Saturday, Sep 18

Kyle Larson has won his first career ARCA Series event. Larson, 21, led the majority of the Pocono 200 at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, PA. However, even after dominating the race, Larson was passed by Mason Mitchell on the final restart with less than 15 laps to go.

Mitchell held the lead over Larson until Larson got around him with less than three laps to go. Once he passed Mitchell, Larson checked out and defeated the no. 98 Ford by more than a second. This is the fifth time Mitchell has come up just short of a victory, and the second time he has done so this season after finishing in the runner-up position at Toledo.

The only major incident in the race occurred when Matt Tift got into Justin Boston as the two were battling for position inside of the top-five. Tift got loose in Turn 1, sending both cars hard into the outside wall. The No. 52 car owned by Ken Schrader was able to continue in the race, but finished 19th – five laps down.

Austin Wayne Self had two speeding violation after contending for the lead with Larson after the first round of pit stops. Then, Self had a mechanical failure just laps later, forcing the No. 22 Dodge to go to the garage. The team Tweeted out that Self believed he damaged the radiator while going to pit road, but the damage was permanent.

Larson has a 21 second lead over Tift, but also had a speeding penalty on pit road. The No. 4 car came back down pit road, but due to his large lead, he came back out and still had a five second advantage over Tift.

John Wes Townley finished third after earning a fifth-place finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Texas on Friday evening. Since Townley was in Texas on Friday, Brennan Poole practiced and qualified Townley’s car – forcing Townley to start at the rear of the field on Saturday. Townley was mired outside of the top-20 early in the race after receiving damage to the front-end of his No. 15 Toyota. He went a lap down, but due to several late race cautions, Townley worked his way back on the lead lap and took advantage of the final caution by racing his way into the top-five.

Unofficially, Grant Enfinger leaves Pocono with a 20 point lead over Mitchell in the ARCA Series points standings.

Here are some notables from the ARCA 200:

-Karl Weber tied his best career finish with a 10th place run.

-Josh Williams earned a sixth-place finish in the No. 6 car. Williams earned his second top-10 of the year after not racing in the first two events of 2014.

-Kyle Martel ran in the 14th position in his first race of 2014.

Kurt Busch will start on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s Pocono 400. Busch’s second-place qualifying run was the best of the year for the No. 41 team.

Entering Pocono, Busch is 27th in points, but his results do not show how strong he has been throughout the year. Although his average finishing position is 26th with five DNFs, he has run inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis.

Now, Busch believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. After having just two top-10s to this point, Busch is poised to run well at Pocono – a track which he has two victories at in 25 starts. Last year, he nearly captured the checkered flag as he finished third behind Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, but this weekend might be different.

“It has speed again and now the track is warming up, so now we just need to make adjustments to the track warming up,” Busch told Speedway Digest after the first practice session on Saturday morning.

In Saturday’s first practice, Busch put up a time of 51.070 seconds which was good enough for ninth on the speed charts. His teammates, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick were each fast in practice as well. All of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars were each in the top-16 during the first practice. Harvick and Stewart were first and third, respectively, out of the nine drivers which ran 10 consecutive laps.

“If we win one more race, then we are definitely locked in. But it’s a matter now of developing the No. 41 team into a championship contender, not just a Chase contender.” 

Denny Hamlin has won his second pole of the year as he set the pace during the final round of qualifying at the Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 400. Hamlin’s speed of 181.415 mph was barely able to edge out Kurt Busch as he now has 19 career poles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His lap was also quick enough to abolish the old track record set by Joey Logano in 2012.

This is the first time Hamlin has sat on the pole at Pocono since 2006. In 2014, Hamlin has now qualified on the front row three times, and finished sixth after sitting on the pole at Bristol, but led just four laps during that event.

“We were definitely not a pole winning car after practice, and even after the first round. It all worked out for us for a pole run,” Hamlin said.

Logano will start seventh in the No. 22 Ford after the Fords were seemingly not strong during practice. However, Logano believe his Team Penske car is going to be fast enough to contend for the victory.

“I don’t think we were struggling. I think we were trying things to get the setup where we wanted it to be. When you come to the race track for the first time with a new rules package, there are a lot of big differences to get used to,” Logano said after qualifying.

Brian Vickers paced the majority of Friday’s lone practice session, and was fastest in the first round of qualifying. However, Vickers dropped to fourth in the second round, and evidently will start ninth in the No. 55 Toyota.

