Jimmie Johnson blows engine late, hands win to Biffle in Michigan
Greg Biffle in Victory Lane in Michigan. (ASP, Inc.)
Neither Greg Biffle nor team owner Jack Roush is unaccustomed to visiting Victory Lane at Michigan International Speedway. So it was no surprise that the duo ended up spraying champagne following Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 Sprint Cup race. What was a surprise were the circumstances that landed them there.
Running second to a scorchingly fast Jimmie Johnson, it looked as if Biffle would have to settle for a runner-up showing and “a good points day” after leading a respectable 19 laps and being a top-5 contender throughout the day.
However, as Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy streaked down Michigan’s long backstretch and near certain victory with six laps remaining, the engine sputtered, then detonated, becoming the fourth Hendrick powerplant of the weekend to experience problems.
As Johnson shifted to neutral, coasting to the garage on the track’s apron, Biffle assumed the lead as a yellow flag waved for oil dropped by Johnson’s shattered motor.
On the ensuing green-white-checker restart, Biffle fended off a gaggle of challengers as the field raced into Turn 1, nosing in front of Brad Keselowski and driving away in clean air to his second win of the 2012 season.
“It was going to be a great race no matter what,” Biffle said. “I felt like I could catch (Johnson), but we’ll never know. Passing him might have been a different story. But I certainly think that with seven (laps) to go, I probably could have pulled up close to him.”
Keselowski held on for second, while Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 5. Johnson was relegated to a 27th-place finish and left the garage area, and then the facility, without speaking to reporters.
Keselowski, though, had plenty to say in his post-race press conference.
“I don’t know what to say other than I was just close to getting what would have been one of the biggest wins of my career,” the Michigan native said. “That would have been really special, but it wasn’t in the cards today.”
Then he took aim at the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared cars, which seem to have had a chassis advantage after winning seven of the last 13 races since early May.
“There’s parts and pieces on the car that are moving after inspection that make the car more competitive,” Keselowski explained when elaborating on a perceived advantage. “Some guys have it, some don’t. There’s a question to the interpretation of the rule. Penske Racing errs on the safe side because we don't want to be the guys that get the big penalty.
“Obviously, there’s a question to the interpretation (of the rule) that as of right now it’s legal, but I’m sure that Roger (Penske, team owner) doesn’t want to be the one caught red-handed.
“As a group at Penske Racing, we have not felt comfortable enough to risk that name and reputation that Roger has over those parts and pieces. Others have, which is their prerogative — I’m not going to slam them for it.”
He made it well known, though, that while Johnson may still be a pre-Chase title favorite, his No. 2 team is preparing for a 10-race war.
“The 48 has the most speed and the best history as far as the Chase is concerned,” Keselowski stated. “But it’s my job to not roll over and give it to them. We’re doing everything we can do and we nailed it on that last green-flag (pit) sequence (Keselowski beat Johnson off pit road). I’m proud as hell of my guys for doing that.
“The 48 might be the favorite for the championship, but we’re not going to roll over and just let them have it.”
So even in victory, Biffle, ironically the new points leader, flies under the radar — as he has throughout the season. And that seems just fine by him:
“I know that a lot of people don’t expect us to win the championship, don’t expect us to compete for the title. I don’t care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they talk about.
“We will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead, I promise you that.”
News & Notes: Michigan
• Hendrick Motorsports had four engines experience problems — or all-out failures — over the Michigan race weekend. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart experienced valve train failures in Sunday’s race, while Jimmie Johnson had engine problems in practice, prompting a change. He had another go terminal with six laps to go on Sunday, costing him a fourth win this season.
On the flipside of the Hendrick engine docket was Kasey Kahne, who finished third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth) and Ryan Newman (eighth). Stewart and Gordon’s issues mirrored one another. As for Johnson, might ace crew chief Chad Knaus simply be testing the limits of durability prior to the Chase? For the time being, one can only speculate.
• Mark Martin was involved in a scary wreck while leading the Pure Michigan 400 on lap 65. After colliding with Juan Montoya, Kasey Kahne and Bobby Labonte, Martin’s car careened into the edge of an opening in the pit road wall. The edge of the wall impaled his No. 55 Toyota, puncturing the oil cooler just behind the seat of the car, nearly striking some bystanders. All walked away unhurt.
• Justin Allgaier nudged his way past Jacques Villeneuve and on to his first Nationwide Series win of the 2012 season at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Allgaier used the bumper to move Villeneuve, who appeared to slow, on the final lap at the road course. Coincidentally (or not), Villeneuve used the same tactic to obtain the lead from Alex Tagliani on lap 66 of 81.
Johnny Benson Jr. and I have a lot in common. We’re both from Grand Rapids, Mich., both graduated from Forest Hills Northern High School and both had my second cousin as our Tech Drawing teacher in 11th grade. What I haven’t done though (yet) is barrel roll a yellow Lumina down the Michigan backstretch. Johnny’s first outing in Ernie Irvan’s Busch car in 1993 didn’t go so hot, as he went airborne on the first lap. No big deal though; Benson would win Rookie of the Year honors a year later, the Busch Grand National championship in 1995 and Winston Cup Rookie of the Year in ’96. But has he ever written for Athlon Sports…
by Vito Pugliese
9. Mr. Sadler's Wild Ride
2 of 11
Forget Brad Keselowski’s Atlanta accident in 2010 or Michael McDowell’s Texas tumble in ’08. Elliott Sadler went for one wild ride at MIS during practice in June 2000. Sadler blew a tire going down the frontstretch at the fastest part of the track, rolled over nine times and smashed the car against the pavement. Between this, the highest G-load hit ever recorded at Pocono in 2010 and his two Talladega flips in ’03 and 2’04, Sadler might lead the league in YouTube-able hard hits and airborne antics.
by Vito Pugliese
8. Irvan's Emotional Triumph
3 of 11
In 1993, tragedy struck the No. 28 Robert Yates Racing team, when driver Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega. Just over a year later, the new driver of the No. 28 Ford, Ernie Irvan, nearly lost his life at Michigan International Speedway. Given a 10 percent chance of survival after a practice crash caused by a cut tire that sent him head-on into the backstretch wall, Irvan clung to life for days in a nearby hospital. He would sit out the 1995 season and return to racing in ’96 wearing a patch over his eye. Scoring two wins his first year back prompted his friend and fellow competitor Mark Martin to quip, “Ernie with one eye is still better than most of these guys with two.” Irvan came full-circle at MIS in 1997, dominating the event and closing the chapter on what was one of the most miraculous recoveries in motorsports — at the track that nearly claimed his life. Sadly, Irvan would suffer another head injury at Michigan in 1999, enduring a crash in practice for a Busch race, effectively ending his career.
