NASCAR Odds, Expert Picks, Predictions for Pocono: The Big Early Week Underdog Value (Sunday, July 23)
Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: NASCAR Cup Series driver Michael McDowell
After Martin Truex Jr.'s dominant win at New Hampshire, NASCAR continues its Northeast swing at Pocono Raceway on Sunday with the HighPoint.com 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, USA).
Pocono is a 2.5-mile track with the longest straightaways in the Cup Series. Its three turns, all varying in radius and degrees of flat banking, have earned it the "Tricky Triangle" moniker.
However, there isn't much trickery when it comes to handicapping Pocono early in the race week.
At such a unique track, it's important to look at track history.
For longer-tenured drivers, we can also look at the 2.5-mile flat track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though the Cup Series hasn't raced on the Indy oval since 2020.
Additionally, Michigan International Speedway has strong correlation with Pocono in highly predictive metrics. Michigan has more banking than Pocono and is a bit smaller (only two miles in length), but thanks to its shape and the extra banking, the horsepower required to get around the track is similar to Pocono. That said, Michigan carries a much lower weight in my model.
Take all that, adjust for current form and – voila! – we have a very capable early-week model for Pocono.
Using my model, one driver stands out when comparing him to his current market value.
NASCAR Odds, Picks for Pocono
Just looking at Pocono and Indianapolis, the driver I'm looking at has a 50% top-10 finish rate in his past six races at the two tracks (five races at Pocono, one at Indy). Even if we look at his full 12-race sample at these tracks (with his current team), he has a 25% top-10 rate.
However, Michael McDowell's current price for a top-1o finish is +800, which you can find at Bet365.
Certainly that's a bit flattering for McDowell and my model doesn't give him anywhere near a 25% chance at a top-10 finish. But it does give him a 15.2% chance of finishing inside the top 10, which is well above the 11.1% implied odds at +800.
Additionally, the 38-year-old is still in the prime age window for Cup drivers and in the midst of a career year. With his current form, there's certainly a chance he pulls off another top 10, like he has in recent years.
Taking the Green Flag P15 tomorrow afternoon at @PoconoRaceway. Our No. 34 #Benebone Ford Mustang has decent speed, we just need to find a little bit more through Turn 2 (tunnel turn) to be a threat. Ready to get after it!
Sunday | 2:30 pm ET | USA | MRN pic.twitter.com/9b2A7HcRNP
— Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) July 23, 2023
It's also quite possible my model is too low on McDowell – as well as the Ford camp as a whole – thanks to some physics that can't be captured in NASCAR loop data.
That's because the 2023 nose on the blue ovals is different from last year. The new nose has cost them some downforce, but the tradeoff is reduced drag. With the longest straightaways in the series, Pocono is the optimal place for the lower drag to help the Fords shine. Also, the forecast calls for over 50% humidity, which should help the Fords with downforce in the corners.
The Tricky Triangle is often referred to as an oval that drives like a road course, so it makes a ton of sense that one of the premier road course racers may stand out.
I also have McDowell at 3% to finish as the top Ford driver, well ahead of the 50-1 market price at Caesars Sportsbook, so I'm sprinkling that in as well on my early-week betting card.
The Bets: McDowell Top 10 (+800), McDowell Top Ford (+5000) | Bet to: +675 and +4000 respectively