NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Pocono Hamlin Seeks Series Sweep At Pocono Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) has plenty of reasons for optimism as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series arrives at Pocono Raceway for this Sunday's Sunoco Red...
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Pocono
Hamlin Seeks Series Sweep At Pocono
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) has plenty of reasons for optimism as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series arrives at Pocono Raceway for this Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500.
So do Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Kyle Busch (No 18 M&M's Toyota) and Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet).
Adding to the dynamics, the conclusion of Sunday's race marks the completion of the fifth of 10 races that make up the Race to the Chase. Only five races will remain for drivers to make it into the top 12 of the standings, which would make them eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
After June's series stop at Pocono, Hamlin was in Victory Lane for the fourth time in 2010, and had jumped from fifth to third in the series standings. It also was his fourth career Pocono win, tying him with Gordon as the leading active Pocono race winners.
Hamlin seems to have a charmed relationship with the unor- thodox track, a triangle formed by three turns of different radius and three different lengths of straight-aways. He scored his first and second career wins at Pocono, sweeping both events in 2006. And he's the defending champion of Sunday's Sunoco/American Red Cross 400.
"Pocono is really unlike any other track, Hamlin said. "The turns all have their own characteristics but they are all relatively flat and those are the kinds of corners that I feel I'm best on.
"Turn 1 is a very wide sweeping corner but it's got a little bit of banking to it, so you need to have a car that basically will stay up on the banking.
"The second corner, the tunnel turn, is very flat and it's very fast. That's really where you can gain a lot of time on guys. And you know, it drives like a road-course kind of corner.
"The other corner is like a short track -- almost like Phoenix in Turns 3 and 4 -- it's very flat and very wide and it comes out sweeping to the long straightaway.
"It's a lot like a mixture of race tracks, a track that rewards a guy who is very smooth on corner entry and I think that's where it kind of plays into my strengths.
"Pocono is also tricky because it's easy to overlook how complex the track is and how fast you are moving. You can't take anything for granted at Pocono. If you lose focus, it will make life tough for you."
While Gordon hasn't won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in more than a year, his four career Pocono wins and two Pocono poles lend him some optimism.
"This track is a very challenging race track and always has been," said Gordon. Owner of Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick, has a total 11 Pocono wins dating back to 1986.
Kurt Busch has a pair of Pocono wins (2005, 2007). He qualified fourth, led three laps, and finished sixth in June's event. Busch's car owner, Roger Penske, has a total of eight Pocono wins with four differ- ent drivers, including Busch in 2007.
Kyle Busch has yet to win at Pocono but proved in June that he and his team have the place figured out. Busch won his first Pocono Coors Light Pole Award in June, led three times for 32 laps, and finished second to Hamlin.
Sunday Marks Pennsylvania's 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Event
This week's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsyl- vania 500 will be the 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race held in the Commonwealth of Penn- sylvania. Sunday's event also is the 66th series event at Pocono Raceway.
Bill Elliott is the all-time leading Pocono race winner with five victories there. Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin lead active drivers with four wins. Inactive drivers with four Pocono wins in- clude Tim Richmond, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip.
Active drivers with three Pocono wins in- clude Bobby Labonte (No. 71 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet) and Geoff Bodine (No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet). Inactive drivers with three Pocono wins include Bobby Allison and Dale Jarrett.
Langhorne Speedway, a one-mile dirt circle, hosted 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup races between 1949 and 1957. Herb Thomas and Dick Rathmann were the series leading winners there with three each.
Lincoln Speedway, a .500-mile dirt oval in New Oxford, Pa., hosted seven events between 1955 and 1965, with Buck Baker winning two.
Heidelberg Raceway, a .500-mile dirt oval in Carnegie, Pa. near Pittsburgh, held four events between 1949 and 1960. Lee Petty won two.
The Reading (Pa.) Fairground's .500-mile dirt oval hosted an event in 1958 and 1959. Both were won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson.
Pennsylvania tracks that hosted one race were the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds, .500-mile dirt track (race won by Herb Thomas in 1953); New Bradford Speedway, .333-mile dirt oval (race won by Junior Johnson in 1958); Pine Grove Speed- way, a .500-mile dirt oval in Shippenville, Pa. (race won by Tim Flock in 1951); and Williams Grove Speedway, a .500-mile dirt oval that hosted an event in 1954, won by Herb Thomas.