by Vito Pugliese
7. Another Heartbreaker for Benson
4 of 11
We’ve covered Johnny Benson Jr.’s trouble in his debut in 1993, but surely he’d be able to triumph at the track that is but 90 minutes from his hometown of Grand Rapids, right? In the 2008 Cool City Customs 200 Truck Series event, it was Benson and Erik Darnell battling in the closing laps for the win. As Ned Jarrett would say, it was a “pho-to finish” to say the least — and I’m still not convinced that Benson didn’t win. Pause the video at 2:58. Did Benson beat Darnell to the line? You be the judge.
by Vito Pugliese
6. Life Imitating Art … Sort of
5 of 11
Carl Edwards is genuinely regarded as a pretty nice guy — for the most part. Sometimes however, he gets mad. And the he gets even. In the 2006 Carfax 250 Busch Series race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into the back of Edwards on the final lap, spinning him across the nose of Robby Gordon. After the race, Edwards went all Russ Wheeler on Junior, coming out of the pits and running into the side of Earnhardt on the cool-down lap. It might be the only time in recorded history that Earnhardt was greeted with boos after winning a race. Later, Edwards would walk into Victory Lane to, ah, “discuss” the issue with Junior — making for a tense encounter to say the least.
by Vito Pugliese
5. Earnhardt vs Earnhardt
6 of 11
It was the first time the Earnhardts were actually door-to-door in competition, and what better way than with 12 identically prepared Pontiac Trans Ams in an IROC race at MIS? The old man schooled the young’un this day, in an event that Earnhardt Jr. still laments as he recalled after winning here in the Sprint Cup Series in 2008.
by Vito Pugliese
4. Junior Nation Off Suicide Watch
7 of 11
In 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped (or abandoned) ship at DEI to join Hendrick Motorsports. The ’08 season started off strong for Junior and crew chief/cousin/BFF Tony Eury Jr., culminating in a win for the duo in August at Michigan. What followed, however, was nearly four years of pain, agony, frustration and misery (and that was just Junior Nations) of 143 winless starts. All of that ended this June, when the No. 88 returned to Victory Lane in a dominating performance at the 2-mile oval.
by Vito Pugliese
3. Martin's Tough Week Gets Tougher
8 of 11
The 1998 season saw a seesaw battle between Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin for the Winston Cup title. Gordon won 13 races, while Martin tallied seven victories. Tragedy struck Martin midway through the year, though, as his father, stepmother and sister were killed in a plane crash. Ever the racer, Martin did not take the weekend off, soldiering through a difficult weekend in Michigan. He was in the middle of one of the most heart-warming stories in sports — leading handily following the final pit stop — until a caution came out with 21 laps to go. Martin took on four tires and got out first while Gordon, running seventh, took on just two. Gordon somehow got by Martin with nine laps to, and claimed his fourth consecutive Cup win, tying the modern era record. However, his reception upon exiting the car was less than cordial.
by Vito Pugliese
2. An Unlikely Last Lap
9 of 11
In 2009, Mark Martin made his return to full-time competition after running a partial schedule the previous two seasons to regroup, recharge and reconnect with family and friends who came second after nearly 17 years of full-time commitment to NASCAR. He had already won two races that season and was charging hard to crack the top 10 to make the Chase in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. Martin started 32nd in the LifeLock 400 but battled balky steering the entire afternoon. He started saving fuel on the final restart with 43 laps to go, never running wide open until coming to take the white flag. Turns out, the crafty ol’ vet saved slightly more than the dominant cars of Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson. Martin’s final-lap upset earned him his third win of the season and fifth career triumph at MIS.
by Vito Pugliese
1. DJ Gets Well-Earned First Win
10 of 11
MIS gets a bad rap from fans for producing long, drawn out green flag runs and, dare we say it, boring fuel-mileage races. Honestly, it’s probably no more or less than Pocono, Charlotte or either road course, but there are also those races that everybody remembers — and this one is no exception. It was his first career win, and he did it in style with one of the most revered and honored organizations of Ford racing lore: The Wood Brothers. And just outside of Detroit, to boot. Dale Jarrett going door-to-door with Davey Allison (with Bob Jenkins providing the classic call) was the ultimate ending to the 1991 Champion Spark Plug 400. The margin of victory — in a time before electronic scoring and timing — is officially listed as 10-inches.
Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for the Pure Michigan 400
Michigan's June winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ASP, Inc.)
After a wild late-race battle for the win at Watkins Glen, the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan for this weekend's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Returning to MIS for the second time this season, the Chase is fast approaching and the action is heating up. In June, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended his 143-race winless streak and made the NASCAR Nation happier than a kid chowing down on some Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia.
This time, however, the series returns in the heat of the race to the Chase. With playoff implications all around and teams on varying strategies and objectives, things could get interesting.
Four drivers — Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth — have the opportunity to clinch their respective spot in the Chase in Sunday's race. At the same time, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and others are battling for the two wild card spots.
While the mindset of the teams and drivers may be different from earlier in the summer, one thing that will remain the same is the high speeds created by the new racing surface.
When the series first hit the freshly-paved 2-mile, D-shaped oval, the drivers were laying down some of the fastest speeds of the year recorded in practice and qualifying. After seeing some blistering on the tires, Goodyear officials made a late change in the compound and brought in a tougher left side tire for Sunday's race. Prior to returning this weekend, Goodyear worked with NASCAR, the track and the competitors to test various combinations to bring back a better tire. A total of 27 teams partook in the test on July 30.
One of the drivers most pleased with the test was Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle. The driver of the No. 16 Ford has two wins, eight top 5s and 11 top 10s in nineteen starts in Detroit’s backyard, and is this week's fantasy favorite.
Over the last four Michigan races, Biffle has led a total of 258 of 803 laps en route to a pair of fourth-place finishes (including the June race), a 15th and a 20th (which came after sitting on the pole).
Sitting second in the series standings, just one point behind the five-time champion Johnson, Biffle has only one win this season, meaning he would fall behind Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin when the Chase field is reset after the Richmond race. Another win would go a long way in Biffle's quest to earn his first Sprint Cup Series title.
If Biffle wants to earn his second win of the season and first Cup title, he will likely have to beat Johnson for both. Always a contender at Michigan, Johnson has four top 5s and nine top 10s, but has yet to seal the deal and score a win.
Given the performance of the No. 48 organization over the four weeks, it is safe to say they will be a contender yet again this weekend.
The last time the series was in Michigan, it was Earnhardt Jr. that scored the win and ended the longest winless drought of his career. After a disappointing end to a solid day in Watkins Glen, Earnhardt lost the points lead, but is headed to a track he is very capable of sweeping.
Also keep an eye on Keselowski this weekend. Although he has an average finish of 21.0 at Michigan, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe always have an eye on pit strategy and could shake things up late in the race and have proven capable of winning on most any type of track at any given time.
