NASCAR Driver Capsules, June 5
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After seven weeks in second place, Matt Kenseth moved up one spot to knock Jeff Gordon out of the lead for the Sprint Cup standings after Sunday's race at Dover. Kenseth now leads Gordon by two points and leads third-ranked Carl Edwards by 25 points.
POCONO RECORD: 28 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in early summer 2003. Finished 25th in this race last year and was 22nd in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Given his past track record there, Kenseth does not look like he'll break his 2014 winless streak at Pocono this Sunday. Kenseth has struggled at the 2.5-mile tri-oval, including his last three races there being finishes of 20th or worse.
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had a second consecutive strong run at Dover, finishing third, the same place he finished the week before at Charlotte. His Dover finish also propelled him into the lead of the Sprint Cup standings. Much was made that Kenseth and Joey Logano had a confrontation after the race, but such was not the case, according to Kenseth: "I was just talking with Joey about how hard it was to pass. Really, he was frustrated because he couldn't catch me. So, we were just talking about how tough it was to pass. Wherever you put a car in front of the other one that was about where you were going to run."
ETC.: Even though his overall performance has been marginal there, Kenseth has completed 99.0 percent (5,216) of the 5,267 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Pocono. His average start there is 18.2 and his average finish is 14.9. He has zero DNFs there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After a six-week run atop the Sprint Cup standings, Jeff Gordon fell to second place after Sunday's race at Dover. Gordon trails new points leader Matt Kenseth by two points, and is 23 points ahead of third-ranked Carl Edwards.
POCONO RECORD: 42 career starts, 6 wins, 19 top-5s, 29 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in early summer 1996, 1997, 2007 and 2011, along with mid-summer 1998 and 2012. Finished 12th in this race last year and was second in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Pocono is one of Gordon's favorite and most successful racetracks. In 42 starts, he's won six times and amassed a total of 29 top-10 finishes. He's looking for another strong run there Sunday, as well as to regain the lead in the Sprint Cup points standings. Here's Gordon's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I don't think the track has changed - it's just the curb I believe has been removed from Turn 2 and the access road is now like a normal apron. I think visually it's going to take some getting used to. We used that curb as a real focal point and, now that it's gone, what you used to get through that corner will be different."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon never really had a car that could challenge at Dover. While he hoped he could salvage a top 10 finish, he ultimately wound up with a 15th-place showing.
ETC.: Gordon has completed 96.2 percent (7,757) of the 8,067 total laps contested in 42 career starts at Pocono. His average start there is 11.6 and average finish is an excellent 10.0. He has five DNF's there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in third place in the standings, but he's no longer tied with Kyle Busch, as he was heading into last Sunday's race at Dover. Edwards trails new points leader Matt Kenseth by 25 points and second-ranked Jeff Gordon by 23 points, and leads fourth-ranked Jimmie Johnson by two points.
POCONO RECORD: 18 career starts, 2 win, 5 top-5s, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in early summer 2005 and mid-summer 2008. Finished 18th in this race last year and was 11th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: The rumor mill has really sprung into action after Darrell Waltrip said on Fox Sports' Sunday telecast prior to the Dover race that Edwards will be moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season (and Waltrip said teammate Greg Biffle is headed to Michael Waltrip Racing). Edwards has had no comment on Waltrip's comment or the increased activity of the rumor mill.
LOOKING BACK: After finishing fourth at Charlotte, Edwards had an average run at Dover, finishing 14th.
ETC.: Edwards has completed 95.6 percent (3,146) of 3,292 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Pocono. His average start there is 17.2 and his average finish is 13.3. He has zero DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson climbed two spots in the standings, from sixth to fourth (he's now climbed three positions in two weeks), following his win Sunday at Dover, his second straight win this season. Johnson trails new points leader Matt Kenseth by 27 points, is two points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points.
POCONO RECORD: 24 career starts, 3 wins, 10 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in early and mid-summer 2004 and early summer 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was 13th in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Jimmie Johnson won his second consecutive race of the season at Dover, following up on his win a week before at Charlotte. Pocono is one of Johnson's favorite and more successful tracks. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We have some momentum right now. Pocono is a great track for the No. 48 team. ... It's such a big track it's tough to see it all from a fan perspective. But inside the car and the challenge that the crew chief face there is a lot going on around that racetrack. I know it is Chad's (Knaus) favorite racetrack to go to because all three corners are different, the loading is different, the banking is different, and there are a bunch of tools and options to adjust the race car all the way around the track. That is what Chad really enjoys about that."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson dominated at Charlotte two weeks ago, and dominated again this past Sunday en route to his 68th career Sprint Cup win, leading 272 of the 400 laps at Dover.
