Fantasy Auto

Which drivers can excel at Pocono?

The favorites, flops and sleepers are selected for Pocono Raceway.
The favorites, flops and sleepers are selected for Pocono Raceway.
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Take an inside look at the top drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 1st, same as last race, 40-point lead.

POCONO RECORD: A two-time winner at Pocono with victories in June 2005 and August 2008. Those two wins are included in his five top-five and six top-10 finishes in 12 starts. He was 12th last June and third last August. That was his first top-10 finish at Pocono in the last three races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards expects to be a contender at Pocono on Sunday. "I really like racing at Pocono," he said. "The first time I ran there I won, so it's been a favorite ever since. It is a very difficult track, both mentally and physically, and it taxes every part of the car as well. We're going into Pocono with a big point lead so we are definitely going for the win. With a cushion in the points we are able to gamble a bit more and I can drive more aggressively to go for the win."

LOOKING BACK: Coming off a fifth-place finish at Kansas, his seventh top-five this season. He led one time for 29 laps. "I really wanted to win and it is really hard to win (at Kansas)," Edwards said. "(Sunday) was a little bit extra difficult because the track was changing a lot. The first third of the race and even the first half, our Ford Fusion was superior. It was great. Bob (Osborne, crew chief) and I didn't change the car enough to keep up with the conditions. We had a restart and I went backwards in a hurry and I thought we had to really gather it up. We did that and made it up to fifth. I had a good time though. It is a fun racetrack and it is my new favorite racetrack. When it is hot and slick like this you can slide the cars around and run multiple grooves. It is a lot of fun and I like it."

ETC.: Crew chief Bob Osborne is bringing the same car that won at Las Vegas and finished second at Darlington -- RK-732. "Pocono is the most unique racetrack we go to on the circuit," Osborne said. "It is a challenging racetrack, but I enjoy racing there. With three different corners and a very long straightaway, there is a fine line between being good and being good enough to win. It takes a series of compromises to the setup to run fast there."

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 2nd, a one-position improvement, 40 points out of first place.

POCONO RECORD: Another two-time winner at Pocono, Johnson swept both races there in 2004. Those two wins are part of his six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 18 starts. He was fifth last June and 10th last August. He has six top-10 finishes in his last seven Pocono starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Fuel mileage will likely come into play again at Pocono and Johnson explains how that is calculated. "Really it's kind of a basic science," he said. "As the runs develop, you see some trends based on speed of the laps. Kind of the fuel-air mixture at times makes a difference if it's a dense night. Some other small, decimal point adjustments that they make in the overall scheme of things. Really what happens is they plug the gas tank into the car, assume it's full, judge how much is possibly laying on the ground and then weigh the can and figure that all out through kind of eyeballing it and kind of the weight of the gas can when it's done to see what's in there. It's not a very exact science and it's amazing how close the guys get when they say you're going to run out on the backstretch and damn if you don't."

LOOKING BACK: Seventh at Kansas and never led a lap.

ETC.: Chandra and Jimmie Johnson kicked off the fourth annual Jimmie Johnson Foundation Helmet of Hope campaign last weekend at Kansas Speedway by selecting the American Red Cross to be one of 14 charities that will be featured on Jimmie Johnson's race helmet at Richmond International Raceway in September. In addition to placement on the helmet, each charity selected will be awarded a grant of $10,000. The Helmet of Hope program, which was started in 2008, allows fans and media members across the country to nominate their favorite charity to receive special recognition on Johnson's race helmet and receive a $10,000 grant. To date, the program has contributed close to $200,000 to 37 different charities. Johnson will draw two charities each week to be included on the helmet, one from fan submissions and one from media submissions. Nominations are currently being taken and will be accepted until 5 p.m. ET on July 13 at www.helmetofhope.org.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 3rd, moves up one position, 41 points out of the lead.

POCONO RECORD: Has never won at Pocono and has five top-five and six top-10 finishes in 22 starts. He was 19th last June and 27th in August. He has finished outside of the top 10 in his last five Pocono starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt continues to impress this season and is closing on his first win as he attempts to break a 106-race winless streak. "Definitely this year, I've run some really good cars and I've had some real good times racing and being in those cars," he said. "I just enjoy competing where I feel like I should be able to compete. I have an opinion personally about what kind of talent I've got and where I should be running in the races. When I'm close to that or doing that or matching that, then I get happy and I feel content and satisfied and obviously this year has been a better year for me. It could be even better and hopefully we'll get to that next level, but for the most part definitely having fun. Sitting at home is pretty fun, but now when Thursday and Friday rides around, creeps up on you out of nowhere, you're not disappointed about it, you're like, 'Alright man, let's go to the next one and let's see what we can do. Let's see if we can go out there and make some more good things happen.'"

