"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
Ambrose's Chase chances, Stewart's grueling schedule and Edwards' winning ways in Michigan
Marcos Ambrose in Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. (ASP, Inc.)
Buoyed by his victory at Watkins Glen on Sunday, Marcos Ambrose said the goal is quite simple for the next four races as he and his team vie for a wild card spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.
“Our focus has to be being aggressive on our strategy, being aggressive with the car and me on the race track being aggressive to try to get that next win because without that we’re going to be racing for 15th or 16th in the championship and that’s not what we’re after,” Ambrose said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday.
Ambrose ranks fifth in the wild card standings with only the top two getting into the Chase. Kasey Kahne currently holds one wild card spot with two wins while Ryan Newman holds the other spot by a slim margin. Newman has one win and leads Kyle Busch, who also has a single victory, by six points. Jeff Gordon, who has one win, is 10 points behind Newman. Ambrose is 44 points behind Newman, thus Ambrose needs a second victory to have a shot at a wild card berth.
“There’s no easier formula than if you’re not first, you’re last,” Ambrose said. “That’s the way we’re approaching this weekend and the next three. We have to go out there on full attack mode.”
The one benefit for Ambrose is that the series is heading to Michigan this weekend where he won the pole in June and finished ninth, so he has shown an ability to run well there but will have to be markedly better to score his first career oval win in the Cup series.
NEARING 100 Although the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has only 38 races (36 points races and two exhibition races), Tony Stewart will run in nearly 100 races this year. He’s boosting that total with a number of sprint car races at dirt tracks — where he spent much of his early days in racing.
“I feel like the more time I spend in a race car the better it’s making me as a driver,” says Stewart, who has won a pair of World of Outlaw sprint car races this year. “Everybody kind of has that feeling that you’ve got to get away from it at some point and recharge your batteries, but that does recharge my batteries.
“If we don’t get rained out here these next couple of weeks we are going to be right around 95 races at the end of the year that I’m going to run. It’s going to be a full schedule for sure but it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of the most fun years I’ve ever had in a race car.”
Stewart was the first driver in USAC history to sweep its top three series in the same year, winning titles in the midget, sprint car and Silver Crown divisions in 1995. He admits going back and forth between sprint cars and his Cup car is not much of an adjustment for him with his schedule.
“I’ve run I think 40 races already this year with it so it’s a lot easier for me to adapt because I’m doing it so much,’’ he explains. “It is hard. That is probably the hardest two cars to try to go back and forth between because their handling characteristics and the physics of them. It doesn’t take Kasey (Kahne) as long as he likes to explain to you. He goes out and kicks butt with it too. It would take guys awhile to go from that type of car to here, just like it would take time for anybody that runs a Cup car to go over there and run those cars.”
LOOKING AHEAD After this weekend’s race at Michigan, the Cup Series heads to Bristol where the top lane has been altered to narrow the racing grooves and get cars closer together on the track.
So, what it will be like? It’s something Martin Truex Jr. admits he’s been thinking about.
“I'm interested to see what it's like,” Truex says. “The last few races there, I've ran second and third — pretty much ran the extreme high side, which has been ground away. I'm not really looking forward to finding out if it's going to be that much worse. Guys seem to run the middle of the race track and we were able to run the middle.
“I think it's going to be different because that extreme high side is not going to have the speed it's had in the past few years. I think we'll have to adjust our setup a little bit and work on some things.”
Tony Stewart talks with teammate Ryan Newman. (ASP, Inc.)
RIGHT PLACE RIGHT TIME? Carl Edwards, in need of a victory to have a chance at a wild card spot for the Chase, has an average finish of 8.3 at Michigan — best among active drivers. Edwards has two wins, nine top-five finishes and 12 top-10 results in 16 starts at the track. Yet, he has finished outside the top 10 in each of his last two races there. He was 36th in the race last year and placed 11th in June.
NUMBER CRUNCHING Tony Stewart has five consecutive top-10 finishes at Michigan. ... Greg Biffle has run all but two of the 5,836 laps run this season, best in the Cup Series. ... Brad Keselowski has scored a series-high six top-10 finishes entering this weekend’s race at Michigan. ... Regan Smith has finished ninth each of the last two races.
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.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Northeast this weekend as it hits Watkins Glen International for the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen. The second of two road course races this season, teams will have to adjust to turning both left and right, carrying high speeds and preparing for heavy braking with multiple elevation changes and opposite-side pit stops.
Always a challenge, some in the garage have excelled at the road course events while others have struggled mightily. While road racing experience and an open-wheel background may have made a significant difference in years past, the level of competition has evened out of late.