ETC.: Johnson has been near-perfect at Pocono, having completed an outstanding 99.8 percent (4,458) of the 4,467 total laps contested in 24 career starts there. His average start there is an outstanding 8.6 and his average finish is an equally outstanding 8.8. He has zero DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Former points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in fifth place after Sunday's race at Dover. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 34 points, is seven points behind fourth-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads sixth-ranked Joey Logano by 15 points.
POCONO RECORD: 28 career starts, 0 wins, 7 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in mid-summer 2001 and mid-summer 2007. Finished third in this race last year and was fifth in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: With the exception of a 32nd-place finish in mid-summer 2012, Earnhardt has two top-five and three other top-10 finishes in the last six races. He's been knocking on the door for his first career win there. Will he finally seal the deal this Sunday?
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt didn't lead any laps but hovered around the top five for much of Sunday's race at Dover, ultimately finishing ninth. His thoughts on the concrete fiasco at Dover? "Concrete has been losing the battle for preferred surface on a racetrack for 60 years. I don't think they are going to start paving them all with concrete anytime soon. It is okay and I think they got their money out of what they put down here. I would be a little nervous because there are so many joints and joists in this place, it's a lottery on which one is going to come up next. If they repave it, I hope they put asphalt down and we would give the fans a hell of a show around here."
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.1 percent (5,116) of the 5,267 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Pocono. His average start there is 15.0 and average finish is 16.3. He has one DNF there.
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping from sixth to seventh at Charlotte, Joey Logano regained his lost position and climbed back into sixth after Dover. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 49 points, is 15 points behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads seventh-ranked Kyle Busch by three points.
POCONO RECORD: 10 career starts, 1 wins, 1 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in early summer 2012 race. Finished 10th in this race last year and was seventh in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano has had some decent runs of late at Pocono. In his last four starts, he has a win, two other top-10 finishes and a 13th-place showing. With two wins already this season, Logano feels good heading into Pocono: "There is still confidence knowing that you go into a track as a former winner. Every driver out there wants to win these races on every weekend, so to know that you were able to win one of these, and the way we won that race running against Mark (Martin) with just five laps to go, that's something you will remember for the rest of your life."
LOOKING BACK: Logano had a good run at Dover. While he didn't lead any laps, he still wound up with a top 10 showing, finishing eighth.
ETC.: Logano paid a visit to test his abilities Tuesday to the NFL's Detroit Lions training facility. Needless to say afterward, Logano will stick with his day job behind the wheel. He has completed a perfect 100 percent (1,782) of the 1,782 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Pocono. His average start there is 13.3 and average finish is 15. 6. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch dropped the most of any driver in the top 10 after Dover, falling four spots from third to seventh. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 52 points, is three points behind sixth-ranked Joey Logano and leads eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski by seven points.
POCONO RECORD: 18 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Second in early summer 2010 and mid-summer 2011. Finished sixth in this race last year and was eighth in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is still looking for his second win of the season, not to mention his first career win at Phoenix, a track that has vexed him throughout his career. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "Pocono used to be a place I didn't look forward to going to but, lately, I've been looking forward to it because of Dave Rogers (crew chief). Dave, along with everyone on the team and JGR, have done a good job of giving me solid racecars and it's given me more confidence. I think the repave set us back a bit ... but we had two top-10s there last year and would like to turn those into top-fives, and maybe have a shot at a win there."
LOOKING BACK: Busch's day came to an early end at Dover when he got into the back of Clint Bowyer's car and subsequently hit the wall, incurring heavy damage to the right side of his car. After just 125 of the scheduled 400 laps, Busch was left relegated to a 42nd-place finish.
ETC.: Busch has completed just 91.9 percent (3,025) of the 3,292 total laps contested in 18 career starts at Pocono. His average start there is 13.8 and average finish is 17.8. He has four DNFs there.
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing from 11th to ninth after Charlotte, Brad Keselowski climbed one more position to eighth after Dover. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 59 points, is seven seventh-ranked Kyle Busch and leads ninth-ranked Denny Hamlin by 25 points.