LOOKING BACK: Used a fuel strategy to get to the finish of Sunday's race without pitting late and that allowed him to finish second for the second race in a row. He never led a lap. It was his fifth top 10 in 11 races at Kansas and his seventh top-10 finish in 2011. "I had a good car, I spun out up there trying to find a little more speed on the top," Earnhardt said of an incident earlier in the race. "It was just real loose, which I liked. It was hot and slick and that is the way I like it. I was just trying to get a little too much there and lost track position. We had a good car, though; it was fast all day."

ETC.: Earnhardt on a YouTube video that shows a fan crying after he ran out of fuel two weeks ago in the last turn of the Coca-Cola 600: "That's the way I take a Redskins loss, I take a Redskins season the same way," he admitted. "I'm as bitter as I was at the end of the season -- I'm still as bitter about it. When you're passionate and you care -- it's a cliché, but when that's all that matters you're ticked until things get right or you're upset until things get right, no matter what. I can definitely relate. That again, that extends itself or that tells you a lot about the way the world is today and what kind of world we're living in. Everything is going to go straight to the internet. That's a way for people to express themselves, get their feelings across, show what they're thinking, what they want -- for people, I guess for those people it was a way to release those emotions and get it out."

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 4th, a two-position drop from last race, 43 points out of first place.

POCONO RECORD: Another top driver who has never won at Pocono, he has four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 20 starts. He finished fourth in each of last year's two races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Pocono offers one of the most unique challenges for any driver in the series. "I enjoy driving the track," Harvick said. "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 racetrack character. This part of the season over the past several years has been really good. Pocono's a fun racetrack to race on. The past couple of years, it's come down to strategy and we've been solid. It's a challenging racetrack, and has three totally different turns. The tunnel turn is 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."

LOOKING BACK: Started 10th and finished 11th at Kansas and never led a lap. "We fought it up and down; tight and loose," Harvick said. "We had a decent car; not a great car. We gambled a little bit and just had to come in there for gas. But that's what they're supposed to do, gamble."

ETC.: At the halfway point of the "regular season" Harvick leads all drivers with three wins. "Obviously you want to keep running well, but I think that when we got to the two wins, it was the topic of conversation in the competition meetings just for the fact you look at last week, seventh or eighth in the points, you aren't making those calls at the end of the race," he said. "You can't afford a 25th-place finish running out of gas. In the position we are in, you are able to do those things. You don't think twice about and that is what you should be doing is trying to gain more wins so you gain more bonus points at the 26th race. For us, we have been trying a lot of different things, just trying to zero in on packages for different styles of racetracks, and just going outside of our normal comfort zone, I guess you could say. When it comes time to make strategy calls, the only calls you even consider are the ones that could let you win. I think that was very evident last week. We are searching for what is most comfortable for me, what is the fastest on the racetrack. When we go back to those particular races, we won't deviate from that."
 

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18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 5th, same as last week, 60 points out of the lead.

POCONO RECORD: Hoping to get his first Pocono win where he has two top-five and three top-10 finishes in 12 starts. He was second last June and 23rd in August.

LOOKING AHEAD: There is plenty of trickiness to Pocono. "The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably Turn 1, and then Turn 2 is the second hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest," Busch said. "Turn 3, last year, because of the patch they laid down. We couldn't go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you're 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside, and they're just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway. In Turn 1, we just can't get the cars to turn down there because there's so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a 'buck-40' (140). Turn 2 is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you've got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it's tight."

LOOKING BACK: Finished 12th after leading two times for 11 laps. "We were just chasing the balance a little bit," Busch said. "Any time we were a little bit snug or any time we were a little bit loose, it'd seem like we really couldn't quite run with the leaders there. … It was a solid day. Qualified up front and ran decent much of the race. We probably had a seventh- or eighth-place car today and just kind of got off fuel mileage there at the end."