Five Favorites: Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth
While Richard Petty Motorsports was celebrating a win last week at Watkins Glen, the team cars of Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose could have another strong showing this weekend.
Although they may not take The King to victory lane two weeks in a row, the teammates have had strong showings in the June race, with Ambrose leading 15 laps and finishing ninth, and Almirola coming home 17th in his first Sprint Cup start on the big oval.
Given their solid performance in June, along with the momentum built from last week's win, you may want to consider including Almirola and Ambrose in your lineup this week.
The ageless wonder, Mark Martin, returns to action this weekend behind the wheel of Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota. The timing could not be better, as Michigan is Martin's best track.
Although he fell out of the June race with an engine issue, Martin has a career-high five victories at Michigan. Given the success of the No. 55 team — especially with Martin behind the wheel — look for the Rodney Childers-led bunch to have a strong run on Sunday.
Martin’s teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, have average finishes just outside the top 10 best at Michigan. Sitting sixth and seventh, respectively, in the series standings, both drivers could further solidify their spot in the Chase with good runs — and tack on bonus points with wins.
Five Undervalued Picks: Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
With only four races left before the Chase field is set, time is running out for Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon. Both sitting outside the top 10 in points, Edwards is without a win, while Gordon is currently fourth in the wild card battle behind Kahne, Newman and Kyle Busch.
Edwards enters the weekend with the best average finish among active drivers (8.4) and two wins at MIS. However, in his last five starts at Michigan, Edwards has three finishes outside the top 10 (including a 36th in the race last August).
If the 2011 championship runner-up wants the opportunity to make the Chase field, time is running out and the season that has yet to get on track needs to do so this weekend. At this point, solid finishes are not enough.
Much like Edwards, Gordon finds himself outside the Chase field at the moment. Needing wins, before the final cutoff race at Richmond, it is time for the No. 24 team to step up to the plate and get the job done. A victory two weeks ago at Pocono gave the four-time champion Chase hopes, but a late-race spin in the oil at Watkins Glen did his wild card hopes no favors.
The Alan Gustafson-led team has run strong throughout the season, but have struggled to put complete races together at times, albeit the issues were not always of their making. If they can use notes from the in-house No. 88 team, stay out of trouble, play the right strategy throughout the race and be there in the end, look for the No. 24 team to have a shot at the win.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton, Landon Cassill
Best Average Finish at Michigan (Wins/Starts):
1. Carl Edwards — 8.4 (2/16)
2. Matt Kenseth — 9.3 (2/26)
3. Tony Stewart — 11.2 (1/27)
4. Jeff Gordon — 11.3 (2/39)
5. Greg Biffle — 12.4 (2/19)
6. Mark Martin — 13.6 (5/53)
7. Denny Hamlin — 13.8 (2/13)
8. Jimmie Johnson — 14.7 (0/21)
9. Kevin Harvick — 14.8 (1/23)
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 15.2 (2/26)
"They use this finger to call me No. 1, Kyle." (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Once an Achilles heel, Johnson rolled to his fourth consecutive road course top 10 with a third at Watkins Glen. In the process, he vaulted to the top of the championship point standings. Last week: 1
2. Brad Keselowski Dating back to his Kentucky win in late June, Keselowski has racked up six straight finishes of ninth or better — including a runner-up finish at the Glen that will be talked about for quite some time. Last week: 4
3. Matt Kenseth An eighth at the Glen was his best road result since another eighth, which came at Sonoma in June 2008. The timing couldn’t have been better, as Kenseth sits two points behind Johnson in the standings. Last week: 3
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Tried his best to not throw NASCAR under the bus for the no-call for oil on the track at the Glen. Try as he might, he didn’t do a very good job. Last week: 2
5. Greg Biffle Slowly (and very quietly) making himself a major player in the championship race. His sixth at the Glen moved him to within one point of Johnson at the top of the standings. Last week: 8
6. Kasey Kahne His wild card position is looking stronger each week, as Kahne sits 11th in the standings with a pair of wins. And the Hendrick engines and chassis aren’t hurting, either. Last week: 9
7. Jeff Gordon The hot streak comes crashing down at the Glen for Gordon, who now sits 10 points behind Ryan Newman for the second wild card Chase spot. Last week: 7
8. Tony Stewart Once the man to beat in Watkins Glen, when he won five events from 2002-09, Stewart has showings of 27th and 19th the last two visits. This is a hard team to figure. Last week: 6
9. Denny Hamlin Hamlin has five finishes of 25th or worse in the last eight races, so he may not deserve this ranking. However, those two wins on his scorecard are hard to dismiss. Last week: 5
10. Clint Bowyer Couldn’t follow up his road win in Sonoma with another at the Glen, but a fourth-place run was impressive, considering the battle royale that was going on at the front of the field. Last week: 11
Despite what the shirt says, he's not lovin' it. (ASP, Inc.)
11. Kyle Busch A win at the Glen would have given him a Chase spot. Maybe Bristol will provide the boost. Last week: 14
12. Ryan Newman Doing his best to be a wild carder, having averaged a 7.8-place finish over the last five races. Last week: 12
13. Martin Truex Jr. Claims a contract renewal with Michael Waltrip Racing and NAPA is all but done. Last week: 10
14. Kevin Harvick Is basically a 13th- to 15th-place finisher at this point. Can they turn it around for the Chase? Last week: 13
15. Marcos Ambrose Hard to keep this week’s winner out of the top 15. Now he must learn how to stay here. Last week: Unranked
Just off the lead pack: Carl Edwards, Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Regan Smith
Marcos Ambrose gives Richard Petty Motorsports first win of 2012
Richard Petty celebrates with Marcos Ambrose in Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. (ASP, Inc.)
Defending Watkins Glen race-winner Marcos Ambrose entered the Sprint Cup Series’ Finger Lakes 355 as the odds-on favorite to win. And Ambrose, who also has three Nationwide Series victories at the Glen, didn’t disappoint.
The Australia native with an extensive background in Sports Car racing used every bit of his expertise, capping a wild last-lap battle with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to give Richard Petty Motorsports its first win since this same race last season.
What made Ambrose’s performance all the more impressive was that he emerged the victor with an oil slick covering the track. Navigating through the oil — as well as a couple off-road excursions — arguably made the conclusion at the Glen the most memorable of the season.
“It was absolute chaos at the end,” Ambrose said. “The three cars were very evenly matched. Kyle had a head start on us there. I was trying to chase him. I burnt my tires off, really burnt off the brakes. I thought, ‘I’m going to be stuck here in second.’
“All of a sudden I’m starting to slide out on oil — couldn’t work out where it was coming from, if it was from my car or on the track. I saw Kyle backing up to us. It was absolutely crazy at the end.”