POCONO RECORD: 8 career starts, 1 wins, 2 top-5s, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in mid-summer 2011. Finished 16th in this race last year and was sixth in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski is still seeking his second win of the season, which would lock him into the Chase. He has a good overall record at Pocono, including a win, and hopes that elusive second win can come at the Pennsylvania track this Sunday. His thoughts: "(Pocono) is a very unique track - it is almost like a mix of an oval and a road course. I tend to find things that I like about all the tracks that we race on, as that is the optimal way to approach the weekend. The variation in corner speed, the length of the long straight and the configuration of the corners are unlike any other circuit. ... Having won there in 2011 makes it stand out in my mind as well as that was a big win for us without a doubt."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski led just one lap but had an excellent run at Dover, finishing second to race winner Jimmie Johnson.
ETC.: Keselowski has completed a perfect 100 percent (1,382) of the 1,382 total laps contested in eight career starts at Pocono. His average start is 17.2 and average finish is 13.6. He has zero DNFs there.
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Denny Hamlin made a huge jump up in the standings, going from 14th to ninth after Dover. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 84 points, is 25 points behind eighth-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads 10th-ranked Kyle Larson by two points.
POCONO RECORD: 16 career starts, 4 win, 8 top-5s, 10 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in early and mid-summer 2006, mid-summer 2009 and early summer 2010. He finished eighth in this race last season and was last (due to a crash) in the mid-summer encore race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin used to be great at Pocono, including winning the first two times he raced there in his career. Here's his thoughts on his last several starts there: "We have certainly struggled a bit since Pocono was repaved a couple years ago, but as the surface ages and wears, I think we'll be able to get it back. I love the flatter racetracks that wear out the tires, and I'm ready to get to Pocono to build on the momentum we established at Dover last weekend. We are making some gains as a race team and figuring some things out that will help us during these summer months. We have some good tracks coming up for our team, and hopefully we'll be able to capitalize with some wins."
LOOKING BACK: Hamlin had a contending car at Dover and the end result proved that: he finished fifth there.
ETC.: Even with his four wins there, Hamlin has completed just 93.9 percent (2,712) of the 2,888 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Pocono. His average start there is an outstanding 6.5 and his average finish is 12.6. He has two DNFs there.
42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Larson climbed three places and into 10th in the Sprint Cup standings after Dover. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 84 points, is two points behind ninth-ranked Denny Hamlin and leads 11th-ranked Ryan Newman by three points.
POCONO RECORD: 0 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. This will be Larson's first career start in the Sprint Cup Series at Pocono. In fact, it will be his first pro race ever at Pocono, having never ran there before in either the Nationwide or Truck series, as well.
LOOKING AHEAD: Larson is looking forward to his Pocono debut. He likes road course tracks and while Pocono isn't a road course, it has attributes similar to racing at places like Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "This will be my first time racing at Pocono, but I'm ready for this weekend's race. Jamie (teammate Jamie McMurray) has given me some good advice about where the braking zones and shift points are, and I'll get some feel for the racetrack under competition conditions on Saturday when I drive in the ARCA Pocono 200. The track is definitely pretty tricky, with the tight turns and different distances in the straights, and needing to downshift in every corner. I think those challenges will make the racing fun though. The track is just so different from anywhere else we race. Pennsylvania definitely has some of the weirdest racetracks. Our Target Chevy has consistently been good so I expect we should have another good car for this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Larson had a good run and was the highest-finishing rookie this past Sunday at Dover, ultimately finishing 11th.
ETC.: Larson will be making his first career start at Pocono this Sunday
31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only three points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week to fall out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Will be seeking his fourth straight top-six finish and fifth in the last six races. Overall has one win and 12 top-10 finishes including nine top-five's in 24 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: After testing at Pocono, Newman feels "it has definitely slowed down a little bit even though our cars are a little bit faster, but to me, it's still the same track. They changed turn two a little bit, the curbs are gone. It makes for a better escape route especially with the way our splitters are now. On a restart, it will really help when we get jumbled up. We will have a place to go now instead of running in the back of someone. It remains one of my favorite tracks on the circuit."
LOOKING BACK: Just after moving into the top 10 with just over an l00 laps to go, Newman was forced to go to the garage area because of transmission problems. The crew quickly fixed the problem and Newman returned to the race 14 laps down to the leader. He finished the day in 31st place. "When the race started, we had our work cut out for us," said Newman. "We were so loose it cost us quite a bit of track position. The CAT crew worked extremely hard to get our Chevrolet competitive and Luke (Lambert, crew chief) made all the right calls. I'm so proud of what we were able to accomplish - a top-10 car. It's a shame we had a mechanical problem that cost us a decent finish."
