* Gearing up: Teams, drivers anticipate impact of new gear ratio rule at Pocono * Three in a row: After dominating in 2004, Jimmie Johnson looks for third straight Pocono win * History lesson: Pocono Raceway crucial to Alan Kulwicki's ...
* Gearing up: Teams, drivers anticipate impact of new gear ratio rule at Pocono
* Three in a row: After dominating in 2004, Jimmie Johnson looks for third straight Pocono win
* History lesson: Pocono Raceway crucial to Alan Kulwicki's championship run
NEWS AND NOTES
Shifting Gears: 2005 Gear Rule in Play At Pocono ... Pocono Raceway's long frontstretch and 2.5-mile length demands horsepower and handling, which has, in the past, demanded a driver shift gears, usually along the 3,740-foot frontstretch. However, that strategy may change this weekend due to new limitations on gear ratios.
In 2005, all three NASCAR national series -- the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, the NASCAR Busch Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series -- are restricting teams to specific gear ratios at each event. The premise is all beneficial: The restricted gear ratios reduce RPMs (revolutions per minute), which should help teams reduce costs associated with research and development. The gear rule is in effect at all tracks except Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, where carburetor restrictor plates are used.
Whether drivers try to shift at Pocono won't be known until they're on-track. And if they do shift, where they might try it is another unknown. The new gear rule does eliminate overdrive transmissions, a key component in shifting.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Director John Darby expects drivers and teams to experiment during Friday's two practice sessions, to find a comfort zone.
"They could still potentially shift, just at a different point of the race track," Darby said.
Another three-peat? Johnson looking for third Pocono win ... Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), was the definite king of Pocono Raceway last season. He won both 2004 events, commandingly. Now, as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series prepares for Sunday's Pocono 500 -- the 55th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event at Pocono -- Johnson is aiming for his third straight Pocono victory. And that just two weeks after making NASCAR history by winning an unprecedented third consecutive Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
There is some precedence: Two other drivers have won three consecutive Pocono races since the track began hosting two races a season in 1982. They are Bobby Allison and Tim Richmond.
A similar stage seems set for Johnson. Last season, he led 254 of the combined 400 laps of both Pocono events. He also has two wins and three top-five finishes at Pocono.
Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace Hardly Slowing Down ... In fact, both seem faster than ever. Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) and Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) are retiring from NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition at the end of this season, but neither are acting like it. Both have been NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 fixtures thus far, and both are coming off strong performances in last Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400 at Dover International Speedway.
"This is a really good stretch of races for us that we have in the early summer," Martin said, "and hopefully we can keep the ball rolling and get good finishes and maybe even another trophy in the next few weeks."
Martin, who finished third at Dover, jumped to sixth place in the point standings, a gain of six spots. Wallace, who finished fifth, jumped four spots to seventh place. Martin leads all drivers with 18 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes at Pocono; curiously, he hasn't won there. Wallace has four wins at Pocono, including one in the spring event (1994). In 42 starts at Pocono, he has nine top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.
Mike Ford takes over as Jason Leffler's crew chief ... Jason Leffler (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet) will have a new crew chief beginning this weekend at Pocono. Mike Ford was announced as the team's new leader on Tuesday. He replaces Dave Rogers, who will remain with Joe Gibbs Racing. Leffler's team is in its first season, and JGR president J. D. Gibbs said Tuesday's move was a positive one despite Leffler's current 36th-place position in the point standings.
"Expanding our organization to three teams has been a massive undertaking, but one that will pay dividends in the near future," Gibbs said. Leffler's teammates are a pair of former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champions, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet).
Ford, whose first stint as a crew chief came in 2000 with Bill Elliott, spent the 2001-2003 seasons with Evernham Motorsports as Elliott's crew chief after Elliott sold his team to Ray Evernham. Ford spent the 2004 season and the first 11 races of 2005 as Dale Jarrett's (No. 88 UPS Ford) crew chief. Rogers has been with JGR since 1998.
"He was an integral part of our championship seasons with Bobby Labonte in 2000 and Tony Stewart in 2002," Gibbs said, "and he put together an absolutely first-class crew from scratch in his debut as a crew chief."
Milestone Markers ... Ricky Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Genuine Parts Ford) should make his 52nd career start at Pocono Raceway this weekend. That's more than any other driver. He has one win (June 2001) and 21 top-10 finishes at Pocono.
Rusty Wallace should make his 675th consecutive NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start this weekend. Wallace trails only Rudd among active drivers; Rudd should make his 765th consecutive start this weekend.