ETC.: With the last two races ending with long green-flag runs, Busch was asked if drivers and teams change their strategy for Pocono. "No. Everything in this sport is circumstantial anyway," he said. "If there's a caution, there's a caution. If there's no caution, you just keep racing. From what I understand, I wasn't there and I didn't see it -- there was a bunch up on the restart at Charlotte and there were a few cars that kind of got banged up and one spun or something like that and they didn't throw a caution. From what I understand, all of the cars kept rolling. They never really stopped. They didn't hit anything. There wasn't a big wreck or nothing like that. To me, I thought NASCAR did fine in what they did. Last weekend, there are times you end up having a long green-flag run at the end, sometimes you come out on the good side, and sometimes you don't. It's all circumstance."

22 KURT BUSCH, Dodge

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 6th, same as last race, 71 points back.

POCONO RECORD: A two-time Pocono winner, driving to victory in July 2005 and August 2007, those are two of his seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 20 starts. He was sixth in this race last year and 33rd in August. He has two top-10 finishes in his last three Pocono starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch believes his Dodge is up for the challenge at Pocono. "Pocono is one of those tracks that is so different," he said. "It has its own identity with the three corners being very different. Turn 1 is very bumpy -- high-banked, high-speed. And then you get to Turn 2. I think that's the most important turn at Pocono, the tunnel turn. That corner get real slick and as the race progresses, it's tough to gain time through there -- it's easy to lose time. And then you have the long, sweeping Turn 3 that's a challenge. Some drivers love the place, some drivers hate it. I've had a good amount of success there; it's one of those places where if you get it, you get it. If you don't, you're always fighting that uphill battle."

LOOKING BACK: Started on the pole and led four times for 152 laps before having to give up the lead with nine laps left in the race when he had to pit for fuel. "I'm proud of the way that this team has run," Busch said. "To have a car to lead laps (Sunday) and be very competitive, I was all smiles. I felt coming into the weekend that if we could pace ourselves, have good team communication, we would be competitive. It was great. There was always something in the back of my mind (Sunday) that we weren't going to win, but I'm glad that Brad Keselowski got this win for those Miller Lite guys, for Dodge. We're really happy to keep AAA up front all day today. It's just one of those days where you're on the right side, sometimes you're not. For all my guys, we'll take this one and the points. I'm not discouraged at all."

ETC.: Dodge has six wins at Pocono Raceway (Richard Petty (1974, 1976), Bill Elliott (2002), Ryan Newman (2003), Kurt Busch (2007) and Kasey Kahne (2008). Busch dominated the 2007 fall race at Pocono en route to victory, leading 175 of 200 laps in the No. 2 Dodge.

17 MATT KENSETH, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 7th, same as last week, 73 points out of first place.

POCONO RECORD: Has never won at Pocono and has three top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 22 starts. He was 17th last June and 18th in August. He has finished outside of the top 10 in his last five Pocono starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth believes he can break into Victory Lane at Pocono. "There are a lot of things about Pocono that we focus on heading into this weekend," he said. "Fuel mileage is a big deal because it is such a big track and you can't run very many laps on fuel there. All three corners are very unique; Turn 1 is really rough and bumpy which makes it hard to find a good groove, and honestly, all three turns are a challenge to get through fast. The straightaway is really long and you tend to spend that time thinking about the corners. It is the corners I guess that are the biggest focus for me because it is a challenge to get your car handling all three of them correctly, and it will be even more of a challenge now with shifting again."

LOOKING BACK: Started 21st and pedaled his way all the way up to a sixth-place finish at Kansas. "We just kind of missed it," Kenseth said. "We thought we were pretty good Friday but we missed it (Sunday). The track really changed on us and we didn't keep up. I am really happy to finish sixth. I saw those other guys pit the race different again and I knew some of those guys would beat us if it went green to the end and it looks like three of them got us. We finished third out of the guys that were all racing for speed there so I guess that was pretty good."

ETC.: Crew chief Jimmy Fennig has prepared RK-751 -- which last ran at Richmond. "Pocono this weekend is a place that we can't really compare notes from other tracks to because of the track's unique layout and the difference you see among all three of the track's turns," Fennig said. "When it comes to setting up a car for Pocono, the practice sessions that we have on Friday become really important for us to make sure our Ford handles well in all three turns for Matt during the race. Teams also want a car that can get great gas mileage at Pocono, but we also need as much horsepower as possible to make the most of the long straightaway."