Busch led the trio to the white flag with a comfortable cushion. However, as the leader, he was the first of the three to hit the oil dropped from Bobby Labonte’s wounded Toyota. Busch quickly let up as his car skidded through the 11-turn road course. Keselowski got to the bumper of the No. 18 Toyota and the two made contact in Turn 2, sending Busch sideways and, ultimately, to a seventh-place finish.
The drama was just getting started, though, as Ambrose and Keselowski duked it out for the top spot over the final nine turns as both fought slick spots all over the track — at one point, both machines careened off course, sliding through the grass but staying in the gas and keeping both cars straight.
As the two came out of the seventh turn, Ambrose tagged Keselowski’s bumper and pulled to the inside. He won the drag race from there, out-muscling Keselowski’s Dodge to the checkered flag.
Despite finishing second in heartbreaking fashion, Keselowski could appreciate the spirited duel.
“I just think this is what racing should be,” he said. “I think this is what the fans come to expect out of NASCAR racing and why it grew to the popularity that it did.”
Ambrose was still elated later, when he spoke of the oil slick that made for an adventurous final 2.45 miles.
“You couldn’t see where the oil was at,” Ambrose explained. “If it was a black streak, it would be OK, (but) it was almost like a fine spray. I was the first one to start sliding on it. For whatever reason, my line, I slid into Turn 1. I thought I was blowing up — I thought it was my oil.
“Not until I saw Brad and Kyle sliding as well, I thought, ‘OK, there’s something on the track and we’re going to have to deal with it.”
Busch went directly to the NASCAR hauler after the race, presumably to ask why a caution wasn’t thrown on the final lap when there was obviously a substance that hindered the racing.
“I have nothing good to say,” was all Busch would offer concerning his meeting with the sanctioning body.
Other drivers had issues with the lack of a caution, as well, most notably Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
“There was just oil everywhere from somebody,” Earnhardt said. “You couldn’t see it so you didn't know where to run. I saw the leaders were coming and I was just trying to get out of the way. They were in oil and I was in oil and then I watched everything that happened in front of me. It was a bad deal, I think.”
NASCAR didn’t share the drivers’ view.
“We didn’t have any reports of oil,” Cup series director John Darby said. “The only corner-worker reports were that the 47 (Labonte) was smoking. They were asked repeatedly if he was dropping everything. The report back to us was: ‘No, Tower. The track’s clear.’
“On the last restart, where the whole field of cars goes all the way around the race track and one car spins out and the rest of them are racing, it was obvious to me it wasn’t that bad.”
Dale Earnhardt: The Michael Jordan of NASCAR's Dream Team? (ASP, Inc.)
Throughout the Olympics one often hears about a “Dream Team’’ in one sport or another. So what about NASCAR?
Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked if they were an owner with four teams and could pick any Cup driver in any era, who would be the four for their Dream Team? Their picks proved quite interesting.
They also debated Jeff Gordon’s chances of making the Chase and Sunday’s Pocono race. Here’s what Fan Council members had to say:
Who is on your NASCAR Dream Team?
74.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Sr. 58.9 percent selected Jimmie Johnson 43.2 percent selected Tony Stewart 38.7 percent selected Richard Petty
Others 33.2 percent selected Jeff Gordon 23.6 percent selected David Pearson 18.8 percent selected Kyle Busch 15.1 percent selected Cale Yarborough 10.6 percent selected Tim Richmond 10.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Jr. 9.6 percent selected Darrell Waltrip 7.5 percent selected Davey Allison 6.8 percent selected Junior Johnson 6.5 percent selected Matt Kenseth No other drivers received more than 5 percent of the vote
What Fan Council members said:
• Dale Earnhardt for sheer tenacity and stubborn will. Jeff Gordon because he’s won championships with multiple crew chiefs. Cale Yarborough because he is the only driver who has REALLY won three championships back-to-back-to-back (sorry, I'm not counting Chase trophies — that is over 10 races not a full season.) David Pearson because he has an amazing winning record while rarely running a full schedule.
• I would want a team deep with knowledge, and someone to groom. That is why I picked Kyle Busch. Could you imagine Busch with the tutelage of Petty, Earnhardt and Jaws?
• Tony, Kyle, Dale (Sr.), and David Pearson. That's a winning team for certain! Four guys who could win in anything they stepped foot in. And can you imagine what the conversations and fights in the hauler would be like? Woohooo!
• The King: Because he is The King with wins that would guarantee me sponsors and TV “face time.” But also because he cares about the fans to a legendary level and would bring me a very loyal fan base. Smoke: Because if it has wheels and I need it to cross the finish line first, I want his butt in that seat. Curtis Turner: If he couldn't swing deals to get sponsorship money for me, he'd come up with some scheme to get someone else to give me the money. And he had no fear when it came to racing. Bill Elliott: Another great racer who took care of his cars more than the other three! Popular, a great back story, media friendly and sponsor sensitive.
• I picked DW, Tim Richmond, Kyle Busch and Smoke. All four can wheel anything with tires, and do it well. I went with an old-school/new-school theme. I see all four of these guys sort of being one in the same in their respective periods. There is enough talent there to fill Lake Lloyd but the egos and attitudes would be the only problem!
• Big E, Smoke, Busch and Junior Johnson. Give 'em a big slice of badass!
• Had to go with Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, just because they are the best drivers this sport has seen. Then I went with two darkhorse choices: First, Terry Labonte just because he is one of the most consistent and level-headed drivers the sport has seen, and can definitely be a true asset on a Dream Team. Then I went with Buddy Baker because he has driven so many types of vehicles, not just NASCAR, and has a true need for speed and aggressive style that could help win in a style like in an Olympic-like format.
• I tried to go with some from a different era. So I went with Davey Allison, who let's face it, if he were still alive, would have been a great champion and made some great stats. Jimmie Johnson — five championships all in a row, people think he's vanilla, but he'll blow your socks off. Enough said. Dale Earnhardt — people feared him on the track and he’s a seven-time champion. Enough said. And Cale, first driver to win three championships (consecutively) and one hell of a driver.
• I chose The Intimidator because he knew what he needed from a car at all times and could rattle the best out there. He always gave 100 percent and hated losing. Seven titles and 76 wins along with a strong fan base (helps sales) would give my team a strong boost. Smoke has won in multiple forms of racing and is one of the best stock car drivers in recent memory. I would take Smoke in a one-race, winner-take-all battle over anyone. Pearson is a confident driver, but he will sneak up on you. Anyone that can be as dominant at Darlington and the big tracks like the Silver Fox will be on my team. Ned Jarrett is humble, well-spoken and drove as hard as he needed to. He would save the equipment and drive intelligently. I like the balance of my team and feel as though it could stand up against any team.
