Friday, June 5, 2015

Pocono Practice Notes: Harvick fastest in first session, Gibbs cars impress again

Kevin Harvick has a 13.6 average finish at Pocono Raceway 
LAS VEGAS -- Kevin Harvick laid down the fastest lap in Friday’s opening practice session at Pocono Raceway in preparation for Sunday’s Axalta 500. His fast speed at 176.932 mph came on the final of his 17 turns on the 2.5-mile ’tricky triangle’, which is almost 4 mph slower than last years top speed in the same practice (Brian Vickers 180.854), which shows just how big an impact this years horsepower reduction from 850 to 725 has on the longest front-stretch in NASCAR.

The effects of the slower cars also changes the drivers' approach and exit out of the three turns, which a few drivers had some difficulties with. Sam Hornish Jr. spun out, but didn’t have any damage. However, Tony Stewart wasn’t so lucky as he spun through the tunnel turn 2 and hit the wall. He’ll be using a back-up car to qualify Friday at 4:45 pm (ET).

Most of the drivers put in their fastest lap on their final runs while in qualifying trim. No one ran 10-consecutive laps while in race trim and Trevor Bayne led the way with 21 laps run during the 85-minute session while only being able to muster the 35th fastest lap (172.632).

Joe Gibbs Racing continued to show their upswing in horsepower by having three of the six fastest speeds led by Kyle Busch with the second fastest lap (176.772), Carl Edwards third (176.717) and Denny Hamlin sixth (176.547). Edwards is a two-time winner at Pocono while Hamlin has won on four occasions.

Dale Earnhardt Jr came in the fourth fast lap (176.554) and looks to be a great shape to try and win his third straight Pocono following a sweep last season. He hadn’t won at Pocono in 28 previous career starts.

Austin Dillon was probably the most pleasant surprise of the session with the fifth fastest lap (176.561). Don’t expect to get the 100-to-1 offered on him before the race, that will surely change. Even though Dillon has never won a race, if he gets a good starting position in this race where little passing is expected, he could hang on to a nice finish. There’s only 160 laps run in this 400-mile race.

In Pocono history, under old horsepower rules, 52 of the 70 races (70.2 percent) have been won from a top-10 start position.

As for Harvick, he’s never at Pocono in 28 starts, but he was runner-up in the second race last season. The short race advantage starting up front applies to him just as it does Dillon, except Harvick came in as the Westgate’s 4-to-1 favorite this week. The chassis he’s using this week won at Phoenix and was second at Richmond in its only two starts.

We’ll have a final analysis following Saturday's final practice that should help decide who the best drivers are for Sunday’s race. Right now, the JGR cars are impressing as expected and the only real disappointment was two-time Pocono winner Kurt Busch coming in with the 21st fastest lap (174.493).

Practice Speeds

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