In a wild race at the Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to come out on top once again. After taking the victory in the June race at the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped speedway, Earnhardt Jr. was able to capture his third victory of 2014 in Sunday afternoon’s GoBowling.com 400.
Leading 14 laps on Sunday, he was able to take the lead at just the right time. With less than 15 laps remaining in the 160-lap race, Earnhardt Jr. passed Greg Biffle to take the top position. However, Kurt Busch hit the wall with just eight laps to go – forcing a late-race restart that created an added level of excitement to the race. The victory is his third of the season – marking the most he has recorded since 2004 when he had six triumphs.
"Steve's strategy was perfect at the end and I don't know if anybody knew what was going on, but that was pretty awesome. I can't believe we swept Pocono. I think the 24 had a great car. The 41 was fast all weekend, but we definitely went home from the last race and made our car better. They went back and didn't sit on what we had. They wanted to get better, faster cars so we didn't have to rely on luck to win," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race.
Besides marking his first multi-win year since that 2004 season, this is the first time the 39-year-old has swept the races at a track in one season since Talladega of 2002. This is also the fifth straight victory at Pocono Raceway for Hendrick Motorsports. Heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the No. 88 team will be seeded at the top position if no one else reaches three or more victories leading up to the regular-season finale at Richmond.
“It’s too far from the Chase. This is just a win. It’s a win at Pocono. It’s a great win. It gives you an advantage at Pocono, but if you think it gives you an advantage at Chicago – you are sadly mistaking. You have to go to every race like you are good enough, and if you have that mind set – you need to continue to try to stay ahead. The garage is full of great competitors, and the Chase is going to be something that you have never seen. No one knows how it is going to be. We all have our predictions, so we will so who’s right,” Earnhardt’s crew chief Steve Letarte said.
Kevin Harvick was able to come home in the runner-up position, and gave Earnhardt Jr. a run for his money in the concluding laps of the race. However, he was caught up in a 13-car wreck that took out several contenders. Harvick’s car was damaged in the incident, but it actually helped him move away from a tight condition.
“The left-front splitter was gone,” Harvick said in a post-race press conference. “Both fenders were caved in on the tires. I was loose most of the day and a touch tight in all of the corners. It definitely affected us some, but it definitely made us looser. It wasn’t very much fun before that when it was loose, but it was still really fast.”
Hamlin got loose under Clint Bowyer and saved it, but Brian Vickers got loose as he tried to avoid Hamlin – hitting Kenseth in the process. Tony Stewart went low but got hit from behind and landed on top of Paul Menard’s hood. Brad Keselowski received major right side damage in the accident as his No. 2 team spent multiple minutes trying to fix the damage on pit road. 13 cars were involved in the accident – Aric Almirola, Kenseth, A.J. Allmendinger, Keselowski, Menard, Stewart, Vickers, Justin Allgaier, Hamlin, Michael Annett, Truex Jr., Harvick and Edwards.
“The first one, I got tight off turn one and got in the fence,” Johnson said after the incident. “It pushed the rear quarter panel into the tire and got the first flat, so my bad. There on that one, I am clueless. It didn’t act like a tire went down and I am not exactly sure if it did. Normally when they go down that quick they explode and there was no explosion, the tire did not come apart, it just went straight. We are trying to get in there and look at it, obviously the tire is flat now from the impact.”
“It started far enough ahead of us that we couldn’t see it. We were just coming off of two there and somebody got sideways and started wrecking in front of us and we got caught up in it. I ended up on top of Paul Menard’s hood so it wasn’t where we wanted to end up by any means,” Stewart said.
After the incident, Allmendinger and Almirola attempted to go back on trap although their cars were severely beat up. Allmendinger smashed the wall in Turn 1 to bring out the caution with 21 laps remaining in the race. Greg Biffle took the lead on the restart, but Earnhardt was able to pass him with just 14 to go.
With just 31 laps left in the race, Jamie McMurray started the final green-flag pit sequence after a hectic day for teams in terms of strategy. Multiple drivers came in for two tires, but the majority of the cars on the lead lap took four tires. In order to save fuel in case of the possibility of a green-white-checkered finish, drivers stopped shifting.
On the second lap of the race, Brad Keselowski made an incredible save after nearly getting into the wall coming out of the tunnel turn. As Lap 10 came by, Jimmie Johnson experienced a flat right-rear tire coming off of Turn 1. Johnson came into pit road – forcing his No. 48 team to change up their strategy as they went one lap down. During the caution, multiple teams came down pit road – moving away from their original strategy.
Danica Patrick had problems with her No. 10 Chevrolet early in the race. On Lap 17, she slammed the wall just seconds after she radioed in that she had a tire going down. Patrick went a lap down, and never fully recovered as she finished 30th – four laps down.