ETC.: Most drivers and crew chiefs feel it is all but impossible to get a car to handle perfect in all three turns at Pocono. Newman does not agree. "It's doable to make the car perfect," said Newman. "It's not easy, but all it takes is good communication between you, the crew chief and the engineers. It's possible to set your car up for all three turns."
4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only four points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Finished ninth in the June race a year ago for his ninth top-10 finish in 26 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick admits "I haven't had a lot of success there (Pocono), but seeing the success that the team has had there in the past and seeing the success that Hendrick Motorsports has had, I think Pocono is probably one of the places on the schedule that I'm looking forward to going to the most this year. Between the two teams that we have access to information from, I think Pocono should be a lot of fun."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick was leading the race when the event had to be red-flagged to patch up a hole in the track where a piece of concrete had come loose. Shortly after the race was restarted on lap 164, Harvick started dropping back and was forced to pit two laps later with a flat right-front tire. He was never able to get back on the lead lap and finished 17th. "We had another great car," said Harvick. "They said the value stem got knocked out of the right front. It was another of those fluke deals. We had a car that could have challenged for the win."
ETC.: In describing a lap around Pocono, Harvick said, "it's got three very different corners and after the repave those corners are varied even more than in the past just because you carry a lot more speed into turn one than you do the other corners. Pocono has very fast corners with a few different approaches because of the banking differences, but I think the biggest challenge is probably turn three and getting your car to rotate through the center of the corner and still be able to stay in the throttle as long as you need to up off the corner."
55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 11 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots to fall out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Five top-10 finishes including four top-five's in 14 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers tested last week at Pocono. "It was good to get up there and get a team test with Clint (Bowyer) and Jeff (Burton)," said Vickers. "It's been a few years since I have been to Pocono. I have never raced on the new surface. I had to really take a few laps just to feel the track out. The repave is great, really smooth but a few of the tricky bumps are still there. The bumps make you have to work harder as a team to set the car up."
LOOKING BACK: Vickers ran in the top 10 until he suffered engine failure on lap 73 of the 400-lap event. As a result, Vickers finished 43rd and last at Dover. "I don't want to speculate on what it was and what caused it," said Vickers. "Certainly an engine. Everyone at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and Toyota work so hard and we're always pushing these engines to the very limit. So, I'm sure they will get to the bottom of it and get it fixed."
ETC.: Vickers doesn't feel the racing has changed for a driver even with the new emphasis on winning in order to make the Chase. "All I have ever wanted to do when I get behind the wheel of a race car is to win," said Vickers. "That's true for every driver out there no matter what the rules are. So, most of the racing I don't think has changed much from the driver's perspective. If there has been a strategy change, it's more from the team perspective. Are crew chiefs willing to take more chances with tire or fuel strategy on the last restart now?
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 15 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.
POCONO RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in 14 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "Pocono is a great track as far as uniqueness. We shift there, and a lot of guys have been doing that the last couple of years which adds a different element. It's kind of like a big road course really, you just turn left. The hardest part is trying to get your car out of the air while still maintaining grip in the corners."
LOOKING BACK: Menard finished 10th at Dover for his second straight top-10 finish and third in the last four races. "We definitely had our best Dover car yet," said a beaming Menard. "The Pittsburgh Paints/Menard Chevrolet took 10 to 15 laps to come to me but we could really race after that point. We struggled on restarts because of the time it took for the air pressure to settle in, but we could really move forwards once they did. It was a great race for us and another top-10 finish doesn't hurt."
ETC.: When asked what makes Pocono so "unique," Menard replied, "the three corners. Turn one is real wide and has pretty good banking where you can run side-by-side. Turn two is really fast and sharp which makes it very difficult to run side-by-side. Turn three is in-between; it's real flat but with a sweeping, pretty wide corner. It's definitely a unique track."
3 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 19 points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Finished in the top seven in his two Truck Series starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon tested at Pocono last week. "We went there to learn as much as we could," said the rookie driver. "I ran there in the trucks. I'm sure it's going to be a learning experience shifting and doing different things, and the three turns does make it a little harder to comprehend. It's a frustrating place because you have three different corners to set up for. One's flat, one's banked and one's just a weird corner, so you get after it as hard as you can and try to give it the best you can."
