by Micah Roberts
As the clouds were forming, it became quickly apparent that the first practice session would be all that happened on Friday for this weeks Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 race weekend at Pocono. After the first session, rain came abound and the lineup was set by points giving Tony Stewart his second start upfront of the season at Pocono.
In June Stewart won the first Pocono race of the season off the pole, but it wasn’t all that simple for Stewart because he wrecked his primary car and was relegated to the back of the pack with his back up car. Despite the major inconvenience, Stewart went on to win a fuel mileage race with the back up car and became unofficially the furthest back starter to win the win the race.
The official worst starting position to win a race was in June of 2005 where Carl Edwards won the first of his two career Pocono wins with a twenty-ninth starting spot.
The first practice session was used primarily as a practice for qualifying with most teams using their qualifying set-up. The top times of the day were from the stables of Hendrick Motorsports, not just one or two drivers, but all four.
Mark Martin was again fastest in practice just as he was last week at Indianapolis and was likely on pace to win his fifth pole of the season. After running only four laps, Martin reeled off his fastest speed of 169,354 mph on his final lap run which was over a whole mph faster than his teammate Jimmie Jonson.
Following Johnson was Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon with former Hendrick driver Kyle Busch just behind in fifth. Stewart-Haas teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were sixth and seventh fastest in the session continuing their stellar run from last month.
Ryan Newman had the arguably the best combined practice sessions last June prior to the first Pocono race. Stewart was strong also in both his primary and backup cars during the session.
The only Ford to crack the top-11 was Greg Biffle who has been the top preformer at the combined like-tracks of Indy and Pocono. Biffle has a strong practice at Pocono that turned into an eleventh there and than finished fourth last week at Indy.
Biffle’s teammate, Edwards, was twenty-fourth fastest in practice, but looks to get his first win of the season in the same chassis that he finished second with at Pocono last June. Edwards is a two-time Pocono winner and right there for the ripe plucking of a win should Stewart have ran out of fuel in the final laps of that June race.
The Hendrick four atop the charts should come as little surprise considering how strong they all were at both Pocono and last week at Indy. Last week at Indy, Johnson and Martin finished 1-2 with Gordon in ninth.
Johnson will be bringing his Pocono chassis that he finished seventh in while Earnhardt Jr will be bringing the same chassis he ran with last week at Indy. Junior was highly competitive for the better part of that race in the first chassis built entirely by new crew chief Larry McGrew.
Saturday’s practice sessions will give a better glimpse as to who will be good for Sunday’s race. The first session begins at 10:00 am with happy hour immediately following at 11:20 am (EST).
Practice #1 Top 5 Speeds
1) #5 Mark Martin 169.354 (4 laps)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson 167.604 (3 laps)
3) #88 Dale Eranhadt Jr 167.470 (3 laps)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon 166.799 (3 laps)
5) #18 Kyle Busch 166.257 (16 laps)