Joey Logano in victory lane at Pocono back in June. Will be book a return visit? [Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Mash The Gas - Pocono Preview
by John Wiedemann
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, PA.
Joey Logano won the race on the newly re-paved raceway back on June 10th, coming out victorious in a late race battle with Mark Martin after the youngster pushed past the veteran to take the lead with three laps left. The win was Logano's second Cup Series victory.
2011 winners at Pocono included Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski, who gutted out the win after a practice crash earlier in the week left him with a broken left ankle.
With a triangle shaped The Pocono Raceway has three distinct corners making teams decide which turns they want to setup their cars to run good in, and usually sacrificing handling and speed in one of the other turns.
The Pocono 400 will kick off 160 laps of racing on the unique 2.5 mile tri-oval when the green flag waves at 1:18pm Eastern.
The top spot may be permanent for Jimmie Johnson following his dominating victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend. Pocono has enough similarities to Indy that the 48 team will still be on a roll. Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the team are firing on all cylinders right now and if they can carry their hot streak into the Chase, "Five-time" will be no more. Does this mean we have to get used to the "Six-time" knickname? How come we didn't call Earnhardt or Petty "Seven-time"? Time for a different knickname.
Drivers get comfortable at tracks and when they do, success comes their way. It really looks like Joey Logano is comfortable at Pocono and the success that he is having there couldn't come at a better time. Just out of the wild card spot, a win or top three finish would help greatly. The issue for Logano is that the drivers in front of him, Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch, aren't too bad at Pocono either.
Denny Hamlin grabbed the pole position at Indianapolis and is has three top tens in the last four races. In June's Pocono race Hamlin qualified fifth and finished fifth. One of the best flat track racers in the business, Hamlin is at what could be arguably his best track this weekend. He is solidly in the top ten and can just go all out and race for wins at this point. Look for Hamlin in victory lane this weekend.
At Indianapolis last weekend, Jeff Gordon had at the very least the second fastest car. Keeping pace with the way his luck has been this season, restart positioning left him on the outside and unable to better his position and fighting in traffic all race long. Still needing a win to sniff the wild card for the Chase, time is running out for Gordon. This race gives him a great shot at capturing a victory and then there is the road course at Watkins Glen and Michigan next on the schedule. This story is far from over so put the forks away, Gordon is not done.
Left to try a different pit strategy at Indianapolis to compete with the rocketship that Jimmie Johnson was racing, Brad Keselowski wasn't able to capitalize and finished with a top ten. But, that shows what a team that is solidly in the Chase can do. They can take chances and if the strategy fails and they finish in the top ten, no harm done. What really matters to these teams in the top ten are race wins and the bonus points that they bring to the Chase. Seeing that Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe are willing to take chances is exciting. Looking forward to what they come up with next.
Wild Card Watch
The top ten drivers in the point standings following the race at Richmond International Raceway will move into the Chase for the Sprint Cup along with two wild card recipients.
To get a wild card, the driver needs to be in 11th through 20th in the point standings. The two drivers with the most wins and using a tie breaker of point standings will fill up the wild card positions in the Chase.
Following Indianapolis the Wild Card standings are:
Kasey Kahne, 2 wins, 579 points
Kyle Busch, 1 win, 588 pts
Ryan Newman, 1 win, 573 pts
Joey Logano, 1 win, 544 pts
Carl Edwards, 0 wins, 582 pts
Jeff Gordon, 0 wins, 564 pts
Paul Menard, 0 wins, 564 pts
Marcos Ambrose, 0 wins, 519 pts
Jamie McMurray, 0 wins, 508 pts
Jeff Burton, 0 wins, 505 pts
A win would help any of the drivers from Jeff Gordon and Paul Menard on up. While Menard or Gordon would still likely need points, they are currently 24 points behind Busch, they still have a possible shot with only one win. Logano, Newman and Busch could solidify wild card spots with a win.
Counting this weekend there are six wins out there for the taking.
Oh, should we really forget about the possibility of someone in the top ten falling out and opening up a spot in the Chase? Yes, we should. Sixth through tenth in the points are separated by ten points, but the distance from tenth to eleventh is at fifty-five points. It would take a pretty big collapse for a driver in the top ten to fall out. There are six races left and a lot can still happen, but I think the top ten right now will be the top ten following Richmond.