Track position, however, has always been a major factor in deciding a winner at Watkins Glen. Starting up front and staying there is one of the biggest keys to a successful day at the Glen. In the 29 Cup races here, 19 have been won from the top-5 starting spots — so pay attention Saturday’s qualifying.
Last year, race winner Marcos Ambrose used both road course experience and a solid starting spot to earn his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. Always one of the strongest drivers at Watkins Glen, Ambrose leads the field in terms of average finish, with an impressive 2.3.
In fact, in his four starts at the Glen, Ambrose has failed to finish worse than third. In addition, the Australian-native has won three of the four Nationwide Series races he has run.
Given his prior success at Watkins Glen, Ambrose is definitely among the top 5 favorites in this week's fantasy outlook, but he is not the favorite. That belongs to a determined, hard-nosed, skilled road course driver known as “Rowdy.”
While Ambrose scored the victory in last year's event, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch that led the most laps (49 of 92). Although he led the field to the green flag on a final green-white-checker finish, Busch was muscled out of the way by Ambrose and Brad Keselowski, eventually settling in at the third spot. With one of the best cars that day, the third-place finish was a tough pill to swallow for the 2008 Watkins Glen winner.
Heading into this weekend's race, Busch is in need of not only a solid finish, but a win. After a disappointing 33rd-place finish last weekend at Pocono, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota is currently fourth in the wild card standings behind Kasey Kahne (2 wins), Jeff Gordon (1) and Ryan Newman (1).
Following the wreck at Pocono, Busch and his Dave Rogers-led team know if they want to be a part of the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup they have to win their way in. One of the most dangerous teams when it comes to recording a string of wins, the JGR driver admits their season struggles give them little hope. Despite having one win, six top 5s and nine top 10s, Busch also has eight finishes of 23rd or worse, including three DNFs.
Yet, if there was one driver and team that could turn their luck around in the final five regular-season races, it’s this one. Already a former winner at the Glen, Busch has an average finish of 9.3 (fourth best) at Watkins Glen and has finished in the top 10 in six of his seven Cup starts.
With playoff implications on the line and one of his best tracks in front of him, look for Busch and the No. 18 team to employ the right strategy and have a strong enough car to best the rest.
Among those Busch will have to beat is last week's winner at Pocono, Jeff Gordon.
Now in the thick of the Chase wild card battle after winning the rain-shortened race Sunday afternoon, Gordon has momentum on his side and is eager to celebrate his 20th year in the Sprint Cup Series by making the Chase. Although he admits the No. 24 team has struggled to find speed over the past decade at the Glen, that momentum and confidence can go a long way for a driver that could use another win in the next five races.
Five Favorites: Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart
Sonoma winner Clint Bowyer. (ASP, Inc.)
The last time the Sprint Cup Series hit the road course, Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer earned his first win for the company in Sonoma, Calif.
While Bowyer has not fared as well in the past at Watkins Glen (he has only one top 10 and an average finish of 21.3), his crew chief Brian Pattie has victories in all three NASCAR touring series here.
Currently 10th in the standings, Bowyer and the No. 15 team are on the edge of the Chase cut-off spot. Bringing the winning car from Sonoma, Pattie knows it will take a different setup than earlier in the year to be successful on Sunday.
“Sonoma is slower speeds and probably closer to setting a car up for Martinsville,” Bowyer says. "Watkins Glen is big and fast. It has longer breaking zones and much higher speeds, so the setups are a lot different. If you bring the same setup that we used to win at Sonoma to Watkins Glen, (it) would be like taking a car built and setup for Martinsville and trying to use it for Dover. It’s that much different.”
With a confident crew chief, an undervalued road-course racer behind the wheel and Chase implications all around them, expect the No. 15 team to have a strong day and possibly contend for the win.
Five Undervalued Picks: Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick
Much like this week's undervalued pick, the darkhorse pick for Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 comes out of the Michael Waltrip Racing stable. Back in the car this weekend for the fifth time in 2012, Brian Vickers is looking to continue his success behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota.
Fourth in the first road course race of the year in Sonoma, Vickers has quietly become a much better road racer over the years, and has found success in the No. 55 car in his first four starts with the team (fifth, 18th, fourth, 15th).
