Pocono Race Recap

Pocono Race Recap

Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Pocono Race Recap

The Key Moment – On lap 154 Kurt Busch assumed the lead yet again and the rest of the field couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep him in sight.

In a Nutshell – See Kurt run. Run Kurt run. Nap fans nap.

Dramatic Moment – Other teams gambled on two tires or no tires during the fifth caution period while the 2 team went with four. That dropped Busch back to ninth and he did some hard driving to regain the lead over the next ten laps.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Anyone who has ever tried to get to 81 or the Turnpike after a Pocono race knows the sad irony of a race here being named for a movie called Rush Hour 3.

Did NASCAR put the cars on the engine dyno after Pocono? It looked like Busch’s Penske Dodge engine was in a class of its own.

Who should have won at Montreal; Robby Gordon, Macros Ambrose or Kevin Harvick? Here’s how I saw it on TV. Kevin Harvick triggered the big wreck shortly after the penultimate restart. If you look at the video of that incident and keep your eyes ahead of the pig pile at that same instant Robby Gordon was laying a bumper to the right rear corner of Ambrose’s Ford. Ambrose maintained the lead but as all crossed up. (To paraphrase Smokey Yunick, he looked like a monkey trying to hump a football in there) Gordon took to the grass to complete the pass though the yellow was already flying. At that point Ambrose retaliated and left Gordon sideways across the track unable, and this is key, to maintain minimum speed. So much for all these scoring loops deciding running order at the time of caution. Maybe they didn’t have them in Canada? Anyway a decision was made Robby Gordon had to restart the race in fourteenth place. Like the marching band in Don McClean’s “American Pie” Robby Gordon refused to yield. With Gordon’s known temper and dastardly tactics the race should never have been allowed to restart with the 55 car in second at least on the track. Heck the pace car should have wrecked him if it came down to it. A less dramatic solution would have been to halt the race and have Gordon removed if he would not restart in his ordered position. But the race did restart and as expected Gordon punted Ambrose and Harvick drove his Chevy to the levy. It was exciting to watch but it leaves fans of the sport scratching their heads and wondering if NASCAR has plumbed new depths in ineptitude when it comes to officiating races. I’ve seen better officiated Jello-wrestling matches at local bars. And some blame must be placed on ESPN for failing to highlight the key moment of the supposed pass for the lead when Gordon knocked Ambrose sideways while the caution was flying just ahead of the big wreck. At least Canadian fans got a new villain worthy of Dudley Dooright’s old nemesis Snidely Whiplash.

If Robby Gordon was banned from the garage area on Sunday why was he interviewed behind his hauler?

Kasey Kahne is going to be the next driver of the Bud car? Is it just me or has anyone else noted this year Kahne is running like a three legged lamb? Reports this week claim Kahne ran into well known waste of protoplasm Paris Hilton while out partying in LA. She told him he “God, you’re cute” and kissed him. Hopefully it ended right there. The last thing NASCAR needs is a tabloid romance between two folks who have shown this year they get a lot more attention than any actual accomplishments they have achieved warrant.

124 employees and three drivers are out of work as a result of the recent DEI/Ginn Racing “merger”. Somewhere JD Stacy is laughing himself horse. Look for the E-bay auction on the Ginn blimp soon.

I thought that familiarity might lessen contempt for ESPN’s ill-conceived “Draft-Tracks”. I was wrong. But the piece on the Allison family in the pre-race show proves ESPN can still produce classics. Rusty Wallace’s line of the race: “He’s gone from ‘here kitty, kitty’, to kitty litter. The one Rusty probably regrets, “There ain’t no catching Busch now.”

NASCAR said that Tony Stewart called the legitimacy of the sport into questions a couple months back saying they used “debris cautions” to orchestrate the outcome of races. Oddly enough since Stewart made his comments the number of debris cautions has dropped dramatically. I was expected a late race spate of them Sunday and it never happened. That’s just a coincidence I’m sure.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Marcos Ambrose was deprived a hard earned win in Montreal when he was purposely parked by a car that had no business being in the same area code as him. The fact he was able to be so upbeat in his post race interviews was amazing. “Marcos Ambrose”. It’s how you say “Carl Edwards” in Australian. In a related note my guess is the Ford folks were less to see Robby Gordon, in a Ford, wreck another Ford on its way to a high profile win and hand victory to the Chevrolet set.