McMurray & Team Battling For Chase Berth
With his second win of the season coming in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet) picked up 30 points and moved from 18th to 16th in the series standings. He is now 151 points behind current 12th-place driver Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Wheaties Fuel Chevrolet).
After this Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, five races will remain for drivers to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
McMurray has had flashes of success at Pocono, most notably a Coors Light Pole Award in 2005. But he's posted only three career top-10 finishes there with a best finish of ninth in 2004 and 2008. He also finished 10th at Pocono in 2005. In June's event, McMurray qualified 18th but finished 36th due to an accident.
A strong performance at Pocono this week- end could extend the momentum his Earnhardt Ganassi team needs to excel through the Race to the Chase.
"Pocono is a unique track... and it's the only triangular race track we compete on all season long," McMurray said. "The unique layout of the track forces us to look at a few different aspects of our race car. Horsepower is the key at Pocono and you need to have a fast and powerful car since there are three different straightaways."
McMurray noted that teammate Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) posted finishes of eighth and second at Pocono in 2009, which, with information sharing, could assist his own team's performance at "The Tricky Triangle".
McMurray and principle team owner Chip Ganassi have shared a history-making season so far. At Indianapolis, McMurray became only the third driver in 17 years to win both the Day- tona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season. The others are Dale Jarrett in 1996 and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) in 2006.
Ganassi now has won an unprecedented single-season "Triple Crown" that includes the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500.
Jimmie Johnson Seeks Rebound As Series Heads To Pocono
Four-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led team seem to be comfortably aligned for a seventh consecutive appearance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Since joining the series full-time in 2002, Johnson has finished no lower than fifth in the final standings. He arrives at Pocono Raceway fourth in points and a five-win season to date.
With his 22nd-place finish last week at Indi- anapolis, Johnson placed outside the top 20 in his third consecutive race. He had finished 25th at Chicagoland Speedway and 31st at Daytona. The slide has dropped Johnson from second to fourth in the point standings race. He hasn't posted three straight finishes outside the top 20 since Aug. 8 - Aug. 22, 2004 with finishes of 36th at Indianapolis, and 40th at Watkins Glen and Michigan.
"Man, you just never know each week," Johnson said.
"It doesn't matter if the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) car has been on a roll at times and we've been on a roll at times and the No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) whoever it is, nobody seems to be able to sustain (good finishes) for a long time.
"The only saving grace I see right now is that no one has been able to link together a long stretch (of good finishes) outside of the No. 29. He's been awfully tough. Good thing this isn't the Chase. That's a good thing I can look at. But we'll move on. We'll be stronger. There's no doubt about it."
For Points Leader Harvick, It's All Or Nothing
Six races remain until the field is set for NAS- CAR's "playoffs" -- the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Though no driver has clinched a spot yet, a number of them are mathematically comfortable. For those few, it's time to win. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 12 drivers will have their points reset to 5,000, with 10 additional bonus points added for each win during the regular season.
Only 60 potential Chase bonus points re- main.
Kevin Harvick (No. 31 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) certainly belongs in that "pretty safe bet" group. The points leader has a hefty 536 point lead over the Chase cutoff, meaning only a titanic slump would knock him out of the top 12. He also has a 184-point lead over second place.
Problem is, if the Chase were to start today, that lead would evaporate -- and turn into a defi- cit.
Harvick has two victories (for 20 bonus points), which trails Jimmie Johnson's and Denny Hamlin's five wins, and 50 bonus points.
The statistics suggest a third win could come soon. Harvick certainly has the momentum, scoring four top fives in the last five races -- in- cluding a runner-up finish last Sunday in Indian- apolis. In those four finishes, Harvick has an average finish of 2.8, a Driver Rating of 109.7, an Average Running Position of 8.8 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 87.1%.
Harvick's statistics at Pocono are similarly stout. He finished fourth there in the series' first trip to the triangle, scoring a Driver Rating of 113.2, an Average Running Position of 6.4, while running 195 of the 204 laps in the top 15. He also cleared a hurdle that has blocked him for the previous 18 Pocono races -- he led a lap. Harvick led five laps last June, the first of his 19-race Pocono career.