• Obviously, the best three drivers ever: Dale Sr., the King, and Five-Time. For my fourth driver, I went with Tim Richmond. Had he not be taken from us far too early, Dale Sr. would not have seven titles.
• This was one of the toughest questions ever! To put together my Dream Team I not only took into consideration talent but drivers who would complement each other and help each other be better than their raw talent alone. In my opinion, the all-time, all-around leadership of Richard Petty, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the steadying even-keel resolve of Jeff Gordon and the feisty drive-the-wheels-off-anything-with-superb-car-control of Kyle Busch would blend perfectly, creating an unbeatable team.
• Most importantly, I would want Chad Knaus, Ray Evernham, Smokey Yunick and Dale Inman as my Dream Team’s crew chiefs.
Jeff Gordon: Closing in on a Chase bid? (ASP, Inc.)
Will Jeff Gordon make the Chase? Gordon moved to second in the wild card standings (based on a tiebreaker) after his Pocono win. In late June, 29.2 percent of Fan Council members thought Gordon would make the Chase. So, what do Fan Council members think now?
70.5 percent say Gordon WILL make the Chase 29.5 percent say Gordon WILL NOT make the Chase
What Fan Council members said:
• Absolutely! If anyone has noticed he has been competitive all year, but that bad luck streak did him in. It is gone and they are rejuvenated to keep it going. He's going into the next five races at tracks where he can dominate for sure. NEVER count out Jeff Gordon!!
• I'd love nothing more than saying “yes he will make the Chase,” but I'm afraid 2012 will not be Jeff's year. The only thing he's been consistent with is bad cars and bad luck this season. He deserves better.
• I gave this a lot of thought before checking “yes” — I don't want to jinx it! But I honestly feel he has had the cars and most definitely the ability to win all season but has been slammed with the worst luck of his career. It's about time the law of averages kicks in and he posts the finishes he should have had all along. The same way a bad streak can start with an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence, a good streak can start with one. Wasn't it fitting that his win drought was ended by rain?
• Just about gave up on the 24, but he is alive and some of his good tracks are coming up. Still think he needs one more win, as both Kyle (Busch) and Ryan (Newman) are capable of winning any week.
• All of the Hendrick cars are running great right now. If Jeff Gordon can stay on the track and race up front, he can definitely make the Chase.
• I think he will make the Chase. He seems to be running a little better than Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch at the moment.
• No. Flashes of brilliance so far, but too inconsistent. Gustafson has seemed to always have this issue though, going back several years to the Kyle Busch days. He is one of the best crew chiefs when he is on, but if he is just a little off, count on them running in the 20s.
• (Gordon) had an eighth-place car and his teammate's bonehead move gave him the win. He's not going to get in. They've been way too inconsistent.
• After all the bad luck he has had in 2012, this may be just what he needs to get right for the Chase!
• I think his team is headed in the right direction. Wouldn't be surprised to see him get another win.
Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono
54.8 percent called it Good 26.9 percent called it Fair 10.2 percent called it Great 8.2 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• Giving it a “poor” rating because of what happened with the weather. As soon as the severe thunderstorm WARNING was issued, the stands should have been cleared, the cars parked and everyone taking shelter. Innocent people were hurt and one fan lost his life. Totally unacceptable.
• Since a fan died at the race and nine others were injured, I can't give this race any other grade other than “poor,” no matter what happened on the track.
• Once again, Pocono was one of the better races of the season. No one thought we would say that at the beginning of the year. However, I can't rate this as "great” due to the bizarre officiating for the rain. There were apparently about three laps where the track was completely clear, but NASCAR wouldn't wave the green due to the upcoming storm. If NASCAR was that concerned, they should have brought the cars to pit road immediately instead of fooling around under caution for no reason and risking fan safety.
• The race should have been rescheduled for Monday. All one had to do was look at the radar. That was no race.
• The rain made the race better than normal with a possible “moving finish line.”
• The rain being imminent from the start made the race more like a Truck Series race than a normal Cup race. Intensity from the green flag, no driving around for 300 miles then deciding to go.
• As a seasoned fan, I enjoy and understand the complicated strategies when the race is clearly going to be ended after the halfway point is reached and rain is imminent. I think it might be different for new fans coming into the sport. The racing was good and clean — typical Pocono for me. I enjoyed it.
• It sucks when someone wins because of rain that really did not have a good chance of winning.
• Good race for Pocono. It wasn't as exciting as the last Pocono race, but it wasn't as boring as the previous Pocono races. I enjoyed watching the passes for the lead when they occurred. I enjoyed watching Carl Edwards and others come through the field. I was thoroughly disappointed by the 48-17 incident, but things happen when the 17 gets anxious.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at email@example.com.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
Dodge Bolts, Allmendinger Talks & Junior Dishes on the Road Course
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Unable to find the right partners, sponsors and teams to put together an effort for next season, Dodge announced Tuesday that it will withdraw from NASCAR after this year.
Dodge was left without a Sprint Cup team for 2013 after Penske Racing announced earlier this year it would move to Ford next season.
Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of Street and Racing Technology Brand and Motorsports, likened Dodge’s challenges to a puzzle not fitting together.
“Everything from the driver selection, the teams, the shops, the engine, you name it, it’s a very, very complex situation,” Gilles said.
“We don’t want to just show up when we go racing, we want to win. It’s a difficult deal. To replace Roger (Penske) is not easy. It took him several years to get to the level he’s at. These things take a lot of time to develop.
“I think if you talked to Roger, he’d be the first one to tell you that this wasn’t in his crystal ball, signing up with Ford at the beginning of last year. Ford has been very aggressive, trying to get critical mass in the sport with new launches coming up. That’s their strategy and we’re not in a position to do the same thing. There’s really no one to do it with. The game of musical chairs in NASAR is a real deal. It’s shrinking capacity.”
Gilles said that time ran out on his organization to find the right situation. With the sport’s top teams locked into contracts with Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota, it meant Dodge would have go with a mid-level or low-level team or bring in a new owner.
“Literally, my staff is exhausted from flying all over ... meeting with teams and putting together deals and trying to find the right drivers and everything,” Gilles said. “At the same time, trying to find new people, incremental people to come to the sport because, again, it’s really tight nowadays, the sponsors are just not as flush as they used to be. We had our hopes up, just like everybody else.
“We didn’t want this day to come but it has. We’re not excited about this but it’s the reality of where we’re at right now.”
When Dodge returned to NASCAR in 2001, car owner Ray Evernham’s teams were supported by the Dodge Dealers as sponsors. Gilles said that notion was examined.
