|Kurt Busch has the look of being close to teammate Harvick|
Kevin Harvick was once again the star of practice. This is beginning sounding like a broken record every week. Not even the 2.5-mile ‘Tricky Triangle’ could slow Harvick down, a place he has never won at before. This track requires horsepower down the longest frontstretch the drivers will see all season, and Harvick showed no one has more or it as he was fastest in both of Saturday’s sessions. He also had the best 10-consecutive lap average in the morning session and is using the same chassis that won Darlington in April. He is, without a doubt, the driver to beat.
His closest challengers also wear the chevrolet bow-tie, which include both of his teammates and three of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars. Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch have each won twice at Pocono, and while they haven’t had the same speeds consistently throughout the year like Harvick has, they both mirror the No. 4 car collectively better than they have all season.
Jimmie Johnson will be going for his third straight win after failing to do so in the first 11 races. He’s a three-time winner at Pocono, including last spring. He was steady-strong in practice, and despite starting 20th, he’ll be contending for the win. He is using his third-place Darlington chassis this week.
Jeff Gordon didn’t look as good as the other top Chevy’s in practice, but when a he’s part of the team that manufactures the fast engines and he’s got a Pocono-record six wins, including two within the past three seasons, you have to account for his history almost as much as actual practice speeds. He’s led 972 laps here, 162 more than the next closest driver. The No. 24 team also has the confidence of knowing the last time the chassis they’re using this week ran, it won at Kansas last month.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a great set of practices Saturday and was fastest in the best 5-and 10-consecutive lap category during ’happy hour’. He has never won at Pocono, but did have two top-5 finishes last season. He’s using his 12th-place Fontana chassis from March.
The best candidate to spoil the Pocono Chevy party on Sunday is Brad Keselowski, who won there in 2011. He didn’t run 10-consecutive laps or more during practice, so there is a bit of mystery to how he’ll fare during long runs Sunday, which kind of makes him attractive and worth the gamble if the price is right. But he did have plenty of single lap speed and his Penske program has been strong on all the big 1.5-and 2-mile tracks this season.
I was kind of hoping for more out of four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin on Saturday, especially after he won the pole on Friday, but his best lap was 10th fastest during the final practice. Whenever I think of Hamlin at Pocono, it always brings a big smile, not only because I have personally won wagers in three of his four wins, but also because it takes me back to my greatest vacation ever.
My brother and best friend went to Germany during the World Cup in 2006 and toured around some of the outlying countries when close enough. One of the matches took us to Prague where we watched the USA-Czech Republic (USA lost) on the big screens with thousands of Czechs crammed into the massive Old Town Square. While all that was fun of a lifetime, I was worried about the thought of missing the NASCAR race from Pocono which was running much later at night over there.
I came to the realization that there was no way I was going to be able to watch a NASCAR race in Praque, or at least I didn’t think so. But I found a sports bar that said they would find it for me, and they did. Luckily the bar stayed open later than usual because it was packed with similar traveling World Cuppers like us drinking the night away. While we sang the ‘German bomber song’ with dozens of our new English friends, we also watched Hamlin win his first career race.
He would win again a few weeks later in the second Pocono race and in the next World Cup year in 2010, he would win again. It’s a World Cup year again, but his speed doesn’t appear to be there to compete with the big Chevy horsepower this time around. However, seeing the No. 11 at Pocono with the World Cup as the back drop always brings back great memories and if the price gets high enough, which it should, I'll still back him with a little something just for sentimental sake.
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