14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, a one-position improvement from last race, 92 out of the top spot.

POCONO RECORD: Drove to victory in June 2003 and June 2009. Those two wins are included in his nine top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 24 starts. He was third last June and second in August. He has four top-three finishes in his last four Pocono starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: With only three turns instead of four, the triangle at Pocono is unique. "All three corners are different -- that's the most challenging part," Stewart said. "It seems like you can always get your car good in two of the three corners, but the guys who are contending for the win are the guys who can get their car good for all three corners, which is very hard to do. It seems like if we can get our car to go through the tunnel turn well, then we're normally able to get it to go through the rest of the racetrack well. The tunnel turn seems to be our toughest turn on the racetrack. Getting through turn two and the last corner of the racetrack that's flat, long and sweeping -- those seem to be the toughest two corners to get through. And if you're a little bit off, you're a bunch off. If there's a guy who can get all three of those corners right, then that's the guy who's going to win the race."

LOOKING BACK: Started 13th and finished eighth. He led two times for 20 laps. "We didn't get all the fuel in it to make it to the end," Stewart said. "We had a problem getting the fuel in and we didn't get it full at that second-to-last stop so we had to pit there with about 10 to go. There's nothing you can do. Our guys are doing a great job. They did a great job all day. We kind of had to roll the dice on the chassis setup. I'm really proud of our engineers and Darian (Grubb, crew chief). They did a great job of getting us there and making good educated guesses. So we had a really good car. He (Grubb) has got to make those decisions. I can't see the monitor; I can't see the lap times and you've got to trust what he sees. The hard thing is that they know it was a problem in not getting all the fuel in the car and that changed our strategy. It took what was going to be a good day and just made an average day out of it."

ETC.: Stewart's Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday night has become one of the most anticipated events of the year as drivers from various racing series compete on the fast dirt track to raise money for charity. The event has gotten bigger every year. "I never thought it would get this big," Stewart admitted. "I just thought, well we'll see how it goes the first year and if we've got enough guys that just want to go and have fun for a night then we could probably raise a couple dollars for charity and give us an excuse to go play for an evening. It far exceeded that goal and it really turned into something a lot bigger than that and a lot bigger purpose obviously. Every year when we get ready for this it amazes me thinking about how we started and the group that we had the first year and the cars that we had the first year. Now looking at the teams that are supplying cars for drivers and the caliber of talent behind the steering wheel that we've got coming to this event -- it's really just getting bigger and better every year."
 

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33 CLINT BOWYER, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, dropped one place in the standings from last race, 94 points out of the lead.

POCONO RECORD: No wins, one top-five and five top-10 finishes in 10 starts at Pocono Bowyer was ninth last June and 15th in August. He has two top-10 finishes in his last three starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer enjoys the oddball layout at Pocono. "It's fun," he said. "I've gotten to where I enjoy Pocono. I think it's one of the tracks that we can win at. It (the patch on the track) has (changed the racing), 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 headway. 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 1. All of the 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."

LOOKING BACK: Started 27th and finished 18th.

ETC.: The native of Emporia, Kan., spoke about the devastating tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., recently. "Oh, it's just horrible what has happened to those folks down there," Bowyer said. "We were able to go over to Bass Pro Shops; Johnny Morris put on a great fundraiser in Springfield at their headquarters there. I had a lot of fun. We had a lot of people come in and we raised, I think, over $350,000 for those folks. It meant a lot to me to be able to go over and participate in that. I thanked them for giving me the opportunity and we're just doing anything you can possibly do to help out in any way possible. I don't know the words that you could say to talk about that. It's very devastating and sad and you just wish them all the best in getting things back up and ready to go again."

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, same as last week, 103 points behind the leader.

POCONO RECORD: Drove to victory in July 2003 for his lone win, one of six top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 18 starts. He was 14th last June and 12th in August. He has finished out of the top 10 in his last three Pocono starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman takes a road-course attitude into the triangle at Pocono. "Pocono is about as complex as the road courses are," he said. "Road courses, you get a lot of different turns and straightaways. You can easily package that into three or four different corners the way a car drives. Pocono is very different in all three corners, so it's very complex when it comes to setting the car up and from the driver's standpoint. Fuel mileage can also be crucial at Pocono. The bigger the racetrack, the more sensitive it is when it comes to fuel mileage. Each lap is 2.5 miles, there. Getting back to pit lane when you're close to running out of fuel, it tends to be a place where the driver really has to manage his fuel when the crew chief asks you to save some fuel. There are a lot of great things that could happen at Pocono that we don't really have at some other racetracks. You get to places like Pocono, Indianapolis and Michigan and fuel mileage can be as much of a crew chief's friend as a foe."

