RCR at Pocono ... In 112 starts at Pocono, RCR team owner Richard Childress has two wins, both of them coming with Dale Earnhardt, who won the Summer 500 on July 19, 1987 and the Miller Genuine Draft 500 on July 18, 1993. Additionally, RCR has earned one pole, 15 top-five and 48 top-10 finishes at the uniquely-shaped three-turn speedway. Childress, a former driver in NASCAR's top division, contributed two of those top 10s from 1976-1980.
The Collective RCR ... Over the season's first 13 races, RCR's four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched three wins, nine top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. The No. 31 team kicked off the 2011 season with a non-points win in the second Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway. The No. 29 team visited Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in March and backed that up with a win the following weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Most recently, Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 team visited Winner Circle at Charlotte Motor Speedway, claiming the checkers in one of NASCAR's marquee events - the Coca-Cola 600. RCR-prepared Chevrolets have also completed 16,645 out of 17,392 total laps (95.7 percent) with drivers Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 443 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season's first 13 events with the lone exception being Kansas.
Get to the Points ... Following the Cup Series race at Kansas, Harvick moved from second to fourth in the point standings where he sits 43 markers in arrears to the top spot while Bowyer dropped one spot, to ninth, and is 34 points in arrears to cracking the top five. Menard remains 20th in the standings, 51 points outside the top 10 while Burton moved to 24th in the points rundown, sitting 30 markers in arrears to Menard's tally.
This Week's Pittsburg Paints/Menards Chevrolet at Pocono Raceway ... Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 347 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala was a brand new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and was last seen on track at Dover International Speedway where Menard brought home a 24th-place result after starting from the 20th position. This car also saw paces earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway where Menard started 15th and finished 16th.
Race Rewind ... Last weekend, Menard and the No. 27 team took the green flag at Kansas Speedway in the ninth spot. They battled with handling issues resulting from the scorching temperatures and the Zecol/Menards team just couldn't find the right setup to balance the car, leaving Kansas dissatisfied with their 20th-place result.
We all know the challenges that Pocono presents. How does Pocono agree or disagree with you? "Pocono is very similar to Indianapolis, and we had a really good test there a few weeks ago. All of the things that we learned will transfer over to Pocono, I'm sure. You have to set the car up for three different corners and a long straightaway. It's definitely a unique place."
How do you feel about going back to Pocono? "It's a great track. The mountains are really nice. It's a nice change from the bigger cities that we go to. I really like going to Pocono."
This Week's Okuma Chevrolet at Pocono Raceway ... Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 288 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. The team utilized this race car eight times in 2010, earning three top-five and six top-10 finishes. The top-five runs includ second-place finishes at Auto Club Speedway (2/21) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (7/25), and Harvick's win at Michigan International Speedway (8/15).
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTES:
Do you enjoy racing at Pocono? "I enjoy driving the track. It's fun to try to get your car set up right because the corners are so different and there are some bumps and things that give the race track character."
Pocono was a pretty solid track for you last season. "This part of the season over the past several years has been really good. Pocono's a fun race track to race on. The past couple of years, it's come down to strategy and we've been solid. It's got that unique patch in turn three that seemed to kind of lose some grip last year so, hopefully, that's gone and it'll be kind of even from top to bottom as far as which groove you choose. It's a fun track, and really rough in turn one on the bottom. A lot of times, you run through the middle. If your car's working really well you can run anywhere you want through turn one. The tunnel turn is a really fast corner that you run right at the bottom. It's got a really big curve at the bottom that you really don't want to hit at all, because it jumps you up in the air. It's a challenging race track, and has three totally different turns."
Some drivers say the "tunnel turn" at Pocono is one of the most difficult turns in all of NASCAR. Do you agree? "It's a very challenging corner. It's very inviting to drive the car in too far and then you push up in the center of the corner. When you get it right, it's a really, really fun corner to go through because it's really fast and the car's right on the edge getting into the corner and you're in the gas really early on exit. The car just kind of has that loose swing as you come up off the corner and you're right up against the wall. It's really flat. There's a little bump in the middle of it that you hit. It's really fun when your car is right. If it's not right, you lose a lot of time there."
This Week's Caterpillar Chevrolet at Pocono Raceway ... Jeff Burton will race chassis No. 317 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. Built new for the 2010 season, Burton drove this Caterpillar Chevrolet Impala to an eighth-place finish at Pocono Raceway in August before piloting this No. 31 racer to a 24th-place result at Michigan International Speedway two weeks later and to a 23rd-place result at Auto Club Speedway in October. After going through offseason modifications, this RCR entry last competed at Bristol Motor Speedway in March and Dover International Speedway last month where Burton was credited with 17th- and 11th-place finishes, respectively.