While Vickers has only one top 10 at the Glen (eighth, 2005), he has finished 18th or better in his last three trips to the Finger Lakes region. With his success this season in the No. 55 and the budding potential of MWR in 2012, look for Vickers to stand out as the darkhorse pick of the week.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Brian Vickers, Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Sam Hornish Jr., Kurt Busch
Best Average Finish at Watkins Glen (Wins/Starts)
1. Marcos Ambrose — 2.2 (1/4)
2. Tony Stewart — 7.1 (5/13)
3. Carl Edwards — 8.7 (0/7)
4. Kyle Busch — 9.3 (1/7)
5. Brad Keselowski — 11.0 (0/2)
6. Juan Pablo Montoya — 11.4 (1/5)
7. Kevin Harvick — 12.9 (0/11)
8. Jimmie Johnson — 14.2 (0/10)
9. Martin Truex Jr. — 14.3 (0/6)
10. Jeff Gordon — 14.5 (4/19)
There’s nothing more tense in NASCAR these days then a green-white-checker restart. But how about for a driver seeking his first ever win in the series? For Marcos Ambrose, it has been “oh-so-close” too many times on road courses since entering the Sprint Cup full-time in 2009. This time around, he was sitting second as the field sorted itself out in Turn 1 – looking like a bridesmaid again. But a well-timed bump sent the leader’s car squirrelly, pushing Ambrose through just before one of the wildest wrecks in Watkins Glen history. Back in the pack, David Ragan was tapped by Boris Said, slammed the wall, then ricocheted into David Reutimann’s No. 00 in a crash that sent that Toyota flipping wildly in the middle of the track. Said later got into a war of words with Greg Biffle, unsettled anger over this mangled mess that might continue to play out at the Glen this Sunday.
by Tom Bowles
9. 1999: Near Miss by a Road Course Ringer
2 of 10
It got to a point in the 1990s that road course promoters should have just handed over the trophy to Jeff Gordon on Sunday morning. Three of Gordon’s nine right-turn wins came at the Glen from 1997-99, including this domination to finish off the three-peat. Ron Fellows — what NASCAR likes to call a “road course ringer” — came the closest he’s ever been (or any of these substitute drivers, for that matter), in NASCAR’s modern era to stealing a Cup victory on a road course, only to finish second. In the meantime, Dale Earnhardt Sr. crashed hard, a rarity as the changing of the guard continued during NASCAR’s close to the 20th Century.
by Tom Bowles
8. 2008: Watkins Glen and the “Big One”
3 of 10
It’s not often you put the “Big One” and NASCAR in the same sentence outside of Daytona and Talladega. But in a bizarre incident, with eight laps left at the Glen in 2008, nearly a dozen cars were destroyed. Michael McDowell sparked the wreck, making contact with David Gilliland coming off of Turn 11 and in mere seconds a hard hit to the styrofoam barrier left debris flying everywhere and the track blocked. The upcoming cars turned into Demolition Derby Central, plowing into sheet metal, guardrail and styrofoam with nowhere to go. A red flag ensued to clean up the incident, leading to plenty of frayed tempers in a clean race up to that point, as no one had even gone behind the wall during the event’s first 80 laps.
by Tom Bowles
7. 2011: Tony Stewart Switches with Lewis Hamilton
4 of 10
OK, so maybe it wasn’t an actual race. But how cool was it to see Formula 1’s brightest young star, Lewis Hamilton, take on a stock car while Tony Stewart made one last foray into open-wheel? Their swap, turning laps around the winding road course in Western New York, sparked rumors Hamilton was headed over to the United States – although quickly denied. So were possible future F-1 races at the Glen, with the U.S. date awarded to a new track in Austin, Texas. But there’s still plenty of years ahead for both the drivers and the tracks … who knows what will happen?
by Tom Bowles
6. 2000: Jimmie Johnson Loses his Brakes
5 of 10
Sick and tired of Johnson being politically correct? Think he’s had it easy? Then look at this 2000 crash from “Before He Was Five-Time.” Running in the Busch Series, the driver lost his brakes in the No. 92 car and went plowing into the Turn 1 wall at one of the fastest parts of Watkins Glen’s winding road course. Immediately, spectators feared Johnson was injured — or worse. Instead, the virtual unknown exited the car, jumped on the roof and waved to the crowd, assuming the Rocky pose before getting led into the infield care center for observation (he was fine). It just goes to show that no racecar driver makes it to the top without his fair share of rough rides.
by Tom Bowles
5. 1995: Mark Martin Three-peats at The Glen
6 of 10
Yeah, the finish was not super exciting, but it’s the accomplishment that puts Mark Martin on this list. How good was the Arkansas native in the early years of NASCAR at the Glen? He received the Driver of the Decade Award from the track in 1997. Martin’s late-race pass of former teammate Wally Dallenbach Jr. after a late caution bunched up the field made him the first driver ever to three-peat since the Cup Series returned to the track in 1986. Only one other wheelman (Gordon) has accomplished the feat since.