Kyle Busch was running inside of the top-10 when the engine on the No. 18 Toyota expired. When that happened, multiple Toyota teams expressed concern for the reliability of their engines. Busch finished in the 42nd position during the Gobowling.com 400 at Pocono.
“Something in between the frame rails just doesn’t want to operate correctly right now and it’s so unfortunate because I thought we had a good car this weekend,” Busch said. “The car in practice was strong and it feel good and we were biding our time here early. We pitted early to get off sequence a little bit to see if we couldn’t do something different than the leaders and it obviously bit us here.”
As McMurray and Kasey Kahne were making green-flag pit stops, Landon Cassill’s No. 40 car collided with the wall. Cassill’s car was done for the day as he came home in the 41st position. The accident spiced up pit strategy even more as some teams came down pit road, while others stayed out.
Jeff Gordon led 63 laps on Sunday afternoon. Just after the halfway mark, Gordon became the first driver in the history of Pocono Raceway to lead 1,000 or more laps. Later in the race, he also led the 24,000th lap of his career.
Gordon continues to hold the championship lead over Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points. Keselowski, Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Johnson, Logano, Edwards, Bowyer and Ky. Busch round out the top-10 in points.
Here are some notables from the GoBowling.com 400:
-Clint Bowyer his third top-five finish of 2014. He made the jump from 10th to ninth in points.
-Joey Logano finished third in Sunday’s event. The top-five marks his eighth of the year, and marks his best finish in a race that he did not win this year.
-Jamie McMurray earned his sixth top-10 finish this year. McMurray raced inside of the top-five throughout the race, but fell to seventh after the final caution flag. He sits 20th in points and is still lacking a win.
-Pole sitter Kyle Larson came home in the 11th position. He was unable to lead a lap, and stayed inside of the top-five for a brief period of time before dropping back on the long runs. Although he was outside of the top-15 at certain points, his crew chief Chris Heroy and he were able to bounce back to earn a solid finish – remaining 12th in points.
-Casey Mears finished in the 12th position during the 400-mile event. Mears was on a strategy similar to McMurray’s as he was racing inside of the top-five in his No. 13 Chevrolet during multiple stages of the race. This is his best finish at a non-restrictor plate track since finishing seventh at Charlotte in 2009.
-The Front Row Motorsports cars of David Gilliland and David Ragan finished 17th and 19th, respectively. This is the first time both cars have finished inside of the top-20 since the pair earned sixth and seventh-place finishes at Talladega in October.
-Ryan Truex finished earned a 20th-place finish. His previous best career finish was 30th at Martinsville Speedway earlier this season. Truex spoke to Speedway Digest after the race: “It’s a big deal. Our car wasn’t very good all day, we just got lucky and Joe (Williams – crew chief) made the right call there. For once nothing broke and everything went our way. That big wreck happened far enough ahead of us, so luckily we were able to stop and after that – we had to save fuel. We had to run around some laps and just save fuel. We just have to get our cars driving better – get them turning and get them to carry more speed in the corners. I think we’re gaining on it. This is our best finish and we have been getting better and better throughout the year.”
-Travis Kvapil finished in the 25th position. His previous best finish of the season was 29th in the June race at Pocono.
-Dave Blaney came home in 26th-place. Blaney was reunited with Tommy Baldwin Racing after starting 2014 in the No. 77 car for Randy Humphrey Racing. The finish marked Blaney’s best result since finishing 25th at Talladega in October.
-Alex Kennedy finished a career-best 28th at Pocono on Sunday while running for Circle Sport Racing.
-There were 15 lead changes with 10 different drivers taking the top spot throughout the 160 laps. Eight caution flags were thrown on Sunday with an average speed of 127.411 mph.
Ryan Sieg is making noise. The driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series was praised by drivers throughout the sport on Friday evening after finishing a career-best third at the Daytona International Speedway.
Sieg was the man which pushed Kasey Kahne to victory on Friday evening, and it didn’t go unnoticed. The 27-year-old made his first appearance in Nationwide Series competition last season when Jeremy Clements was suspended for the second and third events of the year. He then ran two races with his family organization – RSS Racing.
“Hopefully, it will bring some more sponsors,” Sieg said. “We are getting better and better each week.”
After originally being scheduled to run the full schedule in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, RSS Racing opted to race in the Nationwide Series on a full-time basis. Sieg was a late entry for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, and currently sits 18th in points.
“What Ryan has been doing all year long, people have been noticing him. He has been doing a heck of a job,” Regan Smith said. “
And not only are drivers noticing, but owners are noticing as well. Dale Earnhardt Jr., owner of JR Motorsports, was ecstatic about Sieg’s performance as of late. Sieg gained noticed in the Truck Series as he finished inside of the top-15 in nearly every race in which his truck didn’t have any issues. Now, in a case similar to Brad Keselowski, the possibility of working his way to a larger team is possible.
