by M Roberts
Hendrick Motorsports continued their strong runs in Saturday’s practice sessions for the Sunday’s Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. In Friday’s session while in qualifying trim, all four Hendrick drivers topped the charts in consecutive fashion and carried that momentum into in Saturday with hopes of a great run on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson brought the same chassis he finished seventh with at Pocono in June and was better in practice this time around. Johnson led both practice sessions Saturday with not only the fastest lap in each session, but also the best average times of anyone that ran twenty laps. He’s looking like he has his best chance of winning at Pocono since he swept the season in 2004.
Johnson’s teammates, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Jeff Gordon, all had great sessions on Saturday as well. Of the three, Martin looked the closest to Johnson in speeds. He had a great average speed in happy hour along with the third fastest single lap. After a great run last week at on the similar track of Indianapolis, Martin could be dialed in for his first ever Pocono win. In forty-five Pocono starts over his career, Martin has six 2nd place finishes - the most any driver has at one track without winning.
Dale Earnhardt Jr ran the fifth fastest lap in happy hour as their tea, continues their uphill battle. New crew chief Lance McGrew is brought the same chassis they ran last week at Indy, which was the first car built from scratch since he took he over. The changes are obvious in his speeds and Junior may finally have a real Hendrick car this week to contend with this week.
Last weeks heart break story, Juan Pablo Montoya, had the sixth quickest lap in happy hour along with stellar average lap times continuing the pace he set last week. With the tracks of Pocono and Indy being so similar, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Montoya run equally as good as last week.
The biggest improvement from the last time NASCAR visited Pocono was the performance of the Childress cars. Kevin Harvick was second fastest in happy hour while Clint Bowyer was second quickest in the early practice session.
None of the Childress drivers are close to making the chase with six races to go, but a good run this week could make things interesting down the stretch. This is the first sign all season that Harvick, who is looking to change teams after the season, has looked like a legitimate candidate to win based on practice.
The strongest Ford of the day belonged to Carl Edwards who won this race last season and finished second in the June Pocono race. Edwards was third quickest in the early session and hopes to continue his steady performance en route to the chase where he is still looking for his first win of the season.
June’s Pocono winner, Tony Stewart, is looking to duplicate his accomplishment in all facets Sunday. In the June race, Stewart was on the pole but relegated to the rear due to wrecking his car in the first practice.
This week, Stewart sits on the pole due to points because of qualifying being rained out and he had a case of Deja-vu because he wrecked his primary car early in the first practice session and will again be going with a back-up, and going to the rear for Sunday’s race. However, in June’s race, Stewart was very strong in the back-up during practice. In Saturday’s happy hour, Stewart had just the twenty-sixth fastest lap.
Saturday’s Early Practice Session - Top Speeds
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson 167.292 mph - AVG 20 laps @ 159.314
2) #33 Clint Bowyer 166.334 - AVG 20 laps @ 160.829
3) #99 Carl Edwards 165.911 - AVG 16 laps @ 162.230
4) #24 Jeff Gordon 165.908 - AVG 16 laps @ 161.886
5) #29 Kevin Harvick 165.810 - AVG 20 laps @ 158.487
Happy Hour: Final Practice Session - Top Speeds
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson 165.795 - AVG 24 laps @ 162.896
2) #29 Kevin Harvick 165.417 - AVG 21 laps @ 161.998
3) #5 Mark Martin 165.189 - AVG 28 laps @ 162.385
4) #44 A.J. Allmendinger 164.932 - AVG 31 laps @ 161.808
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr 164.893 - AVG 24 laps @ 161.470
Top 10 rated drivers for Pocono based on Practice with a mix of Indy and past Pocono practice and results.
1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Mark Martin
3) Jeff Gordon
4) Juan Pablo Montoya
5) Kasey Kahne
6) Clint Bowyer
7) Ryan Newman
8) Tony Stewart
9) Kevin Harvick
10) Carl Edwards