by Tom Bowles
4. 2000: Steve Park Wins His First
7 of 10
There’s nothing more exciting than winning your first race at stock car’s highest level. But for Steve Park, the final few laps of Watkins Glen were more pressure-packed than you could ever expect. Mark Martin, with three Glen victories to his credit sat perched on the rear bumper of Park’s No. 1 car, threatening to pass at every turn. It took all the third-year driver could muster to hold him off, the New York State native holding on to complete a comeback from serious injuries that cut his rookie season of 1998 in half. It was a post-race celebration to behold, bittersweet considering serious injuries in a Busch Series race one year later would ultimately cut short Park’s career at the top.
by Tom Bowles
3. 2010: Montoya Prevails over Ambrose
8 of 10
Two hungry drivers. Only one first-place trophy. Both road course veterans. What else do you need for a phenomenal side-by-side battle? Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya spent most of their 2010 trip to New York going at it, fighting tooth and nail in an epic war for first place that wound up tilting Montoya’s way. When all was said and done, Montoya led 74 laps to Ambrose’s eight, but that doesn’t tell the story of how razor-thin the margin was. “Two great road racers going at it,” was all ESPN’s Andy Petree could say in the midpoint of a call that left a packed house glued to their seats at The Glen.
by Tom Bowles
2. 2007: Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Kevin Harvick
9 of 10
In this corner … a hard-nosed Colombian, Cup Series rookie whose reputation is to give no quarter to anyone. And in this corner … a Budweiser-drinking, successor to Dale Earnhardt whose temper tantrums both inside and outside the car are well documented. Throw these two volatile personalities together, have them wreck out of the race and what do you get? A NASCAR shoving match: Juan Pablo Montoya vs. Kevin Harvick that kick-started a career’s worth of bad blood between them. The funny part about this wreck five years ago is neither one was to blame: Martin Truex Jr. actually made contact with Montoya, spinning him out entering Turn 1. But try telling that to Harvick, who claimed: “Juan runs over someone every week” after getting up in Montoya’s face. The rookie’s response? “I don’t appreciate that. I have no respect for the guy.” Ah, the good ol’ days of NASCAR…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
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
Yet, moments after the event ended on lap 98 of the scheduled 160-lap distance due to an intense thunderstorm that blanketed the area, one storyline put all others into perspective.
Brian F. Zimmerman, 41, of Moosic, Penn., a father of two, was killed when he was struck by lightning in the facility’s parking lot. The fatality was reported by Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky on Sunday, nearly three hours after the race.
Nine others were also injured in the strike. Four victims were taken to Lehigh Valley Health Network. As of Monday morning, one has been discharged and three remain in stable condition. The other five were treated and released at various hospitals in the area on Sunday.
According to The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Zimmerman’s vehicle was struck while he was standing next to the open back hatch. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Penn.
Brian Neudorff, a certified broadcast meteorologist with KMVT-TV in Twin Falls, Idaho, and popular NASCAR Twitter contributor who updates fans of raceday weather conditions, constructed a rough timeline of the severe weather event.
According to Neurdorff, the National Weather Service issued a warning for the track at 4:12 p.m. EST. Despite lightning in the area, NASCAR did not red flag the race — halting all on-track action — until 4:43 pm. EST when rain began to fall.
The severe threat was relayed to fans at the track via public address system when the race was red flagged — warning them to take shelter and evacuate the grandstands — although many with radio, scanner and/or social media access were made aware of the potential for dangerous conditions well before then.
As race controller, it is NASCAR’s call to stop an event for any reason. It is the track’s responsibility to warn fans and coordinate evacuation efforts if inclement weather is threatening.
“We are deeply saddened that a fan has died and others were injured by lightning strikes following today’s race at Pocono,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said. “Our thoughts are with them as well as those affected by this unfortunate accident.”
Pocono Raceway released a statement on Monday, stating, in part that, “We work in conjunction with NASCAR regarding safety of fans, teams and other attendees throughout the course of our race weekends. Additionally, we are in constant communication with local and national agencies regarding weather conditions and emergency services.
“At approximately 5:01 p.m. EST, the first lightning strike occurred on property inside our Grandstand Parking area, located near Gate 5A. A Pocono Raceway Grandstand Fire unit was stationed in the vicinity and witnessed the actual strike. The response was immediate as the unit reported the incident to our control tower and advised spectators were injured. CPR was started immediately to Mr. Zimmerman by a friend on the scene.
“We are in the process up establishing a Memorial Fund is for victims of this incident.”
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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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)