Over the course of this season, he has earned nine top-20 finishes. It might not seem too impressive, but for a team with blank quarter-panels, it is not bad at all.
Sieg and the RSS Racing crew are now eligible for the Nationwide Dash For Cash award – opening up the possibility of being the ultimate underdog.
The highly anticipated summer spectacle at the Daytona International Speedway is set to get under way on Saturday evening. After a wild Daytona 500, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to its most famed track. This isn’t just any regular track, however, it is a place where you need more luck than usual to come out as the winner.
At Kentucky – an event which saw a season-low 2.3 rating for NASCAR’s highest-tier division, only 42 cars showed up for the first short field since 2001. But at Daytona, the paycheck is a lot higher for underdog teams as they attempt to make a name for themselves. Teams either love or hate Daytona, and this could be a weekend in which an underdog locks their way into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With that being said – here is our statistical analysis for the Coke-Zero 400:
- Jamie McMurray: It has been hit or miss for McMurray at Daytona. In 23 starts, he has just five top-10s at the 2.5-mile track. However, he has a pair of wins (2007 and 2010), and he has led 22 laps at Daytona since 2011. He enters this weekend 21st in points, but Daytona could be the wildcard he has been looking for to enter the Chase.
- Brad Keselowski: Coming off of a dominating victory at the Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski has all but solidified a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has finished eighth or better at Daytona in three of the past four races, but he has finished worse than 20th in six races at the track with an average finish of 20.2 in 10 starts.
- Austin Dillon: Dillon won the pole for the Daytona 500 in February as he was making his second Sprint Cup Series start at the famed track. He earned a top-10 that day, and he has been running strong as of late. He enters this weekend 17th in points, but he will need to make sure to stay out of trouble to have a chance at the victory.
- Kevin Harvick: Harvick has eight top-10s this year, but he has consistently been the fastest car at each race this season. He hasn’t won at Daytona since his victory in the July race back in 2010. Over the past five races at Daytona, Harvick has just two top-10s. Entering this weekend, his average finish in 2014 is 15.4 after recording two DNFs.
- Kasey Kahne: Kahne enters Daytona at the perfect time after recording three straight top-10 finishes. However, his success has been subpar at Daytona over the past three events – finishing 31st or worse in each of them. But Kahne has had some success at Daytona – including a runner-up finish in this race during the 2010 season. In 21 Daytona starts, Kahne has seven top-10s and an average finish of 19.5.
- Michael Annett: Annett finished a season-best 16th at Talladega, but he was involved in a wreck at Lap 161 during his first Daytona 500. Last year, Annett was seriously injured in Nationwide Series competition at Daytona – forcing him to miss more than two months while racing for Richard Petty Motorsports. In 10 Nationwide Series races at Daytona, Annett has two top-10s with an average finish of 21st.
- Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose is coming off of two solid finishes. Moreover, he has just one top-10 at Daytona in 11 starts. He finished inside of the top-20 in both restrictor plate races this year, but was not a contender for the win. Entering Daytona, he is 20th in points and is still looking for his first win on an oval track.
- Danica Patrick: A lot of eyes will be on the No. 10 Chevrolet this weekend. She has a pair of top-15 finishes at Daytona in four starts. However, she has begun to turn the corner this season with five finishes inside of the top-20 this year.
- Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won one of the Budweiser Duel’s this year and he also won the Sprint Unlimited. Finishing runner-up in the Daytona 500 – Hamlin is bound to have success this weekend as he looks to capture his first victory at Daytona during a points paying event. In 17 starts at Daytona, he has just three top-10s with an average finish of 20.4. However, he won at Talladega a few months ago, and he sits 17th in points even after missing the race at the Auto Club Speedway.
- Casey Mears: Mears has had success at Daytona in the past – including back-to-back top-10 finishes at the track. Mears is 24th in points for Germain Racing, and they have finished inside of the top-20 in each of the past two events. In 20 starts at Daytona, he has four top-10s, and he will be a factor on Saturday evening.
- Tony Stewart: Stewart’s No. 14 team has been inconsistent this year – producing an average finish of 17.1. However, he has run stronger than that as of late – including at Pocono where he was on pace to contend for the win until a pit road speeding penalty derailed his efforts. Stewart has won the July race at Daytona on four different occasions with the last coming in 2012. He is still looking for his first win of 2014, and this might be the weekend he does just that. In 31 Daytona starts, Stewart has 14 top-10s with an average finish of approximately 17th.
