Friday, July 30, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 21 - Pocono Redux

The Sprint Cup tour returns to Pocono this weekend for the second time in 2010, the shortest time between races at tracks with more than one race, just eight weeks ago. Going into the upcoming race, drivers who have done well at Pocono plus one who has something to prove after last week take the first two rows.

Top 10 Starters:
1 - Tony Stewart #14, Chevy
2 - Juan Montoya #42, Chevy
3 - Denny Hamlin #11, Toyota
4 - Jeff Gordon #24, Chevy
5 - Ryan Newman #39, Chevy
6 - Jimmie Johnson #48, Chevy
7 - A.J. Allmendinger #43, Ford
8 - Jeff Burton #31, Chevy
9 - Jamie McMurray #1, Chevy
10 – Mark Martin #5, Chevy

Of these starters, many of them have a cozy relationship with success at the “Tricky Triangle” including Denny Hamlin who won the June race at the track owning four victories and seven top tens at the Pennsylvania track. Tony Stewart with two victories and 17 top tens finishes well. Juan Pablo Montoya should be one to watch. Sitting on the outside pole, the Columbian driver will be red hot attempting to make up for his second Brickyard race he dominated but saw slip away from him. He has three top tens in his NASCAR career.

Jeff Gordon with four wins, 16 top fives, 24 top tens and an average finish of 10.7 commands strong consistent results at the track. Ryan Newman has had decent success at the track with one win and seven top 10’s with a reliable average finish just outside the top 10. Meanwhile, another driver looking to turnaround after disaster at Indy, Jimmie Johnson who is gearing up to defend his Championship in the upcoming chase has two wins and a stellar 9.5 average finish in the Honeymoon Hills. For A.J. Allmendinger, he has a good starting position to prove himself in Pennsylvania. So far, his career average has him out of the top 20 with just one top 10. Allmendinger is the top Ford in the starting lineup. RCR’s top representative, Jeff Burton has seven top 5’s over his long career but a lackluster average finish of 16.2. For Jamie McMurray, momentum from last week will be his best hope as Pocono has not been kind to him. Rounding out the top ten, Mark Martin is just on the outside looking in to be a Chase candidate. Though he has never won at Pocono, he has placed in the top five 19 times and top ten 32 times. His 11.1 average finish demonstrates this track has generally helped him in the points standings, help he badly needs right now.

Focusing on making the chase, Martin, Newman, and McMurray are drivers outside the top 12 looking for success to move them into the top 12. Of the other three drivers with a chance to move into the field, Dale Earnhardt, 93 points off the pace starts in 20th not a good position at a track that is difficult for drivers to advance. Kasey Kahne whose many DNF’s has ruined his season, starts 16th. David Reutimann’s long shot at the chase should not be helped with but a 24th starting position.

The good news for the bad side of the bubble guys is that a number of drivers in the top 12 are nowhere to be found in the starting lineup.

Clint Bowyer, currently in the hot #12 position starts in a horrible 40th position tangled up in the clutter of start and park failures. At least he can gain up to five positions as the quitters quit. Greg Biffle who helped his situation nicely with his finish at Indy in 11th place is the second strongest Ford ride in 12th. 10th place driver, Carl Edwards managed only a 25th starting position. He’ll have to take care of his car and pit intelligently to move in the direction of a good top ten finish.

Once again, Ford simply is not getting good qualifying results despite the new F-9 engine. Aside from Allmendinger and Biffle, only Kahne, 16th and Ragan, 20th are in the top 20.

The start and park situation continues to develop a fouler odor as the heat of summer gets hotter. Depending on whether Regan Smith in the #78 Furniture Row Chevy with help from Childress races, there could be seven or eight clutter and quit cretins taking up space. Once again, the #26 Ford driven by David Stremme with Air National Guard sponsorship packs up and goes home not qualifying for the race. That operation needs urgent attention if they are to survive and considering crew chief, Tim Stoddard’s success and Roush Fenway support, they must do better. Max Papis is a would-be quitter who has not made the field despite GEICO sponsorship.
Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman are carrying lighter wallets having been fined by NASCAR for making what the brass considered inappropriate comments about the sport. Hamlin suggested that a caution flag for debris was a deliberate caution, a comment that does not play well especially given the conspiracy theorists in the gossip mill who continuously make such claims.

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