Friday, June 8, 2012

Pocono 400 Practice Notes: Logano Fastest in Final Session, Johnson Strong

Joey Logano fastest in final practice session (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

Joey Logano laid down the fastest lap (179.501 mph) during the final practice session in preparation for Sunday’s Pocono Raceway's 400 presented by #NASCAR. The session featured more long runs than Friday’s early session with only one driver -- Logano -- running 10-consecutive laps in that session. During ‘Happy Hour’, nine drivers went as many as 10 straight laps, while the bulk of all the top speeds were run in qualifying trim.

One of the major questions for this race was answered by Marty Snider and Larry McReynolds via twitter. The question posed by Frederic Crespi asked how many teams in practice today were using the same chassis from testing. TNT’s Marty Snider said that about half the teams ran back-ups in the two day test session held Wednesday and Thursday at Pocono, while Larry McReynolds said, “Not sure, but do know a lot of them tested their primary car the last two days.”

The importance of knowing exactly what chassis' are brought means a lot in this week’s equation. It would seem the most logical choice for each team was to use the extra two days of testing to their advantage for the race on Sunday. By us not knowing exactly what teama and crew chief switched them, it makes it even tougher to analyze who will be the best on Sunday. How relevant are the testing notes and what drivers are confirmed?

The only confirmed driver that I have heard is Jimmie Johnson who tested with a back-up and is using his primary for this weekend’s activities. That primary car is a two-time winner taking the checkers at Darlington this season and Kansas last fall.

Johnson was less than impressive in testing using a back-up, but was fourth-fastest in the early session while having the 21st-quickest lap (176.370) in the final practice. Johnson also topped the charts with the best 10-consecutive lap average.

Carl Edwards was another driver who had struggled with his car in testing, but was very happy with the speeds obtained (21st) in the early session. When they put the qualifying trim on in the final session they shot to the top of the board (179.361), which stood until Logano beat it. But it was still good enough to be second best.

Saturday’s qualifying takes on a major role here because the race is 400 miles, 100 miles shorter than any other race in Pocono history. Starting position is almost the key to the race, and Larry McReynolds mentioned on TNT that some teams would be strategizing like they do on road courses where they cycle around pit stops backwards. Each fuel window looks to be about 26 to 28 laps, so expect the pit crews to to play a major role in the outcome of this Sunday's race. 

Because of that importance on start position, it's quite possible a few teams from the early practice didn't care to run their fastest in that session -- the one that determines qualifying start time. Qualifying starts at 11:00 am (ET) Saturday when the track is cooler. The fastest drivers from the early session will start later when the surface is warmer, which will likely create slower times.

Jeff Gordon finished with the third fastest lap (179.108) followed by Paul Menard (178.798), Kyle Busch (178.540) and Kasey Kahne (178.455).

The two stars from the test sessions were A.J. Allmendinger and Mark Martin and they came out blazing in the first practice session with top-5 speeds. Allmendinger closed out final practice with the ninth fastest lap (177.459) and Martin 20th (176.370).

Kahne had strong average times among drivers running 20 laps or more -- 33 laps run -- and should be considered a contender. Another star in average speeds was four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin who ran a session high 42 laps.

As for as the top speed in the final session, it's nice to see Logano step it up here and be fast. He's fighting for his young NASCAR life at Joe Gibbs Racing and is probably best known at Pocono for his "His wife wears the firesuit" comment in regards to getting punted late by Kevin Harvick in 2010.  That particular race would have been a career best for Logano at Pocono as he still searches for his first top-10 finish on the track.

Top-5 Practice 2 Speeds
1) Joey Logano 179.501
2) Carl Edwards 179.361
3) Jeff Gordon 179.108
4) Paul Menard 178.798
5) Kyle Busch 178.540

Mark Martin Fastest in First Pocono Practice Session

By Frederic Crespi

After two days and three test sessions at Pocono Raceway on Wednesday and Thursday, the Sprint Cup teams have finished the first of two scheduled Friday practice sessions. These two practices (scheduled for 85 and 90 minutes respectively) will be the only two of the weekend as the teams only have a qualifying session scheduled for Saturday before the green flag drops on Sunday.

Mark Martin continued his impressive performance so far this week by posting the fastest single lap (179.379) in this first practice. He now will be the last car to go out for qualifying as the order of the first practice sets up how the cars will line up for Saturday morning's qualifying at 11:10 a.m. (ET). Between the testing and today's practice, Martin has now posted laps ranking him 1st, 3rd, 3rd and 1st this week, but it remains to be seen whether going out last will hinder his chances at improving his impressive 7.4 average starting position so far this year.

Preceeding Martin on the qualifying grid will be the No. 1 Banana Boat Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray with a speed of 178.937 mph. McMurray only ran 6 laps in this session so it will be interesting to see how much track time this team will see in today's later session. McMurray has really struggled recently at Pocono Raceway but has been very good at the similar Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so it will be very interesting to see if this team can put it together on what is expected to be a top 10 starting position.

Mark Martin has been fast in Pocono testing and practices (Getty)
Rounding out the top-5 were Dale Earnhardt, Jr (178.809), Jimmie Johnson (178.678), and A.J. Allmendinger (178.204). Dale Jr. and teammate Jimmie Johnson have been as consistent as it gets so far this season and there should be no doubt that they will be there hunting for the checkers come Sunday afternoon. Allmendinger has also shown some solid speed through testing and is only one of three drivers to post top-10 speeds in all four sessions so far this week. A.J.'s Penske team was very strong at Pocono last season (2nd and 3rd) so he could be a very pleasant surprise on Sunday.

Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne (the third driver with top-10 speeds in each session), Tony Stewart, the race favorite Denny Hamlin and Regan Smith wrapped up spots 6th through 10th.

As far as other race contenders, last year's winner of this race Jeff Gordon sported the 15th fastest speed but did hold the top average among cars that ran 20 or more laps. Kyle Busch, who has performed quite well here recently, came home with a 23rd fastest lap but 2nd behind Gordon in terms of average speed. Points leaders, and teammates, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth did not log that many laps (19 and 12) and finished with practice speeds good for 20th and 14th respectively.

Joey Logano ran the most laps of the session (33) and was also the only driver to run at least 10 consecutive laps. We should see more teams try longer runs in the final session today.

The new surface definitely proved to be faster as 40 drivers broke the old track record of 172.533 mph.

Top-5 Pocono Practice 1 Speeds
1) Mark Martin 179.379 mph
2) Jamie McMurray 178.937
3) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 178.809
4) Jimmie Johnson 178.678
5) AJ Allmendinger 178.204

Practice 1 Speeds 

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