“In the past we had dealers literally providing a portion of every car sales to the sponsorship of the team,” Gilles said. “That was a pretty exotic setup. We did think about that and some dealers offered that up. But the issue wasn’t that. It’s really how do you compress time and set up a team from scratch, basically, at the highest level of racing in less than seven months.”
Since it’s return to ’01 return to Cup, Dodge has won 55 races and has been represented in the Chase seven of the eight years. Brad Keselowski is on pace to put Dodge back in the Chase this year with Penske Racing.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
ALLMENDINGER SPEAKS AJ Allmendinger, indefinitely suspended by NASCAR last month for failing a drug test, spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday and explained to ESPN.com and Foxsports.com that he tested positive for the prescription medicine Adderall.
The medicine is meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Allmendinger told both websites that he was tired a few days before the Kentucky race while out with a friend. A friend of his friend offered what he said was an energy pill. Allmendinger said he took it.
“I didn’t think anything of it because I’ve taken energy supplements for working out, that my trainer gives me,” Allmendinger told Foxsports.com. “So I didn’t even think about it. That was my big mistake. It was nothing crazy. It just gave me a little more energy.”
Three days later he was randomly drug tested at Kentucky. The following week, just hours before the start of the race at Daytona, he was informed that he had tested positive for amphetamine. NASCAR sat him out of that race and his suspension became indefinite later when his B sample also failed a drug test.
Allmendinger is currently in NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He told Foxsports.com that he meets with a counselor each week and can be drug tested at any time and has. He told Foxsports.com he hoped to complete the program by the end of the month.
LOTTERY WINNER? The Sprint Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen this weekend for the final road course race of the season.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., who last had a top-10 finish at the Glen in 2005, has a unique way of looking at road course races.
“With me and a road course, it’s a lottery,” he said. “I’ve had some good runs there and had some fast cars there. When we went there in 2008 with Tony (Eury) Jr., we rained out qualifying so we started up front and we led quite a good portion, the first 30 laps or so. We were really fast. I know I can go around there.
“That place is a lot easier than Sonoma. It’s just straightaway, turn, straightaway, turn and that’s really what I’ve been doing all my life. It’s a lot easier than Sonoma, a lot less technical. The gains that we made (testing last) week, they were literally gains that I could see on the stop watch and on the race track. I know I didn’t like the car when we tested at Road Atlanta earlier this year. When we went to Sonoma I had the same issues with the car, I didn’t like it. We fought a lot of similar problems. We showed up at the test (last) week with the same problems and the same disappointment with the car and then we made a lot of changes and a few of them changes in particular revolutionized the way the car drove and the way it felt.
“The stop watch was way faster so I’m excited. I’ve been real happy to go to all the race tracks this year. I particularly don’t look forward to going to Sonoma and Watkins Glen as much as I do the ovals, but I’m excited about Watkins Glen this trip. Hopefully we can go down there and be competitive.”
PIT STOPS Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are taking part in a two-day Goodyear tire test with the 2013 car Tuesday and Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway. .... Brett Moffit, who turned 20 on Tuesday, finished ninth in his Nationwide Series debut last weekend at Iowa Speedway. “I wish we would have ended up a little better, but I guess a ninth-place in my first start is not bad,” Moffit said afterward. He also is the K&N Pro Series East points leader with two wins and nine top-10 finishes in 10 races.
Sorry Pepsi, but it looks like a Miller Lite. (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Although a flat tire foiled Johnson’s hopes for a second straight victory, it’s pretty obvious who the best team on the circuit is these days. Last week: 1
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. See: Johnson, Jimmie, then substitute “second best” for “best” and “transmission” for “flat tire.” The Pocono troubles won’t derail this bunch much, if at all. Last week: 2
3. Matt Kenseth Said Kenseth of the final, fateful restart: “He (Johnson) just drove in incredibly far and spun out. Maybe he had a flat, but I am not so sure about that.” Not a happy camper. Last week: 3
4. Brad Keselowski Played the off-cync pit strategy game for a second straight week. And for a second straight, came up short. But hey, when you have three wins, you’re free to give it a go.Last week: 6
5. Denny Hamlin Was on his way to a third consecutive top-10 finish until Kenseth took a hard left directly in front of him. Was later released from the infield car center on Sunday after experiencing abdominal pain.Last week: 4
6. Tony Stewart Drove from 28th to fifth at Pocono, which is no easy feat. Has advanced to sixth in the standings on the strength of four consecutive top 12s.Last week: 5
7. Jeff Gordon When the circuit last visited Pocono in June, Gordon sat 22nd in points with zero wins and three top 10s. After its return trip, he sits 13th in points with a win and nine top 10s.Last week: 9
8. Greg Biffle Lined up fourth for the final restart at Pocono which, in hindsight, wasn’t a good place to be. Although he was shuffled back to 15th, he now finds himself only six points out of the championship lead.Last week: 8
White is slimming. (ASP, Inc.)
9. Kasey Kahne Things are tight in this area of the rankings, where Biffle, Kahne, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer have jockeyed back and forth. Kahne’s runner-up at Pocono was fortuitous, but he’ll take it.Last week: 7
10. Martin Truex Jr. Truex’s third at Pocono was his best finish since a runner-up at Kansas in April. Using consistency over flash, he’s remained in the top 10, currently slotting in safely at fifth.Last week: 11
11. Clint Bowyer Like Truex, Bowyer has held fast to his top-10 spot. Unlike Truex, he actually has a win (Sonoma).Last week: 10
12. Ryan Newman Riding a streak that includes consecutive showings of fifth, 10th, seventh and sixth.Last week: 13
13. Kevin Harvick Harvick better hope he has a Stewart-esque Chase run in him, cause it ain’t pretty right now.Last week: 14
14. Kyle Busch The ability is there — as the Indy runner-up proved — but mechanical issues are killing this bunch.Last week: 12
15. Carl Edwards Squeaks back into the top 15 after a decent seventh at Pocono. Now needs two wins in five races.Last week: Not ranked
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Regan Smith
It isn’t NASCAR — it’s ARCA — and these are old Cup cars anyway, so close enough. Ever see a stockcar Ollie a wall like Tony Hawk on a skateboard? Buster Graham might want to go X-Games if the racecar thing doesn’t work out, that is, if he can reliably and repeatedly execute this move, as seen in last August’s Pennsylvania 125.
by Vito Pugliese
9. Kyle Petty ... Born Entertainer
2 of 11
Before he became a color commentator, Kyle Petty was one of the top contenders in NASCAR in the early 1990s (arguably the best era in the series’ history). He won the 1993 Champion Spark Plug 500 over Davey Allison, with an “AK” embroidered on his uniform in memory of Alan Kulwicki, who perished in an air plane crash in April of that year. Petty video taped his 1,700-mile journey from Charlotte, up the Eastern Seaboard, and had the camera in his car during the race – even capturing a fan who ran across the track on lap 106. Petty and Allison narrowly missed the man who dove over the wall once he realized there were cars bearing down on him at over 160 mph.
