and Trevor Bayne – don’t retain position from that groove the majority of the time this season. Where Johnson struggles in general, and last time at Pocono, is the non-preferred groove. He gave up two positions in the non-preferred groove in his only attempt during June’s race.
5.167 Newman, last week’s winner at Indianapolis, is also adept on Pocono’s relatively fresh surface, with a 5.167 PEER (ranks fourth in the series) through three races on it.
What does that span include? Finishes of 12th, sixth and fifth. His most recent outing (the fifth-place score) came in a 19 laps-led performance in which he held onto the second-place spot until a three-lap drop on the lap 142 restart.
3 for 3 Stewart and his No. 14 team are the only entry to score top-5 finishes in all three Pocono races on the current surface.
He hasn’t scored a win yet, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from thinking he is capable of such. He has yet to lead, but he was able to pass sufficiently — a 56.12 percent clip — in that race, which bucks his poor passing trend this season. To date, he is a minus-passer (48.99 percent efficiency) for the first time in five years. Evidently, for him, racing and passing will coalesce this weekend at Pocono.
58.64% Juan Pablo Montoya earned the highest passing rate in the last race at Pocono.
I’m guessing Indianapolis offers one turn too many for Montoya, because he had a minus-passing day last week (46.43 percent). In June, he worked traffic like a speed bag but finished just 14th. If he can climb high enough in the running order and avoid attack from the statistically imbalanced double-file restart monster, a good day in the Poconos could be on the horizon for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver.
46.83 In order to safely earn one of the top 10 automatic spots in the Chase, Aric Almirola must average a take of 46.83 points per race (i.e. win out) in the remaining six events.
Sure, he has a shade over a 24 percent chance of making the Chase with his predicted point total; however, it’s an awfully tall task, especially considering his three finishes in the last three races at Pocono are an unimpressive 28th, 18th and 21st. His only path to the Chase is to finish inside the top 20 in driver points (he’s in 17th right now) and score at least two wins (which would be unprecedented for him). The bubble driver is Richard Petty Motorsports’ best chance this year for a playoff spot, which would end a three-year organization-wide drought since Kasey Kahne did it in 2009.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting.Follow him on Twitter at@DavidSmithMA.
Photos byAction Sports, Inc.