Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pocono 400 Storylines

New pavement adds a tricky dimension to the tricky triangle (Getty)
Summer is just around the corner and with it comes this weekend’s visit to the “new” Pocono Raceway – repaved after last year’s August event and its two races shortened from 500 to 400 miles for the first time. Two days of testing – Wednesday and Thursday – precede the normal weekend schedule leading to Sunday’s Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR.

A snake-bit Jeff Gordon knows where the future lies – at least in 2012 – as he stands 21st in NASCAR Sprint Cup points halfway to the Chase cut down. “We need wins,” said Gordon concluding that must claim one of two “wild card” berths to qualify for this year’s postseason. He’s the defending winner of the Pocono 400.

Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth stand a single point apart at the top of the standings. But another epic struggle is building at the tail end of the top 10 where five drivers ranked eighth through 12th hope to either hold serve and move up in the rankings.

TNT begins its six-race Summer Series beginning with Sunday’s Pocono 400 marking the 30th year that Turner Sports has covered the series.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series takes a breather and a necessary one perhaps as a daunting, 16-week run of events begins June 16 at Michigan International Speedway. Elliott Sadler has retaken the points lead by 12 over previous pacesetter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Austin Dillon is 14 points behind Richard Childress Racing teammate Sadler in third place.

Dover winner Todd Bodine bids for a record-extending seventh NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, the first of two stops at the 1.5-mile track. Justin Lofton continues to top the points standings by a point over Timothy Peters. Bodine, Brendan Gaughan and defending WinStar World Casino 400 winner Ron Hornaday Jr. have won 13 of 28 races held at the Ft. Worth track.


Wild Card Aspirants Beware
No doubt about it, Jeff Gordon is the most dangerous 21st-place competitor in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – this year and perhaps ever. Gordon is one point out of 20th place, a boost he needs to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ as one of two “wild card” qualifiers. Gordon has suffered a career-worst bout of bad luck through the season’s first half absent which he could be solidly in the top 10 with multiple victories. He’s led nine of the 13 races including 60 at Dover International Raceway where a possible victory was nullified by a loose wheel and subsequent green flag pit stop.

“It’s always more frustrating when you’ve got a car that can win; and you show it by going up there and taking the lead,” said the four-time champion and winner of 85 career races, third overall and first among active drivers. “We don’t care about finishing top 15 or top 10 right now. That does nothing for us. We need wins.” Gordon is the defending winner of Sunday’s race. He and Bill Elliott are the track’s most prolific winners with five apiece.

Notebooks Down; Pocono’s Been Repaved
Sunday’s Pocono 400 (TNT, live 1 p.m. ET) marks the first test of a complete repaving of the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle,” which took place immediately following last year’s August race at the Pennsylvania layout. The race, at 400 miles, is the first scheduled at less than 500 miles since the track joined the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit in 1974. The first of two races is the 69th in Pocono Raceway history. Most teams will log more than the race’s 160 scheduled laps during two days of testing that begins Wednesday and normal practice and qualifying sessions Friday and Saturday.

New Point Leader Could Emerge This Week
With just a single point separating Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, the standings leader’s 11-week reign at the top could end in the Pocono Mountains. Biffle, however, has victory at Pocono. Kenseth, who finished a solid third to Biffle’s 11th at Dover, has not.

The real action, however, is at the tail end of the top 10 – think Chase qualifying – as the regular season begins its second half in the run up to cut-down night at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 8. Just 17 points is the spread between eighth-place Tony Stewart and 12th-ranked Carl Edwards. Current “wild card” qualifiers would be August Pocono winner Brad Keselowski (11th, two wins) and Ryan Newman (13th, one win). Newman’s grip is tenuous: Coca-Cola 600 winner Kasey Kahne is just one point back in 14th.

Floodgates Continue Wide Open For Hendrick Motorsports
Jimmie Johnson’s Dover victory, his second in three points races with a NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race win thrown in for good measure, has the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage area abuzz along with the late spring resurgence of Hendrick Motorsports. Kasey Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 and is steaming full-speed ahead toward a possible Chase berth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is enjoying his most consistent season ever in a Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet. Junior ranks third in the points standings with a series-high 10 top-10 finish. He’s also the only driver to have completed all 4,288 laps contested.

Hamlin Hopes New Surface Fits His Game
Denny Hamlin, like Gordon, is a four-time Pocono winner sweeping both races in 2006 and fashioning back-to-back victories in 2009-10. He owns the second-best average finish (9.7) to Johnson’s 9.0. Nine Pocono winners are expected to compete in Sunday’s race. Three-time winner Tony Stewart, who’s finished 24th or worse in three of his past four starts, is one driver hoping to regain momentum. Carl Edwards, winner of the 2005 Pocono 500, dropped out of the top 10 after finishing 26th at Dover.

TNT Begins Early Summer Sprint Cup Run
The green flag drops on the TNT NASCAR Summer Series this weekend as Turner Sports begins its 30th year of NASCAR coverage. Pre-race coverage begins at noon EDT. TNT’s schedule encompasses the next six races and includes the return of TNT’s lead broadcast team of Adam Alexander, Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach.

Pocono Weekend Unveils Enhanced Twitter Experience For NASCAR Fans
Built to support the live race broadcast, a new Twitter experience will give fans a complementary insider’s view of the action as it unfolds on the track and on Twitter. During a race, when fans click on #NASCAR, search for #NASCAR on Twitter.com or visit twitter.com/#NASCAR, they’ll reach a new Twitter experience where they will see the most relevant tweets from their favorite NASCAR drivers, NASCAR families, teams, commentators, celebrities and other racing fans and personalities.

NASCAR is the first organization to team with Twitter to create an enhanced live event experience on the Twitter platform.

Pocono Scenery Isn’t The Area’s Only Green Space
Pocono is the world’s largest green sports facility. In July 2010, Pocono installed a 3-MW solar farm to power all the track’s energy needs and support the local energy grid. With 40,000 solar panels on 25 acres of land next to the track,the Pocono solar project is the biggest renewable energy stadium project in the world by more than two times. The track’s solar panel system is the track’s primary electric energy source while also benefitting the local power grid by powering more than 250 homes (and lowering CO2 emissions by 2,370 metric tons annually).

- NASCAR Media Services

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