Pocono: Round 14 preview

Momentum Means All: Expect Gordon In The Mix At Pocono While the first four months of the 2007 and 2008 season may be known The Tale Of Two Starts for Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway could find the ...

Momentum Means All: Expect Gordon In The Mix At Pocono

While the first four months of the 2007 and 2008 season may be known The Tale Of Two Starts for Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway could find the four-time series champion in the same place -- Victory Lane.

A year ago, Gordon arrived at Pocono having led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for nine consecutive weeks. He departed with his fourth victory of 2007, still firmly out front.

This year has been anything except a continuation.

Gordon began 2008 with a 39th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and has yet to win, clawing through the standings toward Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility (the top 12 in series points).

But recent performances may portend big things.

Gordon has jumped from 14th to sixth in the last four weeks. He returns to Pocono as the defending race champion and with momentum after last week's fifth-place finish at Dover International Speedway.

Gordon has four wins, two poles, 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in 30 career starts at Pocono. He also ranks third in NASCAR Loop Data's pre-race Driver Rating for Pocono (97.5) behind Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) at 133.1 and Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) at 103.2.

Historic Triple: Kyle Busch Ready For Three Races, Three Tracks

Three tracks. Three states. Three national series.

In three days. With three different teams.

That's Kyle Busch's (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) assignment as he prepares to compete in Friday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Texas Motor Speedway, Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide event at Nashville Superspeedway and Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Pocono Raceway.

Assuming no travel or weather gremlins, Busch will become the first driver to compete in all three NASCAR national series on the same weekend at different tracks.

And that's after participating in Wednesday's fourth annual Old Spice Prelude to the Dream at Rossburg, Ohio's Eldora Speedway -- a Victory Junction Gang Camp fundraiser hosted by track owner and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart.

And a Thursday sponsor appearance.

At Nashville, Busch will drive the No. 32 Toyota for Braun Racing. At Texas, he'll drive the No. 51 Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports. Due to travel, he'll participate in only one qualifying session, Friday at Pocono. Tennessee native Willie Allen will sub for him at Nashville and J.R. Norris will step in at Texas, both taking Busch's seat during qualifying and practices for those series' events.

In The Loop: Hamlin The One To Catch At Pocono

Denny Hamlin loves Pocono Raceway.

Right off the bat, he had the track figured out -- not an easy accomplishment, considering Pocono's degree of difficulty and the unique layout.

In Hamlin's rookie year of 2006, he won the pole and the race in each of his visits to the 2.5-mile track. In his second race there, he scored a near-perfect Driver Rating of 149.0 (a perfect rating is 150.0).

In his four races, Hamlin holds series-highs in a number of statistical categories: Driver Rating (133.1), Average Running Position (4.6) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (93.9%). He also ranks second in Fastest Laps Run with 172.

But lately, if it hasn't been Hamlin at Pocono, it's been Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge).

Busch has two wins and two second-place finishes over his last five Pocono races. In both his wins, Busch scored a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0.

In his previous six Pocono races, Busch has notched a Driver Rating of 116.6 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 7.4 (second), a series-high 207 Fastest Laps Run and has spent 82.9% of the Laps in the Top 15.

Also watch for Tony Stewart's luck to change.

His chances of victory were destroyed early at Dover, but Pocono has treated him kinder in recent years. Over the past six races there, Stewart has a Driver Rating of 103.2 (third-best), an Average Running Position of 10.5 (fourth), 36 Fastest Laps Run (tied for sixth), a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 79.2% (fourth) and a series-high 266 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green).

One wild card this weekend is also a driver who is aiming to get back into the top 12.

Ryan Newman (No. 12 Kodak Dodge), currently in 14th place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, could charge into the top 12 with a win at Pocono -- a feat that's not out of the question.

Since 2005 at Pocono, Newman has a Driver Rating of 101.9 (fourth) and an Average Running Position of 8.6 (third).

Chasing The Chase: Kahne Clings to 12th, Surging Ragan and Kenseth Not Far Behind

A strenuous summer schedule stands between NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and the Sept. 6 cut-off event for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility, but it's never too early to tally points.

Three drivers in particular cling to momentum as the series heads for Sunday's Pocono 500, the season's 14th event (the cut-off race at Richmond International Raceway is the 26th).

Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) currently is 12th, in the final Chase-eligible spot. He leads 13th-place David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford) by only eight points.

Former series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) remains 16th for a second consecutive week, but trails 15th-place Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) by only 12 points, as opposed to 27 last week.

Kenseth has climbed from 22nd to 16th in three weeks, helped by three consecutive top-10 finishes (the latest, a fourth, last Sunday at Dover). Attempting to rebound from a difficult start, he's one of only two drivers to compete in every Chase since the format's 2004 inception.

He trails the 12th-place Kahne by 95 points.

Ragan, a second-year driver, broke into the top 12 for the first time three weeks ago, following the season's 11th event, at Darlington Raceway. He's fallen back a spot since, but remains on Kahne's trail. Kahne, who spent the season's first eight weeks in the top 12 before falling out during the month of May, re-entered the top 12 after his May 25 victory in the Coca-Cola 600.

Carl Edwards The Guest On This Week's NASCAR Teleconference

On The Line: Carl Edwards, fielded media questions during Tuesday's weekly session:

On Racing At Eldora Speedway: "Last year I don't think anybody expected Kyle Busch to run as well as he did. And I think a lot of people were nervous that Jeff (Gordon) wasn't going to run that well. But then those two guys ended up being the guys that I had to beat to win the thing."

On Last Week's Pocono Test: "I went into that Pocono test with a pretty open mind. I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't think this new car would run that well through all the different types of corners. I just thought it would be a lot tougher to drive than it was.