LOOKING BACK: Dillon ran out of gas as he came down pit road for his final scheduled pit stop of the race. To compound the problem, Dillon was penalized for speeding on pit road. As a result, he fell from 14th to 24th, two laps down. Dillon rallied to finish 20th. "This is a hard one to take," said Dillon. "We had our best car all year today and I really think we were on our way to a top-10 finish in the American Ethanol Chevrolet."
ETC.: Dillon, who tested at Virginia International Raceway this week, will be one of the many baseball fans watching the Little League World Series later this summer. The Little League is celebrating its 75th birthday this year. Dillon made it to Williamsport, Pa. in 2002 when he played for the Southwest Forsyth (NC) team. "Playing in the Little League World Series is something special," said Dillon.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 20 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week.
POCONO RECORD: Finished second in the June race a year ago. Overall has one win and six top-10 finishes in 22 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle said he is "looking forward to Pocono. It's been an up and down track for us, but with the new repave I've liked it better and we've done a lot better. We're struggling with our cars right now and we are struggling to get them to turn. We are looking for speed and hopefully a high-speed place like Pocono will play into our hands a bit. We'll try and knock off a top-five finish and get ourselves back towards the front."
LOOKING BACK: Biffle was in the wrong place at the wrong time as he was clipped by A J Allmendinger and sent spinning into the wall shortly after the restart following the second caution flag of the day. "After watching the replay, I see what happened," said Biffle. "They were racing pretty hard and he (Allmendinger) stuck it into a hole that maybe there wasn't room for. There definitely wasn't room come three-quarters of the way around the corner. He slid off the bottom and got his right-rear caught by the 17 (teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) and slid up into us." After spending over a 100 laps in the garage area while repairs were made to his car, Biffle returned to the race and finished 38th to continue his record streak of 85 straight races running at the finish.
ETC.: The rumor mill regarding Biffle's future really got stirred up Sunday when Darrell Waltrip said on national TV "Greg Biffle will go to some two-car team that maybe one time had a third car," hinting Biffle would be signing with brother Michael in the very near future. Michael tried to quiet the rumor when he said, "I think the Biff stays at Roush, he's going to be the veteran, the anchor to that rookie lineup for the young guys that going to race at Roush."
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 27 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.
POCONO RECORD: Seven top-10 finishes in 16 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer is another driver who recently tested at Pocono. "We felt like we could try and be better there so we decided to test," said Bowyer. "We had a good game plan going in and ended up picking up a little speed and learned a few things. Anytime you can test you learn something, whether it's what you should or shouldn't do. Hopefully it shows this weekend on the track and we have another good run like we did last weekend in Dover."
LOOKING BACK: It was a good day and a frustrating day for Bowyer as he finished fourth at Dover. A two-tire pit stop vaulted Bowyer into the lead with 38 laps to go, but he was unable to hold off Jimmie Johnson on the restart. On the final restart of the race with only four laps remaining, Bowyer got into the back of Matt Kenseth. "I was just trying to help him," said Bowyer. "Man, we were all spinning (their tires) like crazy and I had a pretty good run at him and he was still spinning when I hit him and I knocked him into the wall and I was like, 'Not another Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) car.' I hated that with Kyle (Busch, earlier in the day). Obviously I thought I was clear and I thought he was going to give it (the pass) to me and he didn't. Ruined his day and certainly didn't help ours." After the race, Bowyer stuck his head in the window of Kenseth's car and explained what happened.
ETC.: Bowyer said if he "had the NASCAR reins for a day, that's one thing I would do periodically through the year is make a rule change because it seems to be for at least two months or three months after a rule change you have people that really hit on it, some teams that struggle with it - it just shakes things up - the parody through the field and I think that's the biggest part of what you're seeing right now."
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 28 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
POCONO RECORD: Won the August race last year for his second win at the 2.5-mile facility.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne knows he needs to win a race if he's going to make this year's Chase for the Championship, and that is why he can't wait to get to Pocono this weekend. "We had two great cars there last year," said Kahne. "The car we had there in June might have been better than the one we won with in August. We had that problem on the first lap of the race (a broken u-joint), but when we came back out we ran some of the fastest laps of the race. So that is why we are really looking forward to this weekend. We feel we're going to have a great shot at it (his first win of the season)."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne ran in the top 10 for the first half of the race, but he ran into major handling problems during the second half of the event as he ended the day in 19th place. "I thought we were going to have a good day," said Kahne. "We had a fast car in the beginning, but as the day heated up our car got extremely loose and we were never able to get it back to where it was early on."