by Vito Pugliese
8. Elliott Walks Away from a Nasty One
3 of 11
Ever wonder why Kurt Busch had so much animosity towards Jimmie (“Five-Time Chump”) Johnson at Richmond last year? Find out here, as Johnson triggers a massive double-impact (sans Jean-Claude Van Dame) with Busch’s Miller Lite Dodge and Elliott Sadler — in what may be the most devastating impact in NASCAR history. It isn’t often that you go from 190 mph to dead stop in three feet and live to tell about it – or eject your Roush Yates powerplant, depositing it onto the Long Pond straight. Sadler’s impact into the earthen embankment is the highest G-reading measured since NASCAR began installing black box data recorders in the cars.
by Vito Pugliese
7. As Does Gordon
4 of 11
A testament to improved car construction, safety devices, and perhaps most importantly, the SAFER barrier, saved Jeff Gordon’s life in this severe impact at the June 2006 event. Gordon experienced brake failure going into Turn 1 at over 190 mph. He was able to scrub off some speed (but not much) by angling the car into the grass. Had he hit the wall without the current protections in place, things may have ended much worse for Gordon, who is ranked third on NASCAR’s all-time wins list.
by Vito Pugliese
6. The Tunnel Turn Claims Allison
5 of 11
Bobby Allison’s career and nearly life-ending crash on the opening lap in the June race was the first of many sad chapters in the life and times of the 84-race winner. Allison suffered brain damage, a bruised heart and a broken leg in this incident. A cut tire sent him head on into the wall and was then T-boned by driver Jocko Maggiacomo. It would take more than two years for Allison to get back on his feet – literally. He would continue further trials and tribulations, including a divorce from wife Judy and the death of his sons Clifford and Davey. Clifford lost his life on August 13, 1992, in an ARCA crash and Davey at Talladega on July 13, 1993, while landing his helicopter. The story does have a happy ending of sorts: Bobby and Judy remarried in July 2000, reuniting and reconciling following the death of Adam Petty.
by Vito Pugliese
5. The Youngster vs. The Vet
6 of 11
Many bemoan the absence of rivalries in NASCAR today. However, this video might serve as a fitting reason that may not be such a bad idea. Darrell Waltrip and Davey Allison had a lot of back and forth in the 1991 and ’92 seasons, with Davey coming out on the short end of the stick, first suffering broken ribs at Bristol, and this ridiculous wreck at Pocono in June 1992. Larry McReynolds, Davey’s crew chief, remembers hearing the radio traffic of drivers passing the scene, catching Mark Martin saying, “They better just go get a body bag for Davey …” Waltrip went on to win the race that day, and this wreck essentially cost Allison the 1992 championship. A bit reminiscent of the retaliatory strike by Carl Edwards on Brad Keselowski in Atlanta in 2010, Keselowski is often heard to say, “Man up and drive the damn racecar.” And Allison did just that a week later, with two black eyes (literally … like Beetlejuice) and a shattered wrist. The Robert Yates team had to velcro it to the shifter, as he gutted out a third-place finish, essentially driving one handed.
by Vito Pugliese
4. Junior Rushes to Teammates' Aid
7 of 11
Steve Park’s 2002 return to Cup competition following an incident at a Busch Series race at Darlington in September 2001 did not go so well for his 16th start of the season. On the opening lap, Park was blocked by Rusty Wallace, which turned him across the track and into the path of DEI teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Park’s Pennzoil Chevrolet began a series of tumbles and flips after going head-on into the backstretch guardrail. Earnhardt sprinting to his stricken comrade’s crumpled car is one of the most indelible images in Pocono’s history. For a team and organization that had been through so much the previous year and a half, it was a welcome site to see Park exiting the car and walking arm in arm with Junior to the ambulance.
by Vito Pugliese
3. Dale Earnhardt: One Tough Customer
8 of 11
Perhaps one of the reasons “The Intimidator” also received the nickname “Iron Head” – this lap 134 crash with Tim Richmond at the 4:35 mark. Earnhardt ended up with a broken knee in the crash, and was helped across the track by Richmond. Pocono seems to be the track where if you wreck, the other guy feels sorry for you and helps out. Lots of great things in this video: Richard Petty with a massive lead, Earnhardt driving a Ford and mustachioed Mark Martin in his rookie season, with foppish hair getting a relief driver after the shifter boot melted and started sucking 800-degree exhaust heat into the cockpit. Marin later would have to relieve relief driver Ronnie Thomas. Bobby Allison would go on to win both events at Pocono last year, ironic considering it would also end up being his final race just six years later.
by Vito Pugliese
2. Mayfield Rattle’s the Intimidator’s Cage
9 of 11
Before he started testing positive for meth and getting caught with $100,000 in stolen property in his now-foreclosed upon home, Jeremy Mayfield was a pretty fair racecar driver. Clearly second in the pecking order at Penske, Mayfield was one of the Ford contingent’s up-and-coming drivers in the late 1990s and early 2000s before he defected to Dodge. This rain delayed race, run on a Monday afternoon, was a bit of a snoozer, with Dale Earnhardt poised to notch his second win of the season – that is until Mayfield decided to “rattle his cage.” While some Earnhardt fans cried foul, it was actually pretty clean and quite representative of what is considered fair in NASCAR these days. Perhaps more memorable than the win, was The Intimidator Mayfield know he was “No. 1” during the cool down lap.
by Vito Pugliese
1. The Late, Great Tim Richmond
10 of 11
August 13, 2012, will mark 23 years since Tim Richmond passed away, yet he lives on in the hearts and minds of fans who were around long before “Five Time,” “Green-White-Checkers,” “Lucky Dogs,” and even restrictor plates. As quickly as he burst onto the scene, Richmond was gone, a victim of his own rambunctious lifestyle, the ignorance and excess of the 1980s – and NASCAR. The first driver who failed a NASCAR sanctioned drug test for what was legitimate medication, Richmond was suffering the effects of HIV and AIDS, which would eventually claim his life in 1989. He was hospitalized from December 1986 through January 1987, missing the first half of the ’87 season. After winning seven races in ’86, the following year should have been the one when Richmond contended for a title. Instead, he was in a fight for his life. Making his season debut — looking drawn, gaunt and with a persistent cough — Richmond held on for the final 47 laps, hounded by Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott and Kyle Petty, despite a damaged transmission which was highlighted (as much of his life was) in the film Days of Thunder. Richmond also would win the following week at Riverside, the last of his career. He made one final start at Michigan the week after, coming home fourth.
Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400
Fan- and Pennell-favorite (for Pocono), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ASP, Inc.)