- Clint Bowyer: Bowyer hasn’t had the season he expected after re-signing with Michael Waltrip Racing. Entering Daytona, he has a pair of top-fives and six top-10s as the No. 15 team sits 14th in points. Bowyer has never won at Daytona, but has had success at its sister track – the Talladega Superspeedway. In 17 starts at Daytona, he has seven top-10s, and he has led 19 or more laps in four events at the 2.5-mile track.
- Greg Biffle: Like Bowyer, Biffle is also winless entering the third restrictor plate race of the year. However, he finished in the runner-up spot at Talladega, and he recorded his seventh career top-10 at Daytona in February. In 23 starts at Daytona, Biffle has an average finish of 19.2, and has three top-10s in the last five races at the track.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: This could be an opportunity race for Stenhouse as he has struggled on the intermediate tracks this year. Entering Daytona 27th in points with an average finish of 24.1, he needs a good run to get back into contention to make the Chase. In four career starts at Daytona, he has never finished worse than 20th, and he has improved his finishing position in each race he has run at the track.
- Kyle Busch: Busch is running the Nationwide Series race on Friday evening as well as the Cup Series race. However, he has just one win at Daytona in the Nationwide Series as well as one in the Sprint Cup Series. In 19 Cup Series starts at Daytona, Busch has six top-10s, but none have come since 2011. After a runner-up finish at Kentucky, he enters Daytona 10th in points.
- Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has been the victim of the runner-up curse this year. The two-time Daytona 500 is looking to capture his first July victory at the speedway as he will make his 30th career start at Daytona. Kenseth has 14 top-10s at Daytona along with six top-fives – leading 50 or more laps in three of the past five races at the track. He enters this race fifth in points as the No. 20 has still not secured a spot in the Chase.
- Trevor Bayne: Running his partial schedule for the Wood Brothers, this will be the final time Bayne races the No. 21 car at Daytona. Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, is looking for his first top-10 at the track since that victory.
- Joey Logano: Logano has two wins entering Daytona, so he can go for broke this weekend. With nine top-10s this season, he enters this weekend seventh in points. In 11 career starts at Daytona, he has three top-10s with an average finish of 20th.
- Alex Bowman: Bowman finished inside of the top-25 in his Cup Series debut at Daytona in February. His best finish this year is 22nd at Fontana.
- Jeff Gordon: Gordon is the point’s leader entering Daytona, and he has 13 top-10s this season with an average finish of 8.5. In 43 starts at Daytona, Gordon has six wins with 20 top-10s. He has also led 621 laps after completing more than 94 percent of all laps run at the speedway.
- Cole Whitt: After swapping teams before Richmond, Whitt has settled in as the leader at BK Racing. Whitt ran well during both restrictor plate races this year, and should be able to lock up his third top-25 finish this year if he can avoid wrecks.
- Paul Menard: Menard enters Daytona with nine top-10s this year as he is 11th in points. He has three top-10s at Daytona in 14 starts. In February, Menard led 29 laps as he was one of the strongest cars in the field.
- Joe Nemechek: Nemechek is attempting to make RAB Racing’s Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend. They attempted to make the Daytona 500 a few years ago with Kenny Wallace, but the team had mechanical issues during the Duel race.
- Ryan Newman: Newman ran his best race of the season at Kentucky last weekend. Entering Daytona, he has six top-10s this season with an average finish of 13.9. In 25 Daytona starts, Newman has one win (2008 Daytona 500) along with six top-10s.
- Terry Labonte: Labonte is making his last Sprint Cup Series start at the Daytona International Speedway. This will be his 889th Cup Series race and he will be making his 63rd career start at Daytona.
- Bobby Labonte: He has not raced since the Daytona 500 this year after recording a 15th-place finish. This will be his 44th career start and he is still searching for win No. 1 at Daytona.
- David Ragan: This will be Front Row Motorsports first of two chances to win a race after getting wrecked out of both plate races this year. Ragan won at Talladega in the past along with a Daytona win in 2011. In 15 Daytona starts, he has four top-10s with an average finish slightly worse than 20th.
- Reed Sorenson: Sorenson has three top-10s in 10 starts at Daytona. This is going to be an opportunity race for this team as well. Entering Daytona, he is 33rd in points with an average finish of 31.5.
- David Gilliland: Gilliland, like his teammate, wrecked at both plate races this year. However, he recorded a pole in his first Daytona start and has a pair of top-10s at the track in 12 starts.
- Landon Cassill: Cassill has had career-best runs at both plate races so far this season with 12th and 11th-place finishes, respectively. In five Cup Series starts at Daytona, Cassill has an average finish better than 25th.
