Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pocono Storylines

Denny Hamlin needs to start winning now; he's got 4 Pocono wins
NASCAR’s national series teams scatter to the four winds this week. Well, to the three winds to be exact – Pennsylvania, Iowa and Texas – the only time in 2013 each series assembles at a different site on the same weekend.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Pocono Raceway for the first of two 400-mile events on Sunday. The Party in the Poconos 400 Presented by Walmart kicks off TNT’s Summer Season of six races that runs through August’s second Pocono event.

Iowa Speedway hosts the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Saturday night, the DuPont Pioneer 250 sharing the .875-mile short track’s weekend with the annual NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West face-off. Thirteen members of NASCAR NEXT – a baker’s dozen of the organization’s future stars – will be introduced as well.

Texas Motor Speedway welcomes the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 400. It marks the 31st time the series has competed at the intermediate track extending the record for most races held at a single facility.

Tony Stewart’s Dover victory focuses the spotlight on the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ Wild Card race. Stewart and Jeff Gordon – who share a combined seven NASCAR Sprint Cup titles – are the current Wild Card holders as the regular season moves into its second half.

A 34th-place finish at Dover effectively sent Denny Hamlin’s quest for a top-20 ranking back to square one. Hamlin, a four-time Pocono winner, has the opportunity to make a positive reset this week.

This week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup top 10 has mixed results at Pocono. Six of those competitors – including 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth – have yet to win at "The Tricky Triangle." Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, drivers with differing Pocono successes, also make that list.

NASCAR Nationwide Series standings leader Regan Smith carries a yellow rookie stripe on the bumper of his No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet this week. Smith never has competed in a series race at Iowa Speedway. His team, however, captured the track’s inaugural NNS race in 2009 with Brad Keselowski. Hawkeye state natives Michael Annett and Joey Gase also hope to contend for the victory.

Johnny Sauter swept both NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races a year ago at Texas Speedway. In order to run the streak to three straight Sauter will have to beat his ThorSport Racing teammate and points leader Matt Crafton as well as four-time track winner Brendan Gaughan.


Wild Card Race Heats Up With Stewart’s Dover Victory
With half of the regular season in the record book, the road to the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ figures to take a variety of twists and turns through the next 13 races. The Chase lineup will be set Sept. 7 at Richmond International Raceway. Tony Stewart, until recently outside the top 20, is the current Wild Card leader (16th) following Sunday’s victory at Dover International Speedway. Jeff Gordon, 11th in the standings, holds the second Wild Card based upon his points position.

Jeff Gordon Should Be Among Pocono Favorites
Jeff Gordon has won two of the last four races at Pocono Raceway and ranks No. 4 in Driver Rating (100.9) behind Denny Hamlin, series points leader Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. Gordon is Pocono’s all-time winner with six victories. Tony Stewart (98.6) is the fifth-ranked driver and is first in Passing Differential (+247). Stewart has won twice; most recently in the spring of 2009.

Two Steps Forward, One Large Step Back For Denny Hamlin
Back-to-back top-five finishes significantly reduced Denny Hamlin’s deficit as he fights for a top-20 points ranking and Chase Wild Card eligibility. Sunday’s Dover accident, which left Hamlin 34th, erased his Darlington-Charlotte successes. Hamlin entered Darlington 76 points out of 20th. He goes to Pocono – where he’s a four-time winner – 74 points behind 20th-ranked Ryan Newman.

Majority Of Current Top 10 Yet To Solve Pocono Puzzle
The list of drivers still looking for their first Pocono victories is lengthy – and well-decorated. Six of the current top 10 in points fall into the category including 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and three-time 2013 winner Matt Kenseth. He’s joined by Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Paul Menard. Mark Martin also has yet to register a victory in the Poconos and a year ago recorded his seventh second-place finish – most runner-up finishes by a non-winner at the same track.

Harvick, Busch Opposite Studies In Pocono Non-Winners
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are Pocono polar opposites, paired only by their status as non-winners. Harvick counts 16 consecutive lead-lap finishes at Pocono and 21 overall – most by the Bakersfield, Calif., veteran at a single NASCAR Sprint Cup track. Busch, conversely, has been plagued by DNFs – four in 16 races including three due to accident. Busch, whose average Pocono finish is 19.2, has led just 63 laps at the track – his second fewest to 42 laps led at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nine Different Drivers Won Pocono’s Most Recent 11 Events
While Hendrick Motorsports is the all-time wins leader at Pocono Raceway, only two of the organizations’ 13 victories have come in the track’s most recent 11 races. Beginning with the summer race of 2007, six teams and nine different drivers have won at Pocono. Joey Logano won last year’s Party In The Poconos 400 for Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano now drives for Penske Racing, like Gibbs a nine-time Pocono winner. Penske’s most recent victory with Brad Keselowski came in the summer of 2011.

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