There were only seven cautions all day and Jamie McMurray found himself in the midst of three of them ending the day limping his thoroughly trashed Ford towards the garage.

David Gilliland had a credible run going before getting swept up in a wreck. And here’s the truly odd part, he didn’t cause it.

All three MWR racing cars made the field for the first time this season. It didn’t matter much. Jarrett and Ruetimann had DNFs and were credited with 41st and 42nd. The illustrious leader of the organization did manage to finish the race but finished 38th.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Dale Earnhardt’s car was clearly not to his liking for the first part of the race and he was vocal in his displeasure on the radio. His team gambled on changing a shock under caution than taking just two new tires for track position. Junior went on to finish second.

After several weeks of foul fortune Jimmie Johnson finally got another top 5 finish.

Clint Bowyer had to start at the rear of the field after an unapproved engine change but he still left Pocono with an eighth place finish.

Ricky Rudd provided the struggling Yates organization with a decent finish. Rudd came home thirteenth. Not far behind him Bill Elliott came home eighteenth.

Worth Noting

The top ten finishers drove a pair of Dodges and eight Chevys. The best finishing Ford was Ricky Rudd in thirteenth and the best finishing Toyota was Dave Blaney in twentieth.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s sixteenth place was the best by a rookie in this race. As it appears now there finally might be some parity at the end of the season with a Chevrolet driver taking the Cup title, a Ford driver the final Busch title, a Dodge driver rookie of the year honors and a Toyota driver the truck championship.

Does anyone else think it’s odd that NASCAR hasn’t been able to announce a replacement title sponsor for what is now the Busch series this deep into the season?

It was Busch’s first win since Bristol last March and the first race win by a Dodge pilot on an oval this year. (It was the first oval course win for a Dodge since Kasey Kahne won at Charlotte last October.)

Seven of the ten drivers who posted top 10 finishes at Pocono in June did so again on Sunday; Hamlin, Gordon, Stewart, Newman, Bowyer, Martin and Mears. The new faces were Kurt Busch, Earnhardt and Johnson. Drivers who missed the cut to repeat are; Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Martin Truex Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted his first top 5 finish since Loudon.

Denny Hamlin posted his first top 10 finish since winning Loudon. In four Pocono Cup starts Hamlin still hasn’t finished worse than sixth.

Tony Stewart earned his third straight top 10 finish.

Clint Bowyer now has top 10 finishes in three of the last four races.

Ricky Rudd posted his best finish since Charlotte. So did Tony Raines.

Ryan Newman managed his best finish since the last Pocono race.

What’s the Points?

Jeff Gordon is still leading the points though his gap narrowed infinitesimally to 366 points over second place Denny Hamlin. The rest of the top 5, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton hold serve as well. Gordon need only start the next five races to make the Chase even if he finishes 43rd in each.

In fact only two drivers swapped positions within the top 10. Jimmie Johnson moved up two spots to seventh while Kevin Harvick fell two spots to ninth.

Kurt Busch moves into the last Chase position twelfth knocking Earnhardt at least temporarily out of title contention. Earnhardt trails Busch by seven points. Fourteenth place Ryan Newman trails Earnhardt by 73 points.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) I can only give this one two pony bottles of Pennsylvania’s own Genesee Cream Ale. We used to use the stuff for “pony races” back in college and some of those races were more exciting than Sunday’s event.

Next Up – The circuit heads off to Watkins Glen  but I head off to Ocean City, New Jersey for the last annual family vacation, the end of a 36 year tradition that has been the centerpiece of my summer since I was in middle school. Mom had paid for the place prior to her death and my sisters and I have decided to honor her by gathering the entire clan for the last time. It’s likely to be a week with a lot of laughter, some tears, and the occasional dinner table arguments, with some sunburns suffered, many novels read and passed on to the next sibling, wine and beer consumed in a fashion worthy or our Irish heritage and a final sad goodbye to beachfront accommodations. Yes, to keep my habit of annoying my sisters, I’ll probably lock myself in the back bedroom to watch the race as I have done all these years, my sisters would expect nothing less of their older brother, but I won’t be writing about it. See you for Michigan.