ETC.: Kahne spent part of last week visiting the New Hampshire Fire Academy to experience a day in the life of a firefighter. "That was a lot of fun," said Kahne. "I saw how they do a vehicle extraction with the 'Jaws of Life.' It was really an enjoyable day meeting and talking with them, hearing about all their experiences in doing such an important job."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 33 points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Best finish in four starts is 18th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola calls Pocono "one of the tougher race tracks to set up your car perfectly. Turn one is very high-speed and high-banked turn. The tunnel two is really high speed too but just somewhat of a turn. It's just enough to make you slow down a bit. Then, you have turn three that is a long slow, sweeping corner. Turn three is very important - you have to get off that corner so you can make the long run down the front straightaway. Pocono is always a very challenging place to get a good handling car."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 12th at Dover. "That was a decent day," said Almirola. "We ran probably seventh to 15th all day, and we finished 12th. It is kind of what we have been doing the last few weeks. We did that at Kansas, running sixth to 11th there all day, Charlotte, we ran eighth to 12th all day, and now here the same thing. I am proud of that from where we were at the beginning of the year when we were racing for 20th to 25th, so we have made a lot of improvement to be racing the way we are now."
ETC.: Almirola has four straight top-15 finishes in his quest to move up the standings. "We have been very consistent lately running in the top 15," said Almirola. "We have to keep it up and continue to get better. This will be a challenging week for us, but I think we can continue our streak of top-15 finishes."
47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet
Team: JTG Daugherty Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 40 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.
POCONO RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 12 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger feels Pocono is "definitely a tough race track. You can't really make anything perfect. You just try to get all three corners good. It seems that if you make one (turn) perfect, the other two are horrible. It is one of those places that you have got to get into rhythm. Strategy plays a lot into the race. You can work the strategy and have a good day."
LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger finished 21st at Dover. "It's tough because we had cautions every time at the wrong time and we got caught a lap down early on because of that," said Allmendinger. "I thought we had a good car. It was somewhat hard to tell throughout the course of the day because we were on such a different tire strategy, but we thought we were definitely in the ballpark. Hopefully, we learned something for the next time we come to Dover."
ETC.: Allmendinger spent the first part of the week testing at Sonoma Raceway. Co-owner Brad Daugherty believes Allmendinger is going to win the road course race in two weeks. "AJ is really good at Sonoma," said Daugherty. "We've got certain races circled on the schedule and Sonoma's one of them. We won't be satisfied coming out of there with less than a win. I know that's saying a lot for a little race team, but we have a lot of confidence in AJ. I think we will win that race."
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 41 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
POCONO RECORD: Three top-five and four top-nine finishes in the last four races. Overall has two wins and 22 top-10 finishes including 12 top-five's in 30 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart said, "going into turn one (at Pocono), you drive it in kind of deep and then you try to float the car through the corner. It's very flat when you go down the backstretch into the tunnel turn. Then the short chute into turn three - it's a big, long corner and it's important to get through that turn well because you have a straightaway that's three-quarters of a mile long after that. You need to come off the corner quickly so you aren't bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart ran as high as third before ending the day in seventh place for his fifth top-10 finish of the season. "We're better, but we still have some work to do," said Stewart. "We were in pretty good shape there for a solid top-five finish until that last caution. We just weren't as good on restarts as we needed to be. But all in all, a good day as we are showing improvement."
ETC.: Stewart plans to go sprint car racing in the near future and he has no plans on telling the media when that will be. Stewart, who suffered a broken right leg in a sprint car accident last August, was asked at Dover when he "would be back on dirt?" He replied, "When I do go, nobody is going to know about it. I'm going to slide in and do it. I want to enjoy it. I don't want it to be a cluster. Judging off how many people showed up just to talk to me about going and testing for a couple of hours (earlier in the week), I can imagine what the group is going to be like after I run my first race."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 46 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
POCONO RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 10 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Pocono is a track that drives like a road course. We expect to have good speed because of the long straightaways. Our horsepower has been great all year. I enjoy driving the turns, they are so different and challenging, but it's fun. It's the most unique track on the circuit and, again, maybe has some road course characteristics in some parts of the track. You have to really work on the setup, and that's where our engineering (crew) will help us."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose finished 16th at Dover. "I think we knew it was going to be a difficult day based on how we thought the track conditions would affect our car," said Ambrose. "I think the guys did a good job making adjustments on the car to keep up with the track, but we could've been better today. All in all, I think we salvaged a decent day, although it would've been nice to say we had a top-15 leaving Dover."