- Kyle Larson: Larson has seven top-10s entering Daytona this weekend as he is 12th in points. However, after finishing outside of the top-30 during the Daytona, he ran inside of the top-10 at Talladega. He has an average finish of 16.2 this year.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola has had some bad luck at Daytona in the past as he has never recorded a top-10 finish at the track in six starts. He has three top-10s this season, but currently sits 23rd in points after being involved in three wrecks this year which forced him to park early.
- A.J. Allmendinger: Allmendinger earned a top-five finish at Talladega and is looking for his fourth top-10 this year. In 10 starts at Daytona, he has just two top-10s, but he’s led 16 laps at the track. Allmendinger enters Daytona 22nd in points.
- Jimmie Johnson: After a slow start to the year, Johnson has won three of the last six races. He sits second in points with 12 top-10s and an average finish of 10.6. He swept the Daytona races last season, but finished fifth in this year’s Daytona 500. In 25 Daytona starts, Johnson has 12 top-10s with three wins (two Daytona 500 victories).
- Justin Allgaier: Allgaier is making his second start at Daytona in the Cup Series, and he has been running well as of late for HScott Motorsports. This could be the team’s best race of the year as they look for their first top-10.
- Brian Vickers: Vickers finished inside of the top-five at Talladega, but struggled in the Daytona 500. The team has struggled over the past five races – finishing 14th or worse in each event. Entering Daytona, he has five top-10s this season as he is 19th in points. In 15 starts at Daytona, Vickers has three top-10s, but has never recorded a top-five finish.
- Michael Waltrip: Waltrip only runs the restrictor plate races at this stage in his career. In 52 Daytona starts, he has 15 top-10s along with three wins (two Daytona 500 victories).
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. blew an engine 30 laps into the Daytona 500, but the team’s momentum has slowly been coming back. Entering Daytona, they have three top-10s and sit 25th in points. However, in 18 starts at Daytona, Truex has just one top-10 finish as his average finish is 23.7 with four DNFs.
- Ryan Truex: He missed the Daytona 500, but ran well at Talladega until getting caught up in a wreck. Truex has DNQed three times this season, and he is 37th in points.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Going for the ‘Daytona Double’ this weekend, Earnhardt Jr. is looking for his third victory of 2014. This is his first multi-win season in a decade, and he is tied with Johnson for the second spot in the standings. Entering Daytona, he has 12 top-10s with nine top-fives. In 29 starts at Daytona, he has three wins with 17 top-10s – putting up an average finish of 13.4 for one of the best restrictor plate drivers in the sport.
- Michael McDowell: McDowell struggled during his Duel event at Daytona – missing the Daytona 500 in his first attempt of 20 scheduled events this year. He is coming off of a season-best 24th-place finish at Sonoma. In seven starts at Daytona, McDowell has one top-10 finish, but he has only been running at the finish in three of those events.
- Josh Wise: Wise has missed just one race this year (Phoenix) while driving for Phil Parsons Racing. They made a lot of noise at Bristol, and that created buzz around the internet world with their widely known Dogecoin community backing them. In four races at Daytona, Wise has a best finish of 24th.
- Carl Edwards: Edwards has two wins this season for Roush Fenway Racing – the only wins for the company. Entering Daytona, he has eight top-10s and sits sixth in points. In 19 starts at Daytona, Edwards has a best finish of second (twice), and has eight top-10s with an average finish of 18.1.
After a wild finish at the Pocono Raceway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has arrived to another high speed track – the Michigan International Speedway. But these two tracks don’t have many similar characteristics other than the fact that they have been known to be extremely fast.
The last three Michigan races have been won by Ford drivers, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano. However, from 2009 until Biffle’s win in 2012, Toyota drivers dominated at Michigan with four wins over the course of seven races. During the first practice session of the weekend, the top-21 drivers ran speeds over 200 mph. Now, let’s take a look at who has the advantage going into Michigan.
-Jamie McMurray: McMurray has struggled at Michigan in the past with just four top-10s in 22 starts at the track with his last coming in 2008. He had a strong car in this race last year, but ended up finishing four laps down after leading 21 laps. After finishing 10th at Pocono, McMurray enters Michigan 21st in the standings.
-Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is coming off of a disappointing day at Pocono. He dominated the race, but with less than five laps to go, gave up the lead due to having debris on his grille and he could never get back around Dale Earnhardt Jr. Michigan is his home track, and he is determined to get a victory there. In nine Michigan starts, Keselowski has led 37 laps with two top-fives, including a runner-up in 2012.
-Austin Dillon: Dillon ran his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan back in 2012, and managed to run inside the top-25 for the majority of the race. In three Nationwide Series starts at the track, Dillon has a pair of pole awards, along with a top-five finish. But he also ran both Michigan races in 2013, and he finished inside the top-15 during both of them. He enters Michigan 15th in points and is looking for his second top-10 of the year.