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Ten Points to Ponder ... After Pocono

1. Robby Robbed? – I’m going to take the minority position here, but I believe NASCAR initially made the right call placing Robby Gordon in 13th for the restart in Saturday’s Busch race. The issue according to NASCAR was not where Gordon was when the caution came out, but the fact that he failed to “maintain a cautious pace” under the yellow. NASCAR compounded the confusion by initially telling Gordon to line up in first, then in second, then in 13th. NASCAR also messed up by restarting the race with Gordon still in second, knowing full well that he would wreck Marcus Ambrose after the restart which, of course, he did. For his part, Gordon said that the reason he didn’t move back was that he was going to appeal the finish and “wanted to make sure that the race played out the way it should.”

2. Robby Wrong – Even if you side with Gordon on the initial protest, his failure to acknowledge the black flag and subsequent burnout after the checkers was quite over the top and resulted in his suspension from today’s Cup race. On his website today, Gordon apologized for his actions, stating, “I want to start by expressing my regrets to the sponsors, fans, and all competitors for any part I played in the miscommunication, confusion and uncertainty surrounding the finish in this weekend’s Busch race in Montreal.” And, “It was not my purpose to disrespect the authority of NASCAR or the officials. I do respect their authority to run the race and make the calls, and I understand the significance of the black flag.” Read the entire statement here

3. Robby’s Revenge – On the other hand, Gordon might show everyone next week that hell hath no fury like a racer scorned. “We’ll sit this weekend out, but we will come to Watkins Glen with a vengeance to win both races,’‘ Gordon said Sunday. Gordon has one Cup win in eight starts at Watkins Glen and no Busch wins there.

4. Ambrose Annoyed – Marcus Ambrose led half the laps in the Montreal Busch race, but was on the receiving end of a retaliatory spin by Robby Gordon with two laps to go. Despite finishing seventh, Ambrose maintained his composure after the race, explaining, “I promised myself that I wouldn’t get mad,” about racing incidents in the Busch series. Asked how difficult it was not to be angry, Ambrose quipped, “I’ll be in therapy for about two years, I think.”

5. COT Competition – Whatever happened to all that close side-by-side racing we were promised with the Car of Tomorrow? Today’s Pocono race was a total yawner – even Dale Jr.‘s official race report described the event as “mundane.” There was very little passing up front and the majority of lead changes occurred on pit road. Kurt Busch blew the rest of the field away, leading 175 of 200 laps for an easy victory. Not even a series of late race cautions could create a close finish in this one.

6. Tussle for Twelfth – Entering today’s race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was barely hanging on to the 12th-place Chase cutoff spot with a slim 13-point lead over Kurt Busch. Busch and Earnhardt finished one-two on Sunday, but the win was enough to give Busch the 12th spot and move Earnhardt into 13th, now seven points behind Busch. Before the race Earnhardt said that he had the Chase situation “under control,” but Busch clearly has the momentum, with an average finish of fifth over the past four races compared to 23rd for Earnhardt, Jr.

7. Kenseth Consistency
– In typical under-the-radar fashion, Matt Kenseth is quietly having an impressive year, second only to points leader Jeff Gordon in top 10s, lead-lap finishes, and average finishing position. Matt has finished 14th or higher in all but three races this season and is third in points after Pocono, behind Gordon and second-place Denny Hamlin.

8. Bud on Bud Pole
– Were you as suprised as I was to hear that Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Pocono pole was his first in 175 races? Before this weekend if someone would have bet me that he had gone that long without a pole, I would’ve lost.

9. Waltrip’s Woes – The good news: All three Michael Waltrip Racing cars raced on Sunday for the first time since the season opener in Daytona. The bad news: None of Waltrip’s cars finished well, with Waltrip coming in 38th, David Reutimann 41st, and Dale Jarrett 42nd. The funny news: Mikey’s new NAPA commercials take full advantage of his troubles as Waltrip responds to “fan” mail in truly self-depricating fashion. Dave Blaney had the best run for Toyota at Pocono, finishing 20th.