LOOKING BACK: Started 12th but dropped back to 15th at the end of the race at Kansas. "It was a disappointing day for all of us," Newman said. "We hung in there, but it just wasn't what we were hoping for out of our Chevy."

ETC.: Pocono is the site of Newman's first big-time stock car victory. "My first win at Pocono wasn't in NASCAR competition. It was in my second ARCA start, but it was so big for me and my family and everyone who had helped me in my racing career along the way," Newman recalled. "Growing up in Indiana, I always wanted to drive in NASCAR, which was unheard of. Most kids in Indiana wanted to compete in the Indianapolis 500. But for me, I always loved stock car racing. So, winning at Pocono back in 2000 was bigger than I can explain. It was proving that I had made the right decision and that I was ready for the move to stock car racing. It was really a special day. There was some excitement on the final laps, some bumping, but it was a big win for me."

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only one point out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

POCONO RECORD: Has finished fifth, first and first in the last three races. Overall, he has four wins and seventh top-five finishes in 10 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin said, "Pocono is really unlike any other track. The turns all have their own characteristics but they are all relatively flat and those are the kinds of corners that I feel I am the best on. I've also had the opportunity to drive some great cars at Pocono. Mike (Ford, crew chief) has brought some awesome cars to Pocono and it's been a pleasure to drive them."

LOOKING BACK: Hamlin led three times for 34 laps, but after "we had something with our front end (give) up midway through the race, we made our bed into a fuel-mode race and it worked out for us," said Hamlin, who finished third. "It was not a fluke run by us. We were really strong before something went wrong with the front end. I think my pit crew's gotten better over these last two to three weeks. That's been a huge improvement. We didn't lose any spots today. We gained spots. And our cars are getting better."

ETC.: Hamlin believes one of the biggest improvements his team has made this year is in qualifying. "When we qualify 15th or better, that's good for us," said Hamlin, who started 15th at Kansas. He has started outside the top 15 six times this year. "We can't be happy with where we're at, but we have come a long way this year. We know we're a little bit behind those Fords right now. So we have to keep working."

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only five points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

POCONO RECORD: Won the last race. It was his first top-10 finish in nine starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle knows the only sure way to be guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup is to be in the top 10 after the Sept. 10 Richmond race. "We know that 11th and 12th is going to go off wins so a win would certainly secure you a fairly comfortable spot as a wild card, although we had two guys with wins now, so it may, in fact, take two wins," said Biffle. "Two wins would probably guarantee you a spot if you stay in the top 15 in points. So winning a race is important as there are a lot of tough guys right in front of me or right behind me. There are a lot of races left and a lot of good guys fighting for that spot (10th)."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle finished 10th at Kansas for his fifth straight top-10 finish at the track. But he was disappointed as he had expected to challenge for his third win at the 1.5-mile facility. "We just missed the setup a little today," said Biffle. "We just didn't have the grip we needed throughout the race to run up front. We can take what we learned today and hopefully apply it when we come back in the fall. The guys were great in the pits today."

ETC.: Biffle said his foundation is "doing what we can" to help the victims of the tornadoes. "We're an animal-based foundation where we help household pets and we've done a lot," added Biffle. "We've helped several groups all over the place. We're doing certainly what we can. The Red Cross is doing a tremendous amount for those people. So we applaud everybody that's helping with that and want everybody to think about looking at the American Red Cross as a way to help."
 

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 18 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.

POCONO RECORD: Four wins and 25 top-10 finishes in 36 starts including three top 10s in the last four races.

LOOKING BACK: Gordon admits "trying to get the car balanced to go through those three corners (at Pocono) fast is a huge challenge. They call it 'The Tricky Triangle.' It's definitely a very tricky scalene. You have to have good horsepower, and getting the gearing right and getting those shifts smooth is vital. There is a lot that goes into running well there."