KURT'S ANGLE: Kurt Busch is in the same situation. Currently a healthy 262 points inside the top 12, Busch needs to focus on bonus points. They could come this weekend. Busch has two perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 at Pocono, in his wins in 2005 and 2007.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chase Chances Take A Brickyard Hit
With good performances over the next six races, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/ National Guard Chevrolet) could find his way into the top 12 in the series standings which would earn him a 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth.
Earnhardt's struggles last Sunday at Indian- apolis widened the gap between himself and a place in the top 12.
In the process of posting an Average Run- ning Position of just 18.4, Earnhardt was col- lected in the late-race accident of Juan Pablo Montoya, and dropped him to a 27th-place fin- ish.
Arriving at Indianapolis, Earnhardt was only 15 points outside the top 12. After the event, he dropped to 14th in points, 93 points outside the Chase cutoff.
Earnhardt's best career day so far at Po- cono came in 2007, when he won the Coors Light Pole Award and finished second in the August event.
Rebounding with that type of day at Pocono following last week's disappointment would go a long way to bringing an optimistic outlook back to Earnhardt and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team.
Bowyer Holds 12th In Standings; Martin Could Challenge
Like his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin (No. 5 Go- Daddy.com Chevrolet) also is in the mix for a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth. Martin had a successful day at Indianapolis without much fanfare, qualifying third, leading once for 10 laps and finishing 11th to move from 14th to 13th in the standings.
He arrives at Pocono 62 points behind Clint Bowyer. A fourth-place finish helped Bowyer stay inside the top 12. Still, as the driver occupy- ing the final Chase eligible spot, Bowyer is in the most vulnerable position of Chase eligible driv- ers.
Bowyer and Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet) waged a battle for fourth place last week, with Bowyer coming out on top. Stewart arrives in Pocono ninth in points.
NSCS Etc.: Pocono Raceway
At least three full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will be crossing over to the other side of the garage at Pocono Raceway this weekend.
Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford), and Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Ford) have entered Pocono's inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, the Pocono Mountains 125, Saturday.
Hamlin will drive the No. 15 Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota; Kahne the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports/Toyota Dealers Toyota, and Sadler the No. 2 Kevin Harvick Inc./Grand Touring Vodka Chevrolet.
Chevrolet continues to hold sway in the manufacturers' standings after Jamie McMurray won at Indianapolis last week, bringing Chevro- let's win total to 10 this season. Toyota currently is second, 20 points be- hind Chevrolet. Toyota teams have posted eight wins this season.
Chevrolet has the most wins at Pocono Raceway with 24, but Denny Hamlin gave Toy- ota its first two wins at the 2.5-mile track, winning in '09 and earlier this season.
Nine drivers in the current top 12 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings finished in the top 12 of the June event at Pocono Raceway. They are, in order of current point standings: 1. Kevin Harvick, 3. Denny Hamlin, 4. Jimmie Johnson, 5. Kurt Busch, 6. Kyle Busch, 7. Jeff Burton, 9. Tony Stewart, 10. Carl Edwards, 12. Clint Bowyer.
Up Next: Watkins Glen International
The season's final road-course event is next Sunday, Aug. 8 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, a seven-turn , 2.45-mile track.
Tony Stewart leads the series with five wins at the track, and is the defending champion of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen. The race is 90-laps, 220.5 miles in dis- tance.
Jimmie Johnson won the Coors Light Pole Award for last year's event and finished 12th. Johnson, who hasn't won at Watkins Glen, won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road-course event earlier this year at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
Other active drivers who have won at Wat- kins Glen are Jeff Gordon with four, and Mark Martin with three.
Active single event winners at The Glen include Kyle Busch, Robby Gordon (No. 7 SpeedFactory.tv Toyota) and Kevin Harvick.
The Race: The Sunoco Red Cross
The Place: Pocono Raceway (2.5-mile triangle)
The Date: Sunday, August 1
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
Race Distance: 200 laps/500 miles
TV: ESPN, Noon (ET)
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128, WZZO-FM 95.1
2009 Polesitter: None (weather)
2009 Winner: Denny Hamlin
Schedule Prior To Race Day:
Friday -- Practice, 12-1:30 p.m. and Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 9-9:50 a.m. and 11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.