10. Pondering the Points – It’s kind of funny to still hear folks using the phrase “under the old points system,” with the Chase now in its fourth full season. But a Jeff Gordon fan emailed me this week to say that “under the old points system” Gordon would be solidly en route to his sixth Cup championship, having theoretically “won” his fifth in 2004. Your thoughts?

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RacingOne Rewind: Pocono
RacingOne.com

A look back at Kurt Busch's 16th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono raceway including news, notes and observations by the RacingOne Staff.

Inside Line
Kurt Busch moved a step closer to a spot in the championship deciding Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup with a dominant victory at Pocono Raceway ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Keys to Victory Lane
Busch just needed to keep the pedal to the metal, and stay out of trouble, in order to pick up the victory today. The No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge was strong all day leading 175 of the 200 circuits from the second starting position.

Zero to Hero
Although he started from the pole, Earnhardt Jr's day looked like it took a turn for the worse on lap 123 when the No. 8 Chevrolet cut a tire. But, Tony Eury Jr. and the team rallied Junior back up to the front where he challenged Kurt Busch for the win at least for a couple laps. The most important part was Junior did not lose much ground to Busch for the 12th slot in the standings. Tony Stewart and Mark Martin also scored top-10 finishes after starting 24th and 25th, respectively.

Hero to Zero
Kasey Kahne captured his second consecutive fifth-place starting position, but yet again fell to the back of the pack. This time he finished 27th.

Rookie of the Race
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 16th and took top rookie honors for the 10th time this season.

Notables
Kyle Busch made a good recovery after hitting the wall to finish 12th. And Ricky Rudd brought home the Robert Yates Ford to a 13th-place finish to mark his fourth top 15 of the season.

Race to The Chase
Kurt Busch moved into the 11th slot in the seedings for "The Chase" if the top 12 were locked in after Pocono. Clint Bowyer is the only driver among the group that has yet to score a victory. Chase Seedings

Pennsylvania 500 Loop Data Leaders
* Average Running Position: Kurt Busch - 1.4
* Fastest Early In a Run: Kurt Busch - 161.129 mph
* Fastest Late In a Run: Kurt Busch - 158.173 mph
* Fastest in Turn 1: Kurt Busch - 145.261 mph
* Fastest in Turn 2: Kurt Busch - 150.086 mph
* Fastest in Turn 3: Kurt Busch - 143.890 mph
* Fastest Laps Run: Kurt Busch - 99 laps
* Fastest on Restarts: Kurt Busch = 162.383 mph
* Most Passes During Green Flag Conditions: Martin Truex Jr. - 128

Pit Stops
* Kurt Busch captured his 16th career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win in his 241st start. Detailed Active Driver Wins
* Busch won the 59th race for car owner Roger Penske. Detailed Active Car Owner Wins
* Busch became the ninth driver to win at Pocono from the second position. He also became the 345th driver overall to win a race from that position. Starting Position Facts
* Busch led seven times for 175 laps. Lap Summary
* Busch won the second race of the season for Dodge. It was also the 196th overall win for the manufacturer. All-Time Manufacturer Wins
* Dale Earnhardt Jr's second-place finish was his first top five at Pocono since 2003.
* Denny Hamlin's Pocono finishing average in four starts is now 2.8.
* Jeff Gordon has now finished in the top five, in both Pocono races in one season, four times in his career.
* Jimmie Johnson's fifth-place finish was his fourth top five at Pocono.
* Tony Stewart extended his streak of finishes of seventh or better at Pocono to five, with his sixth-place finish.
* Ryan Newman recorded his 20th career finish of 10th or better at a speedway equal to or greater than 2-miles in distance.
* Clint Bowyer's eighth-place finish was his best result at Pocono in four career starts.
* With his ninth-place finish, Mark Martin scored his ninth top-10 finish in 16 starts this season.
* Casey Mears recorded his second consecutive top-10 at Pocono and third of his career in 10 starts.
* The 200-lap race saw 17 lead changes among 11 drivers and an average speed of 131.627 mph.
* Seven caution flags were thrown for 27 laps.
* The Pennsylvania 500 lasted 3 hours, 47 minutes, 55 seconds.