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon was all smiles after his fourth-place finish at Kansas. It was his fifth-straight top-five finish at the 1.5-mile facility. "We had a great race car all weekend," said Gordon. "We unloaded great and it showed up in the race all day long. We got a little bit loose. It seemed like the track freed up a little bit on that last run and Kurt (Busch) got out there on me. We were just trying to maintain second and see what the pit strategy was going to be. We played it to the best that we possibly could. All-in-all, a great top-five for us, a great day in the points for us."

ETC.: After four finishes outside the top 10, Gordon was quite pleased with his fourth-place finish at Kansas. "We've had good runs, we just need to start getting the finishes to match," said Gordon. "Whether it was getting caught up in a wreck (at Richmond) or a caution coming out right after we pitted (at Charlotte) or whatever, we've been running much better than our finishes show. But that's part of racing, and we just need to do whatever we can to learn from it and do our best so that we don't put ourselves in those positions again."

5 MARK MARTIN, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 25 points out of the top 10.

POCONO RECORD: 33 top-10 finishes in 48 starts including six runner-up finishes.

LOOKING AHEAD: Over the years a lot has been made of Martin and his six second-place finishes at Pocono, especially when it is added that he is still looking for his first win at the unique facility. But Martin doesn't feel under any pressure to get that elusive victory after so many close calls. "We've had a lot of good runs there," said Martin. "We just haven't had one that got us to the winner's circle."

LOOKING BACK: It was not the day that Martin expected as he finished 21st at Kansas. "We thought we were going to be much better," said Martin. "But we struggled all day with a car that no matter how many changes we made, just never felt right. It was just one of those days. This team is too good, and we will bounce back."

ETC.: Martin said it is way too early to worry about finding a ride for next year. "It is not really time to focus on it yet," said Martin. "I don't need a job so, therefore, I don't have to focus on it. I'll let it come to me. It is getting time when little rumblings start happening behind closed doors, but I am not in a big hurry because I am really in a good place in my career and my life."

42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 25 points out of the top 10.

POCONO RECORD: Has three top-10 finishes in the last four races including a second in the second race of 2009.

LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said "Pocono is a long race. It is one of those places where you think, 'We should just run 400 miles there,' you know. It almost makes the Coca-Cola 600 seem short! It's very challenging because it's really old asphalt and it's really bumpy and every corner is different. Our Target Chevrolet has been good there over the last few years, so we're expecting a strong finish this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Montoya was running in the top 10 when he ran out of gas on the last lap at Kansas. As a result, he ended up 17th. "I feel like we're headed in the right direction with our cars," said Montoya. "We just can't seem to catch a break, though. I thought our strategy was going to pay off in the end, but we fell a little short. It's disappointing, but what can you do."

ETC.: Montoya believes "we've got the speed to be in the top 10 (and qualify for the Chase). I think we've got the potential to actually be in by speed. I also think that, yes, we could put in a race when everything goes right and you end up in the winner's circle. But there's a lot of guys out there who could win as well. So it's anybody's game (in the battle to earn a spot in the Chase)."

43 AJ ALLMENDINGER, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 30 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week.

POCONO RECORD: Finished 10th in the June race a year ago for his lone top-10 finish in seven starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger calls Pocono "a cool racetrack. It's different than any other track we go to this year. I'm really looking forward to going there. Pocono is a track that is bumpy in certain areas and we really can't make the car perfect in all three of the turns, so we've got to pick and choose what areas we need to be the best in."

LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger struggled all day as he ended up 27th, a lap down. "We were fighting grip all day," said crew chief Mike Shiplett. "I thought we had a handle on it and we were moving up there during the middle of the race but something happened and we lost a lot of track position and we got behind. (Kansas) is extremely tough to pass at and some guys could run the top and some guys could run the bottom. It is just very hard to pass."

ETC.: Allmendinger pointed out that the change in transmission gearing rules to allow shifting at Pocono will have an effect. "This year will be a little bit of a different driving experience than I have ever had at Pocono because I'll be shifting," he said. "We haven't had to shift at Pocono in almost 10 years, so that will be a learning experience."
 

6 DAVID RAGAN, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 38 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

POCONO RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in eight starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer feels "Pocono will be a lot different since NASCAR is allowing us to go back to shifting. It will present a new challenge and we'll have to make sure we have the right transmission in our UPS Ford to get the most out of it."

