Pocono Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

Brother Kurt and Kyle Busch are very emotional, but they're also very intelligent so Kurt isn't panicking after going to a backup car following Friday's fine and loss of points. Kurt is probably frustrated right now, but he's a champion. Halfway through the Race to the Chase, he's only 88 points out of the 12th and final transfer spot. Both he and his Penske Racing South teammate, Ryan Newman, are making improvements every week. Kurt isn't saying, "Oh, my gosh, what do we do now?" And he's too smart to drive over the capabilities of the car.

Who to Watch

  • Denny Hamlin: Winning twice last year from the pole and leading a lot of laps bodes well for Hamlin.
  • Ryan Newman: Winning his third consecutive pole, the No. 2 team had a really good 2nd-place run at Dover. I was in his pits much of the afternoon, and they were really close to winning that race. Martin Truex Jr. may have had a superior race car, but that No. 12 team did a great job of keeping up with the track.
  • Clint Bowyer: I like the way Bowyer is running. It's very feasible we could have a third consecutive first-time winner, following victories by Casey Mars and Martin Truex Jr.
  • Tony Stewart: From a performance standpoint, they've been really good, but they don't have the finishes to show for it so it's been an odd year for Stewart, but I think he can pick up a win.
  • Jimmie Johnson: Fastest in Friday's practice, that's a sign of what could happen during the race. He's got two Pocono wins.
  • What to Watch

  • Start up front to finish up front: All of my "Who to Watch" picks are starting up front because 14 of last 19 wins have come from top-five starting positions. Horsepower is as important for a few qualifying laps as it is for 500 miles so if you qualify well, it usually means you're going to run well. At a lot of tracks, you may post a big qualifying number but not be good for the race. For example, Bobby Labonte qualified extremely well at Dover, but he didn't race that well. At Pocono, the numbers are pretty hard to argue with so qualifying is a very accurate indicator of success in the race.
  • Total package: Fuel mileage is definitely a factor, but this racetrack demands so much from so many areas. It demands horsepower, mechanical grip, aerodynamic dependency and great driving. It's a track where you can't be off in any area.
  • Importance of a pit crew: Last year, Denny Hamlin's crew gave him an opportunity to win the race. It was a tremendous example of a team that literally hit a bump in the road, but they had a great race car so they hit pit road 11 times and fixed it. At 2 1/2 miles, it's one of the biggest tracks on the circuit, and at 500 miles/200 laps, it's a very long race so teams have to be patient. With a smaller fuel cell, teams will make an extra pit stop so the crews will be a factor.
  • All corners critical: Years ago, Terry Labonte said his favorite turn was the one that led out to the airport. Teams used to say, "Well, we'll compromise one corner to be good in another." But that's not the case anymore. Now teams need to handle well in all three corners. It used to be a rob Peter to pay Paul scenario, but not anymore. You need to handle in all three corners.
  • Turn 1 is scariest in NASCAR: If you can get off of Turn 3 well, it's going to provide momentum to get down the 3,700-foot frontstretch, and it still amazes me that they can slow down and turn left in Turn 1. At 3/4 of a mile, that frontstretch is the entire length of the Richmond International Raceway.
  • Reutimann's first time around: With wins in their first starts at Pocono, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards were fortunate because they could draw from the experience of teammates who had run well there in the past. Without teammates Dale Jarrett or Michael Waltrip — who failed to qualify for the race — it's obviously going to be tougher for David Reutimann. But he's had a surprising season. I didn't expect him to run as well as he has, but he's really impressed me with how far he's progressed.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspectives

    The No. 2 car could have continued at Dover after the incident with Tony Stewart. But NASCAR parked him, and they finished 42nd. Also, taking away 100 points is a very harsh penalty. If there is in fact bad blood between Busch and Stewart, NASCAR sent a very stern message with these penalties that the drivers can't settle feuds with race cars. On pit road at Bristol, cars have spun off of Turn 4 and gotten pretty close to us in the pits. A race car is a dangerous weapon, and it weighs 3,400 pounds. At Pocono, Busch took accountability for confronting Stewart on pit road. His point to NASCAR was he just wanted to let Tony know he wasn't happy. He wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I certainly take him at his word and respect him for it, but drivers can't use race cars to make a point. If you want to get in the garage or walk up on the transporter and have it out with each other, then go right ahead. It's an emotional sport, and I don't have a problem with Busch and Stewart being mad. But when you try to fight with your car, NASCAR puts down the hammer.

    Finish Line

    Winning at Pocono Raceway comes down to having a good race car but also liking this racetrack. While you need a lot of horsepower, Pocono also requires finesse from the driver. The driver has to know how to get through all three corners because you are carrying a lot of speed. If the race car is close, this race really showcases the driver's ability.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Terry Labonte, Ryan Newman, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Michael Waltrip

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