(image credit: Morgan Rhodes)
With just four races left to go, it’s getting down to crunch time for your IndyCar Fantasy Challenge team. Hopefully you’ve been able to stay within shouting distance so far, but now’s the time to make your move if you want to claim a championship. Superspeedways tend to produce highly unpredictable results, but there are some good value picks that can be had this week if you choose wisely.
A programming note – since the next race at Gateway has no recent history behind it to go on, I won’t have a Stats Helper next week for that race.
Chevrolet vs. Honda
I give Chevy the edge in this race for one reason – Team Penske. Pocono has been a strong track for this team, winning two of the four races since the series returned to the track in 2013, and collecting six top fives in that span. Now they have added Newgarden, who has done very well at Pocono while racing for Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher. Team Penske also been strong on the superspeedways this year, with Will Power and Simon Pagenaud both in the top three at Texas, and Helio finishing second at Indy.
Top Tier Picks (>$27):
Josef Newgarden is the hottest driver in the series right now, having won the last two races in a row. Now he heads to a track where his worst finish in four races is eighth. He’s the highest priced driver this week at $32, but he’s unlikely to give you a disappointing result, outside of a crash or mechanical failure.
Last year’s Pocono winner Will Power might be the best value pick in the field, even though he’s priced in the top tier. Like Newgarden, he’s never finished outside the top ten at the Tricky Triangle, and he has led laps in all of those races. Add his dominating performance at Texas this year, and you’ve got a strong pick at $3 less than the cost of Newgarden.
Mid Tier Picks (<$27 and >$20):
Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2015 race at Pocono, and finished third last year – not too shabby for being priced at just $25. This year, he had a great run going at Indy until his engine blew, and he was collected in the big accident at Texas. His season has improved after a rough start, and he’s had top ten finishes in the last three races. He’s a good bet to keep that streak going.
Takuma Sato isn’t an obvious pick based on his average finish at Pocono, but there’s more to the story than his finishes. He’s qualified extremely well here, starting in the top ten in all four races, which is made more impressive when you consider his team was A.J. Foyt racing. But what really draws me toward picking him are his performances on superspeedways this year. We all remember his fabulous drive to win at Indy, but he was also running near the front of the field all night in Texas until he crashed with five laps left. I expect to see that kind of speed from him again at Pocono. He’s a legitimate contender to win at just $25.
Low Budget Picks (<$20):
In three career starts at Pocono, Carlos Munoz has qualified and finished in the top ten in all of them, with two top five finishes. His average finish in that span is the same as Will Power and just a smidge behind Josef Newgarden. While he has taken a step back by going from Andretti Autosport to A.J. Foyt Racing, we have seen from Sato’s performances that the Foyt team can provide a competitive car at Pocono. He’s unlikely to win of course, but he’s certainly capable of another top ten, which would be a good result for a $16 investment.
Gabby Chaves has just one career start at Pocono in 2015, but it may have been the best race performance of his career. He led the second-most laps in that race, but had to retire three laps short of the finish due to a mechanical failure. Harding Racing has been incredibly impressive in their first IndyCar season, finishing ninth at Indy and fifth at Texas. They’ve shown they can give Gabby a competitive car, and Gabby has shown he can perform at this track. As of this writing, he’s not listed in the Fantasy Challenge driver list, but he’ll probably be around $16, give or take a dollar, which makes him a great value.
Drivers to Avoid or Overpriced:
The only driver that stands out to me as overpriced is Graham Rahal. His best career finish at Pocono was last year, coming home in eleventh place. He has put himself into championship contention with a seven-race streak of top tens, but his chances of extending that streak don’t look good based on his past performances here. For the top tier price of $28, I’d stay away from him this week.
The forecast from Racecast Weather looks great for racing, so a Sunday rain-out like last year won’t be a problem. Wind doesn’t look to be a big factor either, but as it will be coming from the northwest, there may be a slight headwind between turns one and two. Last year’s average speed of 180.198 mph was set with four cautions for 20 laps. 2015’s race was an anomaly, with twelve cautions for 74 laps. The 2014 race was an anomaly the other way, with just one caution period that lasted six laps. So the number of caution periods can fluctuate wildly. Indy and Texas had ten and nine caution periods respectively this year, so will we see another crash-fest? I tend to think no, as part of the reason Indy had so many cautions was the Honda engine failures, which no longer seems to be an issue. Plus, Pocono doesn’t promote “pack” racing like Texas does either. So I would put the average speed somewhere near last year’s average, or maybe a little higher.