Lug Nuts
* Dale Earnhardt Jr. sure got back at Rusty Wallace for calling him a "Hobo" after cutting a tire. A "Hobo?" Come on Rusty, what were you thinking when you said that?
* The 2007 Dodge Charger's can get the job done, but Evernham Motorsports doesn't think so.
* Thank goodness it took 51 races for Kurt to forget his snow angel victory celebration routine.
* So much for all of Michael Waltrip Racing's cars qualifying for the race - they finished 38th, 41st and 42nd.
* Robby Gordon found his way into the garage area after NASCAR stated he would not be allowed there after his Pocono suspension.
* Even though it didn't seem like "Rush Hour" during the race, Chris Tucker gave a great command to start the engines.

Garage Talk
* "I've been in several races where people have dominated, and, yeah, you just look for a little bit of smoke coming from the car sooner or later. Hope that that happens." -Dale Earnhardt Jr.
* "I feel like a newborn. I'm ready to run for the Chase."-Kurt Busch
* "They don't make the brakes that I had last year anymore. We had to improvise. We actually made our own brakes, so it wasn't as good as last year for sure." -Denny Hamlin
* "I have to congratulate Pat Tryson and Kurt Busch on the win. I'm very happy for Pat. Pat deserves that run and so does Kurt. It's great to see those guys close the deal like they did today." -Mark Martin
* "This was just another disappointing day." -David Reutimann
* "Any time you run 500 miles here at Pocono, it is a long day." -Jeff Gordon

RacingOne Rating
On a scale of 1 to 10 pillows, because you needed one today, we'll give Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 a four. Unless you're are a Kurt Busch or Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan you probably weren't clinging to your chair during this race. Even the wildlife surrounding the track never found their way onto the racing surface because they too were taking a nap on Sunday. Maybe NASCAR should have let Robby Gordon race today to throw some excitement into the mix. The long frontstretch at Pocono could have provided for one of the best two-car burnout celebrations ever! Now if Robby can race next weekend, which he should, it will make for a good story to watch in the Centurion Boats at The Glen. And no, it's not a boat race.

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Pennsylvania 500 Recap    
       
In the most dominating fashion that the track has ever seen, Kurt Busch cruised to victory Sunday at Pocono in the Pennsylvania 500. He led 7 different times for 175 of the 200 laps and won by a margin of 4.1 seconds. “Penske-Jasper power is the best stuff out there,” he said of his team. “I raced for six years up against that power watching Rusty (Wallace) drive by me and (Ryan) Newman drive by me and I thought, ‘I want some of that’”. Pole sitter Dale Earnhardt, Jr. led 8 laps at one point but had to settle for runner-up. Two-time winner Denny Hamlin was 3rd, followed by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson (see below). There were 17 lead changes among 11 drivers and 7 caution flags waved for 27 laps. It was career win number 16 for Busch, and his first since winning at Bristol in March of last year.

Not a bad day

It was another impressive showing from the Rick Hendrick Motorsports teams as all 4 cars finished inside the top 12. Leading the way was the leader in the points report, Jeff Gordon, who ended up 4th. “I was really proud of our performance today,” he said. “We drove up from 11th and had a car that could pass and drive to the front. I was coming there at the end, just ran out of laps.” After a couple of disappointing results, Jimmie Johnson finally got things going again with a 5th place effort. The #25 team of Casey Mears finished 10th, and Kyle Busch overcame numerous troubles all day but still managed a 12th place showing.

Not a good day

The good news is all three Michael Waltrip Racing teams qualified for the race on their timing. The bad news is their best finish was 38th thanks to mechanical troubles. “This was just another disappointing day,” said David Reutimann after his fuel pump gave way resulting in a 41st place showing. That came just 8 laps after Dale Jarrett had fuel pressure issues and was force out in 42nd. Despite the second to last finish, Jarrett wanted to focus on the positives saying, “It was somewhat encouraging to go out, run, and pass some race cars. We still have work to do, but that was a definite improvement.” Waltrips #55 team had a problem late in the event and he finished 6 laps down in 38th.

