Once again, NASCAR goes to a track with a nickname, but this time it's as plain a description of the track as can be.  However, this year it's a completely different animal.

The Pocono Raceway has been a fast and challenging track since it was introduced onto the tour, especially since it's one of the only speedway tracks where drivers will shift gears during the lap, dropping from fourth gear down to third through some corners.  It's a demanding track on motors, as the constant shifting and changing in RPMs have been known to blow motors and put some of the best drivers in the garage.

This year's event is different than any Pocono race in years past.  Both races this year have been reduced from 500 to 400 miles, shortening the race by 40 laps.  That would be the only wrinkle in the races at Pocono, but entering Sunday's race, it's a completely different track.

The last two years have seen many improvements to the speedway, including higher fences on the Long Pond Straightaway, and the addition of the SAFER barrier on the backstretch and down the shortest straightaway, preventing hits to the inner guardrail that have been seen in years past.

Now, Pocono has an entirely new racing surface, as new asphalt was laid down onto the 2.5-mile triangle, finishing in April.  Speeds have increased, and it has made for different handling characteristics and tougher conditions.

This has added an entirely new element to racing at this track, and has given the writers a more difficult challenge in making their choices for victory.  But, the time has come once again for all 12 writers to go for a win.

Here's who they all decided on for the Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR:

 

Misan Akuya:  Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart avoided disaster last week after crashing on lap 10 to finish the same spot he finished in last fall's race 25th.  He moved up a spot because Kyle Busch's engine let ago later in the race.

Smoke has been up and down as of late, but still is better off then he as at this point last year with two wins.  Pocono is a great place for Stewart to get things back on track having two wins at this track and the first points win for Stewart Haas racing.

It's summer and this is normally when Smoke heats up  He isn't done winning yet.

James Broomhead:  Denny Hamlin

No reason.

Kelly Crandall:  Jimmie Johnson

Seemed to work out well last week, and I really have no idea who to go with since Pocono is essentially a new track.  But, if there's ever a team to figure something out first, it's the 48.

Billy Fellin:  Denny Hamlin

Despite the repave, Hamlin loves this joint. Solid at Pocono hell be one of the guys to figure the new pavement out and continue his winning Pocono ways.

Michael Hirshbein:  Kyle Busch

No reason.

Christopher Leone:  Kyle Busch

He won the Prelude to the Dream on Wednesday night. I'll bet he wins again on Sunday.

Kara Martin:  Denny Hamlin

No reason.

Ryan O'Hara:  Denny Hamlin

No reason.

Dustin Parks:  Brad Keselowski

In order to get up a bit higher in the standings, often one must go against common knowledge.  Hamlin will be good, we all know that.  As will Edwards, Gordon (if he escapes bad luck), Biffle and others.  However, everyone seems to be forgetting about another winner at Pocono.

Who can ever forget young Brad Keselowski, less than a week removed from injuring his ankle in a testing accident, came to a very difficult Pocono Raceway and shocked the racing world to win.  He then went on to win at Bristol, virtually sealing his spot in one of the Chase wild card spots.

Now, he enters Pocono still strong with two wins, and is the most recent winner at this track.  What better guy to pick for the kickoff off NASCAR and Twitter's live event experience than NASCAR's resident Twitter king.

Patti Rodisch:  Jeff Gordon

The bad luck has got to end at some point, right? He has had cars good enough to win just about every week. I don't expect that to change this week.

The defending race winner at Pocono, Gordon should end his dry spell, turn his luck around and make his case for the Chase this week. He is only a handful of points outside the top 15. With his five wins, 17 top fives and 27 top 10's, ending a winless streak and continuing Hendrick Motorsports recent run could end with Gordon in victory lane.

Sal Sigala Jr:  Kyle Busch

Kyle has been silent so far this season which is not typical of this fiery driver. This could be the week that gets his season started and a win would could go along way.

Rob Tiongson:  Jeff Gordon

I'm encouraged by his run at Dover to choose him again, although every opportunity I've had with "Super G" has been less than superb. Still, I have reason to believe he'll get it done at Pocono. After all, he did it last June in what's (as of now) the fastest NASCAR Cup race at "The Tricky Triangle."

 

Standings following Dover:

Sal Sigala Jr. (467) Brad Keselowski finished 7th (1)

Christopher Leone (466) Martin Truex Jr. finished 7th (0)

Kelly Crandall (455) Jimmie Johnson WON (2)

Billy Fellin (454) Carl Edwards finished 26th (2)

James Broomhead (447) NO PICK SENT (2)

Rob Tiongson (438) Brad Keselowski finished 12th (3)

Misan Akuya (435) Carl Edwards finished 26th (1)

Dustin Parks (431) Matt Kenseth finished 3rd (1)

Kara Martin (421) Matt Kenseth finished 3rd (1)

Michael Hirshbein (404) Kyle Busch finished 29th (1)

Patti Rodisch (387) Kyle Busch finished 29th (1)

Ryan O'Hara (363) Jimmie Johnson WON (1)

 

Final Thoughts:  We all have seen what a new surface can do for tracks such as Daytona, Phoenix, and many others.  Sunday starts a two-week stretch of competition on newly repaved tracks.  None will be more challenging than the Pocono Raceway.

Not only is it a new surface, but also a new network for TV coverage. It all begins at Noon ET on TNT with "Countdown To Green" and the green flag will wave approximately an hour later with Adam Alexander, Wally Dahlenbach and Kyle Petty providing the play by play.

 

Summary of Picks:

Denny Hamlin-4

Kyle Busch-3

Jeff Gordon-2

Jimmie Johnson-1

Brad Keselowski-1

Tony Stewart-1