“We got a little too tight. I’m not sure why. I guess we have to go back and figure it out,” Vickers said.

After winning back-to-back races, Jimmie Johnson will start 20th in the No. 48 Chevrolet as he made two attempts in the second round of qualifying, but could not break into the top-12.  

“The driver blew Turn 2. I just got too greedy down in two and lost the nose in corner exit,” Johnson said.

Here are some notables from qualifying:

-Matt Kenseth missed the cut to move to the second round as he will start 26th on Sunday. Kenseth struggled in both Pocono races last year, and is coming off of back-to-back top-fives.

-Kasey Kahne also missed the top-24 for the third time this season. Kahne will start 27th in the No. 5 car  after putting the 20th quickest time up in Friday’s practice.

-Austin Dillon made it to the final round of qualifying for just the third time this season.

-Alex Kennedy will start 42nd in his first start of 2014.

-Dave Blaney spun out in Turn 1 during his qualifying lap. Blaney was not able to complete a lap, but will start at the tail end of the field since only 43 cars are entered in the race.

Brian Vickers set the pace during the first practice session of the weekend with a time of 49.764 seconds at 179.986 mph. The current track record of 180.223 mph was set by Joey Logano in 2012.

Vickers set a time that was several tenths of a second quicker than the rest of the field early in practice, but then Brad Keselowski came out with less than five minutes left in the session and set a sub-50 second lap. The No. 55 Toyota went back out and was able to set a time that would have become the track record.

During the first practice, weepers appeared on the track in Turn One and Turn Three. Originally, NASCAR was looking at the weeper in Turn One which appeared on the apron near the entrance of the corner. Then, after examining the track, NASCAR officials found another weeper in Turn Three. The weeper in Turn Three took longer to dry compared to the one in Turn One as the Air Titan had to come out to dry the spot on the track.

Pocono Raceway was repaved in 2012 after paving just one portion of Turn Three back in 2011. The track is in an area which the weather is an issue. However, it did not rain at Pocono Raceway on Friday even though the sky was filled with cumulous clouds throughout the day.

Drivers were reporting tight conditions throughout practice. Austin Dillon radioed into his team that the car was plowing as he was going back to the gas in the corners. Besides Keselowski, the next highest Ford was 17th with Carl Edwards who was outside of the top-20 for the majority of practice.

Reed Sorenson ran the most laps with a total of 20 in Friday’s session. After running ARCA Series practice, Kyle Larson was 10th after running 17 laps. 

The leader in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings doesn’t have a win yet. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Well, Matt Kenseth is a man that won the 2003 title with just one victory, and he might just do that again.

However, with the new championship format, going win-less throughout the 36-race schedule could severely hurt a driver’s ability to contend for the title. Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have won the 2013 crown, but that was the exact opposite of what NASCAR is expecting this year.

Kenseth took over the championship points lead after Dover as Jeff Gordon finished 15th even though he ran inside of the top-five throughout the day. Entering Pocono, he holds a two-point lead over Gordon, and has a good cushion over third-place Carl Edwards.

With the new format, 16 drivers will qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Those drivers will have to earn at least one win to qualify, and if there aren’t 16 different winners, the point’s leader will automatically qualify for the Chase along with the next amount of spots available in the Chase that are winless but are high in the standings. Now, questions have risen about whether or not Kenseth should worry about winning if he stays as the leader in the championship standings as positions in the Chase are filling up left and right.

“It is definitely different. It was a radical change from what we had. We sit here as the points leader, but it’s a little confusing at times. Hopefully, we can get a win,” Kenseth said.

After Dover, Kenseth and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team have earned 10 top-10s along with five top-fives. However, he is going back to the way he used to race with Roush-Fenway Racing – starting out races rather slow, but picking up the pace by the halfway mark. Kenseth stated during a press conference on Friday morning that the team has adjusted better to the new aero package than he thought, but they have just not been able to seal the deal.

“It doesn’t change at all really,” Kenseth said about his approach now that he has the points lead. “Every week, you go out there with the idea of trying to win. You try to do everything you can to win the race. People always ask about changing strategies or trying harder, but if it were that easy – we would be winning every week.”

In 28 starts at Pocono, Kenseth has yet to score a win at the Tricky Triangle. However, he contended for the victory during the 2003 edition of the Pocono 400, and is expected to run well this weekend even though he finished outside of the top-20 in both Pocono races last year. 

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