-Kevin Harvick: Harvick was extremely fast at Pocono, but once again – he had something go wrong that was out of his control. Even with bad luck, Harvick is 12th in points with two wins. In 26 Michigan starts, Harvick has a win (2010) and three runner-up finishes, including both races in 2013.
-Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s sponsor, Farmer’s Insurance, just signed a contract extension through 2017. He was quickest in first practice, and is looking to gain some momentum after being the worst of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars all year. In 20 Michigan starts, Kahne has nine top-10s along with a win back in 2006.
-Michael Annett: Annett is coming off of a 20th-place finish at Pocono. He has been strong at the larger tracks this year, and he might be able to come away with a solid run.
-Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has struggled this year. He has only recorded top-10s at short tracks, but he has not run well at the larger speedways. Since the repave at Michigan, Ambrose has run very well at the track – earning three top-10s over the last four races.
-Danica Patrick: Patrick has started to turn the corner on her NASCAR career. Instead of struggling to run inside the top-25 weekly, she has started to run no worse than the top-25, especially at the sport’s larger tracks. Patrick is coming off of three rough weeks, but she recorded a 13th-place finish at Michigan last year, and is looking for some momentum.
-Denny Hamlin: As mentioned earlier, Toyota dominated Michigan for a few years, and Hamlin won two of those races. Since the repave, Hamlin has struggled at the track as he finished inside of the top-15 just once over the past four races at Michigan. He has momentum on his side, however, as he has run inside of the top-five for back-to-back weeks.
-Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya is making his return to NASCAR competition for the first time since Homestead last year. He just earned his first IndyCar Series podium finish of the season with a third-place finish at Texas. Montoya has never been outstanding at Michigan in NASCAR with three top-10s in 14 starts at the track, but this is more of a preview for what is to come at Indianapolis later this year.
-Casey Mears: Has three top-10s at Michigan, but his best finish at Michigan was 20th since he joined Germain Racing. Mears is solidly 25th in points as that is about where he has been running week-in and week-out.
-Tony Stewart: Stewart gave up a victory at Pocono last weekend with a speeding penalty. He is coming off of three straight solid runs, but this might be the weekend where he gets back to victory lane. Stewart has 20 top-10s in 29 Michigan starts with an average finish of 11.7.
-Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has not been incredibly strong this season as his average finish is worse than 17th, but he is starting to turn the corner. Over the past eight Michigan races, Bowyer hasn’t finished worse than eighth with a career-best finish of fifth last season. He is coming off of two straight top-11 runs, and is currently 16th in points.
-Greg Biffle: The entire Roush-Fenway Racing team has struggled mightily this year at the intermediate tracks – which has historically been their strong suit. However, Biffle’s best track is Michigan as he has won four times in 22 starts at the track. Biffle has 14 top-10s at Michigan, and has won two of the last three races at the track. He has just two top-10s at non-restrictor plate tracks this year, but Michigan is the right place to turn things around.
-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Like Biffle, Stenhouse Jr. is just searching for consistency. He has three top-10s this year, but he has multiple finishes of 25th or worse. He finished inside of the top-20 for both Michigan races last year, and this could be a vital time in the No. 17 team’s season.
-Kyle Busch: Busch has sparked some controversy over the past two weeks with incidents that involved Bowyer and Kahne, respectively. Busch has been strong at the larger tracks this year, and he has an average finish of 13.2 this year. He won at Michigan in 2011, but he has just six top-10s in 18 starts at the track.
-Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is still searching for his first victory of the season after scoring seven wins in 2013. He has 10 top-10s this year, but he is going back to his old form where he struggles to start races but then gets stronger late in the event. At Michigan, Kenseth has a victory (2006) with 18 top-10s in 29 starts. He has an average finish of 9.6 at Michigan as he looks to capture that elusive victory.
-Trevor Bayne: Bayne will race in NASCAR’s highest level on a full-time basis next year. As of now, he is still racing for the Wood Brothers as he attempts to earn his first finish that is better than 19th this year. He has an average finish of 23.8 at Michigan, but he has two top-20 finishes at the track.
-Joey Logano: Logano won his first race for Team Penske at Michigan last year, and since then – he has been incredibly strong at the tracks 1.5-miles long or larger. Entering Michigan, Logano has seven top-10s this year and has already surpassed the most laps he has led in a single season with 447. At Michigan, he has five top-10s in 10 starts, but he did struggle at the track with Joe Gibbs Racing in the past.
-Jeff Gordon: Gordon has two wins at Michigan along with 25 top-10s in 42 starts. Entering Michigan, Gordon holds the points lead as he also has a win this year. He has been strong just about everywhere this year. The last three Michigan races have been not too well for Gordon with his best finish being 17th.