This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Pocono Mountains for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. When the series last hit the 2.5-mile oval in June, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Joey Logano that went to Victory Lane, leading 49 of the 160 laps and moving veteran Mark Martin out of the lead in the closing laps.
As the series heads back to Pocono, Logano is back in the rumor mill with his name being mentioned as a potential candidate for the No. 22 Penske Racing ride for 2013. While said rumor mill churns and silly season heats up, it is important to remain focused on the job at hand, and that is winning races — and for you, your weekly fantasy match up.
Last weekend at Indianapolis, it was five-time champion Jimmie Johnson that put on a dominant performance to earn his fourth Brickyard 400 trophy. The No. 48 car was the class of the field all day, with few cars even in the same zip code (to borrow a phrase).
This week, Johnson leads all drivers in average finish (8.8) and has two victories at Pocono. While he failed to lead a lap in June, the five-time series champion finished fourth. With the team looking as if it is rounding into championship form, it will be hard to pick against Johnson.
However, the two-time Pocono winner is not this week's fantasy favorite (although he is among the top five). That honor goes to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After his fourth-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis, Earnhardt took over the points lead from Matt Kenseth. Leading the championship standings for the first time since 2004, Earnhardt is enjoying his best season in years, but is still hungry for wins before the Chase field is reset for the final 10 races of the season.
In June, Earnhardt Jr. led 36 of the 160 laps at Pocono before finishing a disappointing eighth. One of the strongest cars that afternoon, crew chief Steve Letarte called his driver to pit road late in the race, concerned about making it to the end on fuel. When Logano and others on the same strategy stretched it to the end, Earnhardt understood it was too early in the season to start taking gambles and losing a host of points.
With six races left before the Chase field is set, Earnhardt is now in a position to gamble for wins. Hungry for victories and continuing his consistent ways, look for Earnhardt — who has finishes of sixth, ninth and eighth in his last three Pocono starts — to score his second victory of the season.
Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart
Carl Edwards ... still smiling (ASP, Inc.)
To say the 2012 season has been a disappointment for Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards would qualify as the understatement of the year. After losing last year's championship battle to Tony Stewart in a tie-breaker, Edwards and the No. 99 team have been off the mark in 2012, currently enduring a winless streak that dates back to March 2011 (53 races ago).
To make matters worse, Edwards has a new crew chief, Chad Norris, atop the pit box calling the shots while long-time pit boss Bob Osborne handles personal health issues away from the track.
Coming in at one of the most crucial times of the season, Norris now has the task of getting the near-champion into the Chase. Sitting 12th in the championship standings, Edwards is on the outside looking in, as Kyle Busch (1 win) and Kasey Kahne (2) currently hold the two Chase wild card spots.
Following another poor finish in Indy — this time caused by an engine issue — Edwards proclaimed they are done points racing and “officially racing only for wins” over the next six weeks.
“I think it will involve lots of pushing on the right pedal and turning left and going as fast as possible, Edwards said. “We have to take chances. We have to go race. We can do that; we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins. I wouldn’t bet against us. We can do it.”
With two wins, five top 5s, seven top 10s and an average finish of 13.6 at Pocono, this weekend provides a good locale for Edwards to get started on his quest for wins and a spot in the 12-driver Chase field.
In June, Edwards started the race from the outside of the front row, but was hit by pole-sitter Denny Hamlin in the first corner of the first lap and was forced to race his way through the field, placing 11th. Bringing the same car to the track this weekend, Edwards will be looking to finally turn his season before it's too late.
Also struggling to keep his Chase hopes alive is four-time series champion Jeff Gordon. Much like Edwards, Gordon's only hope of making into the final championship battle is to win, win, win.
While Gordon has finished inside the top 12 in the last six races, and advancing from 22nd to 15th in the standings, it is simply not enough for the veteran driver. However, there is no Chase for the fantasy racer, meaning you should not hesitate selecting him for the squad.
Gordon has been putting up solid numbers of late, and with time running out before the Chase field is set, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson will be doing all they can to include themselves in the elusive 12-driver field. With the third-best average finish at Pocono (10.4), look for the No. 24 car to be among the best cars in Sunday's race. While a solid finish may not go far in terms of Gordon's championship hopes, it may go a long way in determining this week's fantasy match up.
Five Undervalued Picks: Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer
The last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Pocono Raceway, it did so without former champion Kurt Busch. Suspended from NASCAR competition following a post-race incident with a reporter at Dover, Busch had to sit out the 14th race of the season while the rest of the competition broke the new track surface in.
Although Busch was not in the race, his Phoenix Racing team finished 21st in the with David Reutimann behind the wheel.
Despite a rocky 2012 season, Busch owns the 10th-best average finish at Pocono (15.5). In a great showing with his former team, Penske Racing, the former champion sat on the pole once and finished second and third in both 2011 events.
If he can keep the car out of trouble, the team can get the job done on pit road — and if the engine lasts the full 400 miles — look for Busch to score a decent finish, which could make the difference for your fantasy team.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind situation at Busch's former team, Penske Racing, as it has been forced to deal with the suspension of AJ Allmendinger. Stepping into the ride and getting a much-unexpected second chance has been Sam Hornish Jr.
Thrust into an awkward situation, Hornish has made the best of things to date and has been named the driver of the No. 22 for the “foreseeable future” by team owner Roger Penske. Perhaps auditioning for his future behind the wheel of the No. 22, Hornish scored a 22nd-place finish in Loudon and a 16th-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis.
Now four races into this unexpected venture, Hornish and the entire team head to Pocono as a bunch focused on working together as a cohesive unit and producing good results.
Perhaps no better track could come for Hornish and the Todd Gordon-led team. Hornish considers Pocono to be among his favorite tracks on the schedule, with one top 5, two top 10s and an average finish of 19.9.
“I’ve raced there enough that I can go to that track with a lot of confidence,” he says. “I think I can handle the compromising challenge pretty well. I think that there's a lot of guys that don't like going there, so they've already got this negative opinion about it. Their attitude is probably not in the right place.”
With this team finally coming together behind Hornish and his confidence level high, look for them to record a respectable finish.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, Regan Smith
Best Average Finish at Pocono (Wins/Starts):
1. Jimmie Johnson — 8.8 (2/21)
2. Denny Hamlin — 9.3 (4/13)
3. Jeff Gordon — 10.4 (5/39)
4. Mark Martin — 11.1 (3/51)
5. Tony Stewart — 11.5 (2/27)
6. Ryan Newman —12.7 (1/21)
7. Carl Edwards — 13.6 (2/15)
8. Matt Kenseth — 13.9 (0/25)
9. Kevin Harvick — 14.0 (0/23)
10. Kurt Busch — 15.5 (2/22)