LOOKING BACK: Ragan spent most of the first 150 laps in the top 10, but a problem on pit road during the fourth caution flag of the day on lap 153 dropped him from seventh to 15th. He was never able to recover from the mishap as he ended up 13th. "We had a small mistake on pit road and some guys gambled and got lucky (on fuel mileage)," said Ragan. "We had a top-seven or eight car. I can feel a win coming any week. We just got beat by circumstance today."

ETC.: Ragan said "since NASCAR relaxed the transmission ratio rule allowing drivers to shift, this will be something new for me at Pocono. But I believe it will be a good weekend for us as we try to keep the momentum we've built up over the last several weeks."

4 KASEY KAHNE, Toyota

Team: Red Bull Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 43 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

POCONO RECORD: One win and five top-10 finishes in 14 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said he is looking forward to this weekend. "We have run really well at Pocono the last couple of years, and I feel that trend will continue," said Kahne. "We know we've got to win a race to help our chances (of making the Chase) and we feel we've got some good tracks coming up in the next few weeks beginning with Pocono."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne finished 14th at Kansas. "It's frustrating because we couldn't get the balance on the car to work," said Kahne. "We struggled all day and never seemed to get it where it needed to be. We played the fuel-mileage game at the end and that helped us get a top-15 finish."

ETC.: Hendrick Motorsports announced this week that Farmers Insurance will sponsor Kahne when he moves to the No. 5 team beginning with the 2012 season. This announcement should put an end to the rumors that Kahne might decide to stay at Red Bull Racing even though he has signed a long-term contract to drive the No. 5 car for Hendrick beginning next season.

9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 44 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

POCONO RECORD: One top-10 finish in four starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose feels "Pocono is one of the toughest tracks to get around on the circuit. It's got three very distinct corners and the car really carries a lot of speed around the track. It's a very old surface, so it's bumpy. The cars degrade really quickly at Pocono, and it's hard to know what adjustments to make and what line I need to run around the track to save fuel and tire wear. For me, it is probably the hardest track in NASCAR to get comfortable on."

LOOKING BACK: Ambrose suffered left front fender damage when he and Landon Cassell got together to bring out the third caution flag of the day on lap 119. The crew repaired the damage, but Ambrose was never able to recover from the incident as he finished 26th at Kansas. "We made a lot of changes, but the car was just too loose getting in and out of the corners and too tight in the middle," said Ambrose. "It was a long day."

ETC.: Crew chief Todd Parrott said because the cars carry so much speed down the long front straightaway at Pocono that "it's going to be important to make Marcos more aware of not overrevving the engine when shifting."

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 51 points out of the top 10.

POCONO RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. Best finish in eight starts is 13th.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard feels good about this weekend. "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."

LOOKING BACK: Menard was forced to pit for fuel and two right-side tires late in the race to end any hopes he had of challenging for a top-10 finish. He ended up 19th at Kansas. "We struggled throughout the race to find the right setup for our Chevy," said Menard. "Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and the team made adjustments on almost every pit stop, but it seemed like we would be loose one run and then tight the next. We were never able to get exactly what we needed."

ETC.: Menard is looking for his first top-10 finish in two months. His best finish in the last six races is 12th, with four finishes of 22nd or worse. "Our luck the last couple of months hasn't been too good," said Menard. "We need to get back to where we were at the first of the season (when he was in the top-11 in the points standings)."

OTHERS

2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Dodge
 

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 58 points out of the top 10 and seven points out of the top 20. Gained four spots last week. Must be in the top 20 to have any chance of qualifying for the Chase.

POCONO RECORD: Has finished 20th and 21st in his two Sprint Cup starts at the 2.5-mile facility.

LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski said he expected "a few growing pains" when the season started. But "now I really feel that we are starting to fire on all cylinders. We've been very competitive for much of the last month. All we can do is keep putting ourselves in position to win and good things will happen."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski played the fuel-strategy game to perfection Sunday as he won the Kansas race. "There are some secrets to it (saving gas) and I just maximized them all," said Keselowski. "We were a top-10 car, maybe the bottom half of the top 10, but a top-10 car. It (the gamble by crew chief Paul Wolfe) was an awesome call. Nobody really told me that we were leading (with nine laps to go). The scoreboard is right in the middle of the racetrack and I looked over and saw my name on the top with two to go. I started shaking. I'm glad they didn't tell me."