"So I was pleased with how well the car ran. The one thing that I didn't expect and that I think everyone is going to work with all day at the racetrack will be in the last corner, they paved a big strip around that corner. Everybody was trying running on the new pavement, which was way up high, versus the low line where generally we run."

On Kyle Busch's Historic "Triple": "It is just fun. To show up at a race track and jump out of a jet and fly in a helicopter and then jump in a screaming-fast race car, that's every racer's dream to have a reason to go do all that stuff. It is really neat. It is just a really fun time.

"Logistically it is tougher. But physically it is not any tougher than running a regular weekend. It is mostly just added fun."

The Top 35: Waltrip Holds On To 35th; The No. 22 Continues Its Climb

For the second consecutive week, the No. 55 NAPA Toyota owned and driven by Michael Waltrip is 35th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner standings.

Each week, the top 35 teams are guaranteed starting spots, with those outside the top 35 required to qualify on time

This week, the No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge owned by Roger Penske and driven by Sam Hornish Jr., made the biggest jump forward -- from 36th to 33rd thanks to an 18th-place finish at Dover.

At the other end of the spectrum, another Michael Waltrip Racing car, the No. 00 Waltrip Racing Toyota owned by Rob Kauffman and driven by Michael McDowell, dropped three spots to 34th in the owner standings thanks to McDowell's 30th-place finish at Dover.

In 36th is the No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet owned by Joe Custer and driven by Scott Riggs. It dropped two spots, and out of top-35 eligibility, after Sunday's 39th-place finish. Earlier last week, the No. 66 and its sister team, the No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet, were penalized 150 owner points each for inspection infractions two weeks ago at Lowe's Motor Speedway. That penalty dropped the No. 66 from 24th to 34th prior to last Sunday at Dover.

Meanwhile, the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota owned by Bill Davis and driven by Dave Blaney continues its top-35 success story.

Five points events and six weeks ago, the No. 22 was 39th in the owner standings following the season's ninth race, at Talladega Superspeedway.

But Blaney's second top-10 finish in three weeks (he was ninth last Sunday at Dover) helped him gain three more spots in the owner standings. The No. 22 now is 30th heading to Pocono -- a gain of nine spots over the past month and a half.

Pennsylvania Natives In The Garage

Three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs lead a sizeable group of team members who will return to their home state this weekend.

They are: Pat Tryson, who hails from Malvern and oversees the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, Greg Erwin, who hails from Hatboro and oversees the No. 16 3M Ford and Bob Osborne, who hails from Chester and oversees the No. 99 AFLAC Ford.

Other Pennsylvanians include:

Darin Nestlerode (Jersey Shore) -- No. 31 car chief; Billy Curwood (Shickshinny) -- No. 42 engineer; Travis Geisler (Pittsburgh) -- No. 12 engineer and Dave Littau (Pottsville) -- No. 2 front-tire carrier.

Several teams boast multiple Pennsylvania natives, including the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet with engine tuner Danny Emerick (Byrn Mawr) and tire specialist Sean Kerlin (Marysville).

The No. 19 Stanley Tools Dodge has three, with engine tuner Stephen Ritchie (Jonestown), tire specialist Toby Mellott (Needmore) and front-tire changer Terry Spaulding (Troy).

The No. 88 Natonal Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet has four -- No. 88 transporter driver Dave Radney (Canton), spotter T.J. Majors (Wampum) and gas man Chris Fasulka (Wilkes-Barre) and front-tire carrier Matt Myers (Ford City).

The No. 41 Target Dodge has two -- pit-crew coach Lance Munksgard (Warre) and tire specialist Mike Motil (Hazelton).

The No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota also has two -- spotter Tom Mayerchek (Sharon) and scorer Gina Mayerchek (Sharon).

Other Pennsylvania natives: Jason Seitzinger (Shartlesville) -- No. 24 shock specialist; Jim Bender (Duryea) -- No. 9 tire specialist; Mike Harrold (York) -- No. 10 tire specialist; Steve Brown (Honesdale) -- No. 29 tire specialist; Kevin Hebert (New Holland) -- No. 77 rear-tire changer; Troy Welty (Manchester) -- No. 07 windshield/driver support; Brad Little (New Kensington) -- No. 99 driver support; Josh Kirk (Chambersburg) -- No. 5 mechanic/rear-tire changer and Scott Crowell (Towanda) -- No. 20 second gas man.

Up Next: The LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway

Next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is the LifeLock 400 on Sunday, June 15 at Michigan International Speedway. It's the 15th of 36 races on the 2008 schedule.

Carl Edwards won last June at Michigan, snapping what was then a 52-race winless streak.

J.J. Yeley (No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota) is the defending pole winner.

Three-time series champion David Pearson leads all drivers with nine victories and 10 poles at Michigan. Two-time series champion Bill Elliott (No. 21 U.S. Air Force Ford) leads all active drivers with seven wins and six poles there.

The Race: Pocono 500
The Place: Pocono Raceway

The Date: Sunday, June 8
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 2.5-mile triangle
The Distance: 500 miles/200 laps

TV: TNT, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Jeff Gordon
2007 Polesitter: Ryan Newman

Pre-Race Schedule:
Friday -- Practice, noon-1:30 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:40 p.m.;
Saturday -- Practice, 10-10:45 a.m., Final Practice, 11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Travis Geisler , David Ragan , Denny Hamlin , Dave Blaney , Roger Penske , Willie Allen , J.R. Norris , Greg Erwin , Kyle Busch , David Pearson
Teams Michael Waltrip Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing