Experts: Pocono 500

Ah, Pocono.

Crazy tri-cornered monstrosity out in the Pennsylvania woods. Home of a too-long race with too few passes and too weird turns. Home of a nutty half-mile front straightaway that for some reason ends in a turn shallower than Paris Hilton.

Yes, Pocono is my least favorite track. Hendrick is often good here. Gibbs, too. But this is one of your more painful races to watch on television. I recommend a strong TiVo remote with lots of hard drive space and a nimble fast-forward finger.

Let's take a look at the week's best bets.

Last Week: Jimmie Johnson was looking good for a mighty long time at Dover, but he blew a tire late, and any chance we had of nailing a straight-up bet went with him. However, we won with our head-to-head selection of Jeff Gordon over Tony Stewart, which gave us a weekly win of 0.27 net units on 1.5 units wagered (an 18% return). For the season, we're up a positive 2.65 units on 19.5 units wagered (a 13.6% return). (Note that if you'd eschewed the conservative betting scheme we outline below, and simply bet one unit per wager on everything we recommend, you'd have lost 2.23 units last weekend, but you'd still be up a net positive 10.85 units on 52 units wagered for the year, a return of 20.9%.)

Take Denny Hamlin (+340), 1/6th unit. Not, I repeat not, an adventurous bet. Hamlin won his only two career Cup victories at this track last year, taking both Pocono events in blowout fashion. Then he came back this weekend, qualified second behind Ryan Newman (+1125), and was the fastest car in Saturday's Happy Hour. He's the prohibitive favorite until someone else proves otherwise.

Take Tony Stewart (+600), 1/6th unit. I was all set to pick Kurt Busch (+1800) in this spot before he (a) lost 100 points because if his run-in with Stewart at Dover last week, and (b) crashed his primary car during Friday's qualifying run, forcing him to a backup car. Stewart has a win at Pocono (in the spring of '03), finished third and seventh here last year, and when he doesn't wreck (as he did with Carl Edwards (+2500) last fall) is a good bet to be near his teammate Hamlin's bumper.

Take Brian Vickers (+6000), 1/6th unit. I'm doing something I hardly ever do in NASCAR events: picking a serious, serious long shot. Vickers wasn't even a lock to make the field, since he still sits outside the top 35 in owner points, but he qualified ninth on Friday, securing his space on the merits of his own four wheels. When he drove for Hendrick over the past couple seasons, Vickers finished second, 14th, fourth and fourth at Pocono, and honestly had a chance to win two of those events outright. I grant you: Vickers practiced terribly on Saturday, so any speed I thought he had might be long gone and hard to find, and this bet could wind up looking foolish in a hurry. But I can't help it: I think these odds are way off, and where I see huge value like this, I'm going to take a chance.


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by Michael Cash - - Email Us

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