Eyes for the prize

With just 5 races remaining in the “regular season”, things are getting exciting as teams are fighting to be among the top 12. However, the top 6 remain the same as last week. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon continues to scorch a path at the point as he has a 366-point lead over Denny Hamlin. Rounding out the top 6 are Matt Kenseth (-411), Jeff Burton (-473), Tony Stewart (-487), and Carl Edwards (-554). Up two spots to 7th is Jimmie Johnson (-612), followed by Kyle Busch (-625), Kevin Harvick (-636), and Clint Bowyer (-684). Remaining in 11th is Martin Truex, Jr. (-799), and with the win Kurt Busch (-837) climbs up one to 12th.

The next turn

For the 2nd and final time this season, the Cup series will be turning left and right as they head to the 11-turn 2.45-mile road course in Watkins Glen, New York. The action gets started Saturday afternoon with the Busch series running the Zippo 200. Last season Kurt Busch took the checkered flag. Then on Sunday, it’s race 22 of the Cup season as they go at it in the Centurion Boats at the Glen. The defending champion is Kevin Harvick. The Craftsman Truck series gets back on track on Saturday night under the lights of Nashville Superspeedway with the Toyota Tundra 200. Last year, Johnny Benson won an exciting green-white-checkered finish.

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Who's Hot / Who's Not In Nextel Cup : Pennsylvania 500 Edition
Cami Starr

Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, Kurt Busch or one of Kurt Busch’s fans (yes, he has them) you probably found Sunday’s Pennsylvania 500 a real snooze fest. Busch started from the front row alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. and made a mockery out of the race, leading 175 laps en route to his first win of the year and a spot inside the Top 12 with just five races remaining before the Chase field is set. Unlike recent weeks, there weren’t any Chasers that ran into major trouble on Sunday; with the 14 main Chase contenders all finishing in the Top 17 positions. So which drivers left Pocono feeling revitalized and upbeat about the final five race dash to the Chase and which ones were left feeling weary like the rest of us? Read this week’s who’s hot and who’s not to find out.

Chase Watch

From now until the Chase begins, we’ll take a look at the drivers gunning for a spot in the final 12 and tell you who’s hot and who’s not in their bid to make the playoffs.

Hot: Kurt Busch – Busch put on a clinic Sunday at Pocono, leading all but 25 laps on the way to his first victory in 51 starts. The ten bonus points he earned was good enough to sneak his way into the Chase field with five races left before the field is set after Richmond. It certainly seems like new crew chief Pat Tryson has sparked this team, in the six races since Tryson took the helm; Busch has finished 11th or better four times. Heading into Watkins Glen, he has a scant seven point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr.; possibly setting up many ‘beer brawls’ to come in the future.

Not: Jamie McMurray – For any McMurray fans that were still riding high from the win at Daytona, Sunday’s race at Pocono was definitely a mood killer and possibly a Chase killer as well. Suffering with a loose race car, McMurray did solo spins on lap 4 and again on lap 64 before ending his day for good on lap 181 when he was caught up in a multi-car wreck. The resulting 40th place finish drops McMurray to 17th in the standings, 252 points out of the Top 12. What was once an uphill battle to get into the Chase is suddenly looking an awful like a climb up Mt. Everest.

Hot

Clint Bowyer:
Bowyer may be the only driver currently in the Chase field without a win, but that shouldn’t detract from the solid performances that he has been putting in lately. Of course Bowyer would love to get his first Cup victory, but with four Top 10 finishes in the last six races, Bowyer is solidifying his position in the Chase. Winning the big trophy at the end of the year may be a tall order, but Bowyer’s performance this year is proving that he does belong in the top tier of drivers and that his position in the Top 12 is no fluke.

Kyle Busch: It appears as though Busch’s future plans have been ironed out, but there is still the bit of business of finishing out his final season with Hendrick Motorsports. There’s little doubt that he would love to take the title of defending Champion to Joe Gibbs Racing next year, but his current teammates likely will have something to say about that. That’s not to say Busch isn’t running well, he has eight straight Top 15 finishes and five Top 10s in that span. Watkins Glen could pose a bit of a challenge for the younger Busch brother this weekend; but once the Chase field is reset after Richmond; he has as good of a chance as anyone with the way he’s been running lately.