Eye on the Prize ... Despite sitting 24th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings, Burton and the Todd Berrier-led team are not out of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup hunt. With 13 races remaining before the 12-member Chase class is set, Burton can still make a championship run by gaining 81 points and cracking the top 10 or visiting Victory Lane at least one time, depending on other driver victories and where they are stationed in the points rundown.
Welcome Home, Darin ... One member from the Cat Racing team hails from the state of Pennsylvania. Car chief Darin Nestlerode grew up in Jersey Shore. In addition to his mechanic duties on the RCR entry, Nestlerode also holds the sign board during pit stops on race day. He and his wife Paula reside in Kernersville, N.C., and are heavily involved in the Triad Bloodhounds, a non-profit organization that trains K-9's in various areas: tracking lost persons, criminal tracking, cadaver, water recovery, explosive detection, article searches and weapon detection.
You've run well at Pocono. Do you have a pretty strong knack for that place? "I haven't really thought that we've been in position to win races there. We've run solid top six, top seven, but being able to win there, we haven't quite gotten there yet. We struggle with getting the car to rotate in (turns) one, two and three and still get off of four and five. I don't get why every race track we go to has four corners and Pocono has five, yet it really has three. I have yet to understand that. However, it's very difficult to get the car right on both ends of the race track."
In the June race last year, all three of the RCR cars finished in the top 10. How satisfying was that as a company, overall? "Well, it's always good when you go somewhere and find success. It shows that you have the basis to do well. It's always a good sign when every team is running well. When all teams are running well and everything's clicking, that's when you have your best chance at being successful."
Is the patch in the tunnel turn still a factor? "Yeah. The interesting thing is that when the patch was put down a couple years ago, everyone started running there. I think this weekend's race will be the first time where it may not be an advantage. As that patch started to weather, the bottom started to be more and more effective. As a matter of fact, I ran the bottom quite a bit in the races last year. We made a lot of good lap times running the bottom. I think you're going to see people still running the top in turn three, but you're going to be able to run the bottom as well there."
Talk about the sensation of speed going into turn one. "This biggest thing is it's so rough. The thing about Pocono is you start your braking while you're still going straight. So, you really don't get the sensation of speed like you do at Texas (Motor Speedway) or somewhere like that. But, when you get there (to the turn), you're going a lot faster than you should be. It gets really, really rough. The car is bouncing around and moving around a lot. It will get your attention, but it doesn't feel that fast. When something goes wrong in turn one, you feel like you're going really fast. A lot of that speed sensation goes away because you're straight-line braking."
Have you ever seen any animals on the track when you've been at Pocono? "I have seen chipmunks, gophers or whatever they are. We've been there before and have had a caution come out for a deer on the track. I haven't seen one, but there have been a few animals on the track."
This Week's Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet at Pocono Raceway ... Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 350 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala, built new for 2011, has now seen action twice this season. The first being a runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway in April and the most recent coming two weeks ago in the Coca-Cola 600 when Bowyer brought home a 15th-place effort.
Home, Sweet, Home ... After bring home a victory at his home track on Saturday in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race for Kevin Harvick Inc, Bowyer and the No. 33 American Ethanol Chevrolet fought loose conditions all day long in 90-degree summer heat and salvaged a top-20 finish in the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Points Racing ... With his 18th-place result last weekend at his hometown track, Bowyer dropped one position to ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings. He now sits 94 markers out of first and just 34 points out of the top five.
Last year at Pocono Raceway, you started second and finished ninth. Can you talk about what happened there? "I think something happened on a pit stop and we lost some track position. The restarts at Pocono become wild. You come off of turn one, go down the straightaway and she's intense. It gets to be four, five and six wide trying to get down into turn two. It's so narrow, with it being a one-lane corner. That's pretty intense."
Do you think you have that place figured out? "It's fun. I've gotten to where I enjoy Pocono. I think it's one of the tracks that we can win at."
Has the patch changed the racing? "It has, but it's starting to wear out now. I think by the time we come back this year, we're going to be going back down around the bottom of the track and making some head way."
Can you talk about the sensation of speed going into turn one? "You know, it's incredible. I'll never forget the day when I was catching Jeff (Gordon) and getting ready to pass him. He was four or five car lengths ahead of me and we went down into turn one. All of a sudden, his brakes went out. I'll never forget until the day I die how fast he accelerated away from me because I was hard on the brakes and decelerating myself. He stayed the same speed. It was the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life. I couldn't believe how fast he went off into that corner. It really opened my eyes to how fast you're going."