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Race Day: Gentlemen, Start Your Momentum

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 1 2010

Pocono Raceway is one of the most unique in all of NASCAR. Today, it hosts the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

The Sprint Cup teams and drivers are racing at Pocono Raceway today. But stashed somewhere in the backs of their minds will be the upcoming race at New Hampshie because all who still have realistic hopes for the championship will need to be in 12th-place or better when that race in Loudon begins on Sept. 19th.

And bringing a little momentum to Loudon would be a good thing too, they know.

There will be just five races left until the start of the Chase when today’s race comes to an end. Not much time for the Chase haves, have-nots and barely-haves to build some of that momentum for the run to the championship.

Here is what a select group of drivers had to say about the importance of the next six races:

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and fourth in points: “We’re getting to that part of the year. I’ve had strong years where we’ve entered the Chase with a lot of momentum and have won a championship; and we’ve had years where we didn’t have the best summer and have still gone on to win the championship. So I don’t think there’s a rhyme or reason to it. The 10 tracks in the Chase, a lot of them are much different than anything we run on during the summer and very special and unique into their own.

“I look at Loudon. I look at Dover. And both of those races were really good for us this year. Our team always responds well at the end of the year and especially under pressure. I’m excited and looking forward to whatever comes our way.”

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and second in points: That’s where it becomes important to run well here and these next several tracks. It is more important for us to build momentum. It’s been nice we’ve shown we can be consistent, we’ve shown we can lead laps.  But we have to show that we can win as well.  I think it’s important to show it before the Chase as well as you do it in the Chase.

“Plus we don’t want to go into the Chase, you know, say second in points at Richmond and then go to New Hampshire and we’re eighth or ninth in points.  You just don’t want to give up 40, 50, 60 points to guys like the 48 or the 11 and the 29 and these guys.”

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and ninth in points: It would be nice to go out and rip off three or four wins before the Chase starts, but if you’re not doing that—I mean, not having the bonus points is not necessarily going to kill you, but you just have to be really good and consistent in the Chase and if you can do that for ten straight weeks, you can have a shot at it no matter how many bonus points you had to start it.  We just have to do a good job of having everything sorted out and having the feel that we’re looking for in the racecar before the Chase starts and not sit there scratching our head wondering what we’re missing.  We need to find that piece of the equation before the Chase starts to have a shot at it.”

Fast facts

What: Pennsylvania 500

Where: At Pocono Raceway; Long Pond, Pa.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, noon ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 2.5-mile triangle

Banking in turns: 14 degrees (Turn One), 8 (Two), 6 (Three)

Race distance: 200 laps/500 miles

Estimated pit window: 28-32 laps

2009 winner: Denny Hamlin

2009 polesitter: Tony Stewart (weather)

Today’s polesitter: Tony Stewart

Fresh ink

Hendrick Motorsports announced this week that Steve Letarte has been re-signed as Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, giving the two a couple more years to try to win a Cup championship together.

“I’m excited,” Gordon said. “We’ve been talking about it for a while, you know, that everything is good there. I’m happy with Steve. We love having him at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s always nice to confirm that so it can put it to rest with everybody else.

Trivia time

Denny Hamlin will be looking to sweep 2010 Pocono races today. Who was the last driver to win twice in the same season at the Pennsylvania triangle?

Safe talk

Pocono has been the subject of safety concerns for drivers for years. Several drivers spoke up about that in the weeks leading up to today’s race and then again during press gatherings this weekend.

Greg Biffle was asked what he would like to see done to improve safety at Pocono.

“I think the superstretch or the stretch between turn one and the tunnel has always kind of been an issue,” Biffle said. “I think we’ve seen on TV from races a while ago and as recent as the last race here five weeks ago that the large area of grass down off the race track can present problems. These cars are really, really hard to control at 200 in the grass.

“It’s a challenge and whether it’s more pavement like the restrictor plate race tracks did when they had problems – Daytona and Talladega both had issues like that and they paved that whole area and the cars don’t get upside-down and flip through there anymore.  They spin around and get slowed down and, a lot of times, put tires on and keep going like nothing happened.  That could be done or there could be a wall – jersey barriers or something to prevent us from getting down in there, similar to like you have on the frontstretch.”

Track tidbits

Most victories: Five, by Bill Elliott

Most poles: Five, by Bill Elliott and Ken Schrader

Most top-fives: 19, by Mark Martin

Most top-10s: 32 by Mark Martin

Most lead changes: 55, in 1979

Fewest lead changes: 10, in 1998

Most cautions: 13, most recently in 2005

Fewest cautions: 1, in 1978

Most wins by a manufacturer: 24 by Chevrolet

Closest margin of victory: .126 seconds in 2000

Widest margin of victory: 8.653 seconds in 1999

Biff on Jack

Driver Greg Biffle was asked about the airplane crash his boss, Jack Roush, was involved in earlier in the week. Here is what he had to say:

“It was kind of funny how I heard about it, but it really isn’t because none of it is,” Biffle said. “But it’s ironic because my brother had left that afternoon at 6 o’clock.  He had a 6 o’clock flight and I was in my office at my house checking e-mail and doing some things at the end of the day.  When I got home I went in there and I left my phone laying in there, so Nicole’s phone rang while we were sitting on the couch watching TV.

“She was talking to whoever and was bright-eyed and I thought that she said, ‘Jeff’s plane crashed.’  That’s my brother and he was on a commercial flight from Charlotte to Portland. I couldn’t believe what she just said, and then she said, ‘Yeah, it’s confirmed. It was his airplane.’  That was the second thing she said, so I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I didn’t even know what I was thinking, and then she said, ‘Yeah, it’s his tail number, November 6JR.’  And so then I realize that she said Jack and not Jeff, and I was just as devastated – come to find out it wasn’t my brother, it was Jack and this all takes place in about 15 seconds.

“So the first reports were that he crashed on arrival and that’s much worse than crashing on landing.  None of it’s good, but if you crash off the airport a mile away, you’ve got big problems.

“I immediately called Matt (Kenseth) and Carl (Edwards) to see if they had heard or knew anything about it.  Matt didn’t so I filled him in and then Carl had a little more information than I had.  He actually talked to somebody that was on the ground there. Someone had called him because Carl usually goes to that show, so we’re thankful that he’s kind of out of the woods now.”

Trivia answer

Denny Hamlin won both Pocono races in 2006.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 1 2010
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