ETC.: Ambrose feels the changes the team is making in its approach will make a big difference in the long run. "We're doing more testing, (spending) more time with our engineering team and we're starting to use our own ideas instead of being so reliant on others," said Ambrose. "We're taking those steps to become independent and that's going to help us. It's a long process, but we continue to see improvement. We'll keep taking steps to get better."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 60 points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 22 starts including a second in August 2008.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray believes Pocono is all "about compromise. You can't have your car good in all three turns, so just working to make the car good to carry speed down the long straightaways is really important. I think the best thing about Pocono is the shifting. I feel like that opens up opportunity to pass."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray was cruising along in the top 15 when he suddenly hit a large chunk of concrete - a piece of the track that had come apart. "Initially, I thought I'd blown a tire out," said McMurray. "When I hit it, it actually pushed the car to the right and I got into the fence a little bit. I didn't see anything. It just hit the front end and ripped the splitter off. It killed the front end. That pan that is underneath there is critical. It definitely took a lot of front downforce off the car, but our guys did a really good job recovering and we salvaged what we could today." The race had to be red-flagged for 22 minutes and 22 seconds while track and NASCAR officials patched the hole in the second turn. McMurray ended the day in 13th place.
ETC.: McMurray said one of the most enjoyable parts of his win in the All-Star Race was going to the race shop on the Monday after the victory. "I can't tell you how many of the guys who work in our shop were slapping their wife in bed saying, 'Wake up...he's going to win'," said a beaming McMurray. "I think that's great - that was pretty cool."
78 MARTIN TRUEX, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 88 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
POCONO RECORD: Five top-10 finishes including two thirds in 16 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex, a New Jersey native, said, "Next to Dover, Pocono Raceway is my second home track and hopefully we can pull off another strong performance as we did last week in Dover by finishing sixth. We need a win to make the Chase, but before you win in the Sprint Cup Series you need to start running close to the front. We're running so much better lately. I am ready and confident for a really hot performance on Sunday."
LOOKING BACK: Truex was all smiles after his best finish of the season - sixth. "All in all, it was a good day," said Truex. "We battled from the beginning, lost the handling of the car for a while but our crew chief Todd Berrier made some great calls throughout the race and we were able to finish strong. You can just feel it that we're heading in the right direction. We also had a top-10 car last week in Charlotte but had a freak breakage occur with nine laps remaining."
ETC.: Truex, who is in his first season with Furniture Row Racing, feels the team is finally making some real headway. "We're a new team and it takes a while to get all the pieces of the puzzle in place," said Truex. "We're learning about this car and how to be competitive with it. We still have a ways to go but the feeling is upbeat knowing that we have more speed and can be more competitive."
41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 27th, 136 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
POCONO RECORD: Finished seventh and third in the two races in 2013. Has three top-three finishes in his last five races. Overall has two wins and 14 top-10 finishes including 10 top-five's in 25 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch feels Pocono is "a little bit like Darlington in that all the corners are different, so you have to manage them the best that you can and not be perfect in one corner versus another. It's fun to win at a race track that is so unique because of how different that track is compared to all the other oval tracks."
LOOKING BACK: Busch's hopes of a top-10 finish ended on lap 264 when he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop for a "bad vibration." By the time he returned to the race, he was 23rd and two laps down. Busch ended the day in 18th place. "It's unfortunate we had a loose wheel," said Busch. "The Haas Automation Chevrolet was pretty good today, and I thought we could have been in position to run up front until we had to make the extra stop. It's frustrating, but we are working to get better each week. It's just hard when you run pretty well all day and don't get the finish we deserve."
ETC.: Busch calls his 2007 win at Pocono his best ever. "That was the fastest car that I've ever driven," said Busch. "That car would turn, stick, drive down the straightaway - that car did everything. It didn't have a single flaw. I knew how good that car was on the first lap of the race. I remember telling myself 'don't screw this up!' I ran the rest of the race more nervous than I had in years past. I've never dominated a race like that. We led 175 of the 200 laps. That was by far the best car I have ever driven."
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