ETC.: The final two positions for the 12-car Chase field will be based on the number of wins for drivers in positions 11 through 20 in the points standings after race number 26. "A few more wins like this and we can make the Chase," said Keselowski, who sits in 21st place after the Kansas win. "It makes you certainly look back at races like Daytona and Talladega earlier in the year where we wrecked out. Just one or two of those races back and we're easily in the top 20. But that's not the way it is. But I feel good about our chances."

56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 58 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

POCONO RECORD: Finished ninth in the August race last year for his third top-10 finish in 10 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Chad Johnson has been promoted from lead engineer to crew chief of the 56 car. He replaces Pat Tryson, who will handle other duties within the organization. "Chad's been a great addition to the team ever since he joined us last season," said Truex. "He's shown a lot of leadership in his position and has shown me he really understands a race car. The communication between he and I is impressive and we just click."

LOOKING BACK: Truex battled significant handling problems all afternoon as he finished 20th at Kansas. "I raced as hard as I could," said Truex. "The NAPA team worked on the car all day and made some big changes that helped. In the end we pitted for fuel while about five teams gambled, and it paid off for them. I think what we learned today is we have a little more work to do with our cars. I'm confident we'll figure it out."

ETC.: Johnson said "this is a good opportunity for me since this is the direction I have always wanted to go in my NASCAR career. Michael Waltrip Racing is a good organization to work with as we have assembled a strong NAPA racing team and a more-than-capable driver. My goal is the same goal that this team set at the start of 2011 and that goal is to win races and try to get in the top 10 in points."

00 DAVID REUTIMANN, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 81 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

POCONO RECORD: One top-10 finish in eight starts, a third in the June race of 2009.

LOOKING AHEAD: Reutimann hopes his team can bounce back from Kansas' disappointing performance. "We thought we would run a lot better last week," said Reutimann. "But it wasn't up to our 1.5-mile standards so we are looking to rebound this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Reutimann finished 23rd at Kansas. "Our Tums Toyota was a handful (Sunday)," said Reutimann. "We struggled with a loose car as we headed into the corner before it got tight and ended snappy loose off. We worked on it all day and got all we could out of it. It was a long, hot day, but I'm proud of my team for sticking with it and giving me everything they have. We'll get it figured out before we come back here in the fall."

ETC.: Team owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman will compete this weekend in the 24 Hours of LeMans. Reutimann said he would love to race in this endurance event in France. "I'm not a road-racing guy by any stretch, but I figure it would be a neat opportunity to race that length of time with a team of drivers," said Reutimann. "I figure if I could get two really, really good road-course drivers and me and maybe everything I screwed up those guys could make up for," he added with a smile.

31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 81 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

POCONO RECORD: Will be seeking his third straight top-10 finish and fourth in the last five races. Has 17 top-10 finishes in 34 starts including two runner-up finishes.

LOOKING AHEAD: Burton is still looking for his first career win at Pocono. "I haven't really thought that we've been in position to win races there," said Burton. "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) 1, 2 and 3 and still get off of 4 and 5. That's the way I count 'em, Pocono has five turns."

LOOKING BACK: Burton struggled throughout the afternoon as he finished a disappointing 25th at Kansas. "(Sunday) wasn't a very good day for the Cat racing team," said Burton. "We could never get the Caterpillar Chevrolet handling well, which made for a long day. It's definitely frustrating to post a 25th-place finish."

ETC.: Burton said "the thing about Pocono is you start braking while you're still going straight. So you really don't get the sensation of speed like you do at Texas or somewhere like that. But, when you get 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."

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 27th, 92 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.

POCONO RECORD: Only three top-10 finishes in 16 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray feels "Pocono is a fun place to race, but it is a difficult track to get set up just right with all three corners being so different. Trying to find a balance to get through each of the different corners is a challenge. Horsepower is also a key. You need to motor past people up off the corners, especially off Turn 3 with that long front straightaway."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray finished 29th at Kansas. "The car was a handful to drive in the early going and our guys made a lot of changes," said McMurray. "We thought that we were going to catch a break at the end on the fuel strategy, however, with the pit-road penalty (for an equipment violation) we were just kind of stuck with what we had there at the end."

ETC.: McMurray said his trip home to Joplin, Mo., last week left him quite restless. "I woke up about 1 in the morning and you just think about everything you saw, whether it was my old home or the high school or just the town (where 139 people were killed in the May 22 tornado)," said McMurray. "And then I really couldn't quit thinking about the stories that people shared with me about their loss. It's just hard not to think about it."


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