-Paul Menard: Menard has been carrying the torch at Richard Childress Racing this year. With seven top-10s this year, he is bound to have a good run at Michigan as he has been running strong at the larger speedways. In 15 starts at Michigan, he has three top-10s, but each of those has been recorded since 2011.
-Ryan Newman: Newman is coming off of his first top-10 since Richmond over a month ago. He has consistently run inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis, but he has not been contending for wins. In 25 Michigan starts, Newman has a pair of wins (2003 & 2004) along with seven top-10s. Since 2011, he has been up and down at Michigan, but RCR has been strong there in the past which might benefit him on Sunday.
-Kurt Busch: Coming off of one of his best races this year, Busch has plenty of confidence in his No. 41 team. He led a good chunk of both Michigan events in 2013 while driving for Furniture Row Racing. In 26 races at Michigan, he has two wins with nine top-10s, but he has an average finish of 21.2.
-Kyle Larson: Larson has made just one prior start at Michigan in the Nationwide Series, and he finished second in that race. He enters Michigan inside of the top-10 in points, and he is 10th in points with six top-10s. He also announced on Friday morning that his girlfriend and he are expecting a child during the final week in December.
-Aric Almirola: Almirola has had a solid start to the 2014 season. A 43rd-place finish at Fontana dropped him to 26th in points, but he is steadily working his way back up with top-15 runs on a weekly basis. In four starts at Michigan, he has never finished worse than 20th, but he has maxed out at 17th.
-A.J. Allmendinger: Considering it is his first full-time season with this team, Allmendinger has been running rather well with three top-10s. He has struggled over the past month as he hasn’t cracked the top-20, but Michigan has been a decent track for him. Though he has never cracked the top-10 in 11 Michigan starts, Allmendinger has seven top-20 finishes at the track.
-Jimmie Johnson: Michigan is one of the few tracks Johnson has never won at in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. He’s been in position to win at the speedway multiple times, but something always goes wrong – especially when it comes down to fuel strategy. During the last three Michigan races, Johnson has finished 27th or worse with two engine failures. His average finish at Michigan is 16.8, but he is on a hot streak with four straight top-10s, including back-to-back wins.
-Justin Allgaier: Allgaier has struggled in his rookie year with HScott Motorsports. The No. 51 team is running better at the shorter tracks, but Michigan has been a good track for Allgaier in the past. In five Nationwide Series starts at Michigan, he earned two top-10 finishes with none being worse than 14th.
-Brian Vickers: Vickers won a fuel mileage race at Michigan in 2009 for Red Bull Racing, but he hasn’t run at the track since the repave just like Pocono. He enters Michigan 13th in points with an average finish slightly below 16th this year. In 14 races at Michigan, Vickers has eight top-10s along with a pair of top-fives.
-Brett Moffitt: Moffitt is running in place of Jeff Burton this weekend. In a joint effort between Identity Ventures Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, Moffitt is running his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
-Martin Truex Jr.: This team is starting to get on a hot streak with back-to-back top-10 finishes. Busch contended for the win at both Michigan races last year, and Truex finished third in this race. In 16 prior starts at Michigan, he has three top-fives along with five top-10s as his average finish is 15.7.
-Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Coming off of his win at Pocono, Earnhardt Jr. returns to one of his best tracks. He has two wins and 10 top-10s at Michigan in 29 starts, but it has been hit or miss for him. Entering Michigan, he is third in points with nine top-10s and seven top-fives.
-Carl Edwards: Edwards enters Michigan seventh in points after dropping four spots due to a crash at Pocono. The entire RFR team has been inconsistent at the larger tracks, but this is one of his better speedways. In 19 starts at Michigan, Edwards has a pair of wins with 15 top-10 finishes.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in victory lane. No, it is not on a restrictor plate track either. Earnhardt Jr. was able to hold off Brad Keselowski for his second victory of the 2014 season after taking the lead with five laps to go. Even though Keselowski led 95 laps during the Pocono 400, he was not able to tame the Tricky Triangle.
With 10 laps to go, Keselowski had debris on his grille and opted to drop behind Earnhardt Jr. in a desperate attempt to cool off his engine. During a post-race press conference, Keselowski said that “it was definitely a mistake” to drop back behind Earnhardt Jr. as he was starting to lose power on the straightaways.
“It’s elusive, man. For any team – it is hard to get that competitive where you can win races. We see teams that get that strong like Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus). Chad is really good at putting people together to give Jimmie a lot of chances to win races. Our group has been working together for a number of years now, and each year we saw a progression in performance and we have seen an increase of performance,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a post-race press conference.
“This makes sense to me when I see what we do and how we run – it makes sense to me. It was a logical result in my opinion for this team as we have gotten better each year, and we have been fast every week. We kind of started that towards the middle of last year. We have not peaked as a team. We have not reached our ceiling. We are doing some of our best work right now. We have a lot of passion and there is a lot of emotion after last year, and I think that adds to the drive to the team to do as well as we can. We can be dangerous.”