Media Invited to "Herbie: Fully Loaded" Screening ... In anticipation of the release of the movie "Herbie: Fully Loaded," media covering this weekend's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event at Pocono Raceway are invited to a screening Friday at 9 p.m. ET. It will be held at the Galleria Theater at Split Rock Resort, near the track. The address is One Lake Drive, Lake Harmony, Pa., 18624. Popcorn and a medium soft drink will be provided. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Ford, Chevrolet Tied Again In Manufacturers Standings ... After 13 races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, Ford got its sixth victory of 2005 last Sunday thanks to Greg Biffle's (No. 16 National Guard Ford) win at Dover International Speedway. Although tied with Chevrolet in wins, Ford remains second in the series' Manufacturers Championship standings, with Dodge running third with one win. Chevrolet retains its edge (94-90) in points. Dodge has 63 points. ... Chevrolet has won the Manufacturers Championship 28 times while Ford has won 15 times; the other 10 years the championship has been awarded, it has been won by Hudson (3), Dodge (2), Buick (2), Oldsmobile (1), Pontiac (1) and Plymouth (1). ... Points are earned thusly: Nine points to the highest-finishing car type; six points to the second-highest finishing type; four points for the third-highest finishing type. ... Chevrolet has won the championship the last two years. ... Jimmie Johnson is currently the leading Chevrolet driver, as the series point leader. Greg Biffle, second in points, is the top Ford driver. Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) is the leading Dodge driver, fourth in the points.
Owner Points Update: Top 35 Heading to Pocono ... Beginning in 2005, teams outside the top 35 in owner championship points must qualify on speed for each week's 43 starting spots. The top-35 designation guarantees a spot. Beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 and running through the Bristol race on April 3, the top 35 in 2004 owner points was the yardstick. Beginning with the Martinsville race on April 10, the current top 35 became the yardstick.
On the Right Track
* Rick Hendrick (Hendrick Motorsports) leads all owners with 10 wins at Pocono.
* Mark Martin leads all drivers with 18 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes at Pocono.
* Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) leads all active drivers with 841 laps led in 24 Pocono races.
* Ken Schrader leads all drivers with five Bud Poles at Pocono.
* Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon and Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) all had top-10 finishes in both Pocono events last season.
From the Archives: Pocono a Crucial Stop for Kulwicki ... Pocono Raceway was the scene of Alan Kulwicki's second and final win of his 1992 championship season. Kulwicki was fifth in points coming into the event, with one win at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier in the season. He qualified sixth at Pocono while Ken Schrader picked up the pole in Rick Hendrick's No. 25 Chevrolet.
Kulwicki led for the first time on Lap 69. The race saw 26 lead changes among 11 drivers, and Kulwicki led seven times for a race-high 58 laps, allowing him to take the 10 point bonus for most laps led. With 15 laps remaining, Kulwicki avoided what would have been a major mistake. He came upon a slower car which moved up into his groove. That forced Kulwicki into the "marbles," or pieces of small, worn rubber and other debris that collects near the track's outer wall. He lost the lead to Bill Elliott.
"I regrouped and kept my cool," Kulwicki said after the win. "I felt I had an edge on Bill because I had gotten four tires on my last pit stop and I knew he had gotten only two. I thought he would race me clean and he did."
Kulwicki caught Elliott and passed him in five laps, also beating second-place finisher Mark Martin by a margin of 2.34 seconds. He left Pocono third in the point standings and eventually won the 1992 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup title, becoming the first owner/driver to do so since Rex White in 1960.
On Deck: Michigan International Speedway ... Race No. 15 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule will be Sunday, June 12 -- the Batman Begins 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Michigan, a 2-mile oval, has been part of the schedule since 1969 when the race winner was Cale Yarborough. ... Ryan Newman is defending champion. Jeff Gordon was last year's polesitter.
The race: Pocono 500 (Race No. 14 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
The track: Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa. (2.5-mile triangle.)
The date/time: Sunday, June 12, 1:40 p.m. (ET).
TV: FOX, 1 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.
Posted awards: $4,750,449.
Race length: 500 miles, 200 laps.
Track layout: 2.5-mile triangle.
2004 winner: Jimmie Johnson.
2004 polesitter: Kasey Kahne.
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 1,912. 2. Greg Biffle 1,866. 3. Elliott Sadler 1,681. 4. Ryan Newman 1,672. 5. Tony Stewart 1,606. 6. Mark Martin 1,588. 7. Rusty Wallace 1,584. 8. Kurt Busch 1,579. 9. Carl Edwards 1,574. 10. Kevin Harvick 1,573.