Friday, August 3, 2012

Pocono Practice Notes: Earnhardt Jr Tops The Charts Late in Final Session

Dale Earnhardt Jr signs autographs Friday morning at Pocono (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

Dale Earnhardt Jr. laid down the fastest lap during the final practice session Friday in preparation for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. Earnhardt’s fast lap of 177.441 mph came in the last moments of the 90-miunte session while in a mock-qualifying set-up.

In the final two minutes of practice, the top speed was set and topped by three different drivers in a mad frenzy to get their cars set ideally for Saturday’s qualifying. Kyle Busch had the fastest lap (176.564) for the bulk of the session, but was bested late by Greg Biffle (176.724), Matt Kenseth (176.974) and eventually Earnhardt. Busch ran only five laps in the session, all in qualifying trim.

The story of the day, other than Junior topping the charts, was the speed of all three Roush-Fenway Fords. In addition to Kenseth and Biffle finding lots of speed, Carl Edwards had the fifth fastest lap putting all the Roush drivers in the top-5 of practice for the second straight session. In the first practice session, it was Edwards, Kenseth and Biffle, 3-4-5.

The speeds have to give Edwards a little bit of confidence considering they haven’t been fast in practice too often this season. Perhaps new crew chief Chad Norris has made an immediate impact, but it looks more like being a collective Roush triumph. With no wins on the season, Edwards is outside looking in at the Chase and has six chances left to go all out for wins.

When looking at the Pocono practices from June, the Roush drivers were fast as well with Edwards topping the group with the second fastest speeds. On race day, Edwards finished 11th, Kenseth finished seventh and Biffle 24th.

Jeff Gordon is in the same desperate situation as Edwards, only a little worse. He ran the most laps of the session (30) and finished with the eighth fastest lap.

Only four drivers ran 10-consecutive laps or more led by Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, who was fastest in the earlier practice session, also had the fastest overall average speeds (15 laps run or more) while running 21 laps. He had the 10th fastest individual lap of the session.

All three Michael Waltrip cars looked strong led by Martin Truex who was seventh fastest. Mark Martin was runner-up in the June race and finished the session with the 11th-fastest lap. Martin started the session with fireworks as he lost control of his car coming off turn three and, miraculously, was able to save the car with only minimal damage to the right rear.

The winner of the June race was Joey Logano, but he had a little trouble finding speed with the 29th fastest lap. Logano is using the same chassis from the June race. He reported difficulty in shifting from third to fourth gear, so the team changed the transmission just to be safe.

Junior should be in a good situation to get his first Pocono win this week. Not only is he showing speed in practice, but he also has had excellent runs at Pocono and Indy this year, two tracks I like to group together for handicapping purposes. He finished eighth at Pocono in June and fourth at Indy last week.

Top-5 Pocono Practice 2 (Final) Speeds:
1) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 177.441
2) Matt Kenseth 176.974
3) Greg Biffle 176.724
4) Kyle Busch 176.564
5) Carl Edwards 176.391

Pennsylvania 400 Practice 2 Speeds Practice Chart - Average Speeds

Johnson Fastest in First Practice Session

By Micah Roberts

Jimmie Johnson swept the 2004 season at Pocono Raceway (Getty) 
Jimmie Johnson picked up right where he left off last week at Indianapolis and was fastest in Friday’s first practice session at Pocono Raceway. Johnson ran a fast lap of 174.290 mph, some 5 mph slower than the fastest times from Pocono practices in June. Johnson will attempt to get more bonus points for the Chase this week by using the same chassis he ran in June’s race. For the third consecutive Pocono race, Johnson finished fourth.

Johnson captured the fast lap of the final of his 21 laps run in the 90-minute session. Only two practices will be run on Friday with Pennsylvania 400 qualifying scheduled for Saturday.

Brad Keselowski was the only driver to run more than 10-consecutive laps while also running the most total laps (41) around the flat 2.5-mile triangular track. Keselowski, who won at Pocono last fall, had the 14th-fastest individual lap. All 41 of his laps were run exclusively in race set-up with his mock-qualifying run to come in the final practice.

Kyle Busch ran 36 laps and finished with the second fastest lap (173.994) followed by the entire Roush-Fenway brigade. Carl Edwards was third (173.967), Matt Kenseth fourth (173.950) followed by Greg Biffle (173.772).

Edwards had the fastest average speeds among drivers running at least 20 laps, the amount Edwards ran. But perhaps the best average speed was Busch’s because he ran almost twice as many laps as Edwards with similar average times.

Joey Logano won at Pocono in June and followed up his first session back on the track with the seventh fastest lap. Dale Earnhardt Jr was eighth fastest and June’s runner-up, Mark Martin, finished with the ninth best lap.

Paul Menard hit the wall near the end of practice and will have to go with his back-up car in the race.

Top-5 Pocono Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Jimmie Johnson 174.290
2) Kyle Busch 173.994
3) Carl Edwards 173.967
4) Matt Kenseth 173.950
5) Greg Biffle 173.772

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