The victory marks Earnhardt Jr.’s first non-restrictor plate victory since Michigan in 2012, and it is the first time has had recorded more than one win in a season since he won six races in 2004. Entering Sunday’s race at Pocono, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet had never won a race at Pocono – coming up just shy in 2001 and 2007.
“I’ve never had that happen under caution before. I swerved my tires getting ready to go and we were rolling around turn three to take the green and all of a sudden it started sounding weird and we lost some power somewhere and lost,” Keselowski said.
“Oh yeah, we weren’t going to make it. It was already starting to (blow up). It is just one of those deals.
Tony Stewart led at halfway – first race he has led since leading 74 laps at Texas. After leading 24 laps, Stewart won the race off pit road with 40 laps to go during a caution, but he was caught speeding in four different sections which sent him to the tail end of the field.
The majority of the field stayed out of pit road after the second caution – creating two different pit strategies. The drivers that pitted were able to stretch out their fuel mileage as they attempted to make just one more pit stop in the race compared to those who might have had to make two more stops which would put them out of contention.
Harvick blew a tire with 43 laps to go, but the caution flag came out a lap after he pitted. Before the blown tire, he had cut Stewart’s lead to just a second and a half.
“We’ve had plenty of speed in all four cars all weekend. We had one, two or three but never all of them together. A big part of the day, three of them were right in there. The team has done a really good job. They have built really good cars. We just have to figure out how to close the deal,” Stewart-Haas Racing competition director, Greg Zipadelli said after the race.
However, even with all of the inconsistent runs surrounding Stewart-Haas Racing, Kurt Busch was able to capitalize on a solid run with a third-place finish. Busch ran inside of the top-10 throughout the Pocono 400, and led the race for a total of five laps.
“We just swapped around. Each of us were right up in the mix, and that is what we want to see – that our SHR Chevys are up there. Today, for us to finish in the top-10 because Stewart had a penalty speeding on pit road and the No. 4 car had a left front tire go down, and we didn’t have any type of trouble we had to overcome. We cashed in on a top-five finish,” Busch said.
“For each car number, this is the point of the season when we have to build our own identity. For my team, as young as we are, this is the type of finish that will help boost the confidence levels up. The meeting we had this week – we had to say ‘are you willing to step this up? Are you willing to put in the extra hours? Are you willing to go the extra mile to make this happen?’ And everybody said yes. When you cash in on a top-five run after that, it really builds everyone’s self esteem up.”
After entering the race 28th in points, Busch is now 27th with a 71-point gap on 30th place in the standings – Michael Annett.
On Lap 32, a fire started in Turn 3 which was the area that the track launched pre-race fireworks – forcing the first caution of the day after the first set of green flag pit stops. During the restart, Matt Kenseth sustained damage to the front end of his No. 20 Toyota after slamming into Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 car entering Turn 1.
Kasey Kahne was having a top-15 run when his No. 5 car shot into the wall off of Turn 2. Kahne’s battered up Chevrolet then collected Carl Edwards who was trailing right in his path.
“I just passed him and he was pissed off because his car was slow. I didn’t lift. I thought I could pass him back on the straightaway. We had a pretty good Great Clips Chevy,” Kahne said. “It was pretty hard. It hit hard right after the tunnel. He was thinking that I would lift but that was Kyle being Kyle.”
On Lap 73, Johnson was running inside of the top-10 and slammed into Marcos Ambrose’s No. 9 car on pit road during the second caution of the day. Johnson’s No. 48 car received major damage to the right front quarter panel and had to return to pit road. He reported that the right front of the car was “extremely towed out,” and was mired outside of the top-25 after the incident. Johnson briefly took the lead during a green flag pit cycle, but pitted with 50 laps to go.
After finishing eighth on Sunday, Jeff Gordon now retakes the lead back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings with a 16 point margin over Kenseth. Earnhardt Jr. has now moved up to the third position after entering Pocono fifth in points.
Here are some notables for the Pocono 400:
-Kyle Larson was the highest finishing rookie as he finished in the fifth position after running the ARCA Series Pocono 200 on Saturday afternoon.
- Martin Truex Jr. earned his third straight top-10 finish after finishing 25th or worse in four times in the first 12 events of the year.
-David Ragan earned his best finish of the year – ending the day in the 18th position.
-Travis Kvapil had his best finish of the season as he finished 29th in the No. 32 Ford.
-29 cars finished on the lead lap with three drivers (Kahne, Edwards and Joey Logano) recording DNFs.
-There were 21 lead changes among 10 different drivers.