Warm

Ricky Rudd:
If you had to place a bet on the highest finishing Ford in Sunday’s field at Pocono, how many guesses would it have taken you to get to Rudd? Probably at least five, but Rudd was able to complete that feat with a 13th place run at Pocono, marking his second Top 15 finish in the last six races. While those numbers wouldn’t seem very extraordinary if we were talking about a driver in the Top 20 in points, for Rudd and his struggling Robert Yates team, it’s something to be proud of. In the last eight races, Rudd has had the No. 88 Ford running at the end of each one and finished outside the Top 30 just once. Again, not great; but a decent sign of improvement for this team and a great PR note to coming off their merger with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing that was announced at Indy.

Juan Pablo Montoya: Since he won at Sonoma five races ago, Montoya has moved up three positions in the standings thanks to four Top 20 finishes; including a runner-up finish at Indy and a 16th place finish on Sunday. After a springtime letdown, Montoya’s on track performance is once again matching the buzz surrounding the open-wheel star turned NASCAR rookie of the year contender. That buzz might reach a fever pitch this weekend as the series heads to the final road course race of the year at Watkins Glen where Montoya will look to become the third driver to sweep both road course events since 2003.

Mark Martin: After a three race “slump” where he failed to finish in the Top 10, the series best part-time driver has returned to form with two straight Top 10 finishes. While the talk of him making the Chase even on a limited schedule has long since dissipated, Martin is still putting in one heck of a performance this season. In 16 starts, he has nine Top 10 finishes and has completed all but two laps on the way to an amazing 10.5 average finish. It’s clear that the combination of Martin and Ryan Pemberton has paid off this year since Martin is already saying he’ll run again with Pemberton again next year. It would have been interesting to see what this new dynamic duo could have done full-time this year; but why tamper with what is obviously working.

Cool

Robby Gordon:
Starting with a 13th place finish at Michigan Gordon ripped off four straight Top 20 finishes, but in the three races since things have started to take a downhill turn. A 36th place finish at Chicagoland started off the recent bout of bad luck and it accumulated this week with a suspension from NASCAR following his actions in the Busch Series race at Montreal on Saturday. Missing Sunday’s race at Pocono dropped Robby two places in the standings to 29th, but he should be able to make that up at Watkins Glen this weekend; provided he doesn’t ignore anymore instructions from the NASCAR tower.

Paul Menard: Perhaps the biggest winner in the Ginn/DEI merger, at least in the short term, was Menard. After struggling to make races and to climb his way into the crowded Top 35, he leap frogged the competition when he took over the No. 14 team’s spot in the owner points and the guaranteed starting position that came with it. But looking at the No. 15 team’s performance as of the late, they are slowing trying to give that gift back. He’s already dropped one spot in the owner standings since he took over the No. 14’s position and with just one Top 20 in his last five starts; it looks like he may drop farther back. To Menard’s credit, the lack of track time early in the year has put the team behind; but they need to step things up in the final half of the year to build for next year and to ensure they keep their place in the Top 35.

Cold

Jeremy Mayfield:
Granted things aren’t hunky dory over at Evernham Motorsports, but do you wonder if Mayfield wishes he would have kept his mouth shut last year? Obviously the grass isn’t always greener as he has found out the hard way this season. With 21 races in the book this year following Pocono, Mayfield and his No. 36 team have managed to make only eight. And when they do make the field, they aren’t really blowing anyone’s doors off. His best finish of the year came at Talladega back in April, but to the team’s credit they have suffered only one DNF so far. But that’s little solace for a driver who was in the Chase just two years ago.

J.J. Yeley: His departure papers from Joe Gibbs Racing are all but signed, sealed and delivered, but Yeley still has 15 races left in the No. 18 Chevy, the question is what is he going to do with them? Is he going to go back to being the driver that scored a pole at Michigan and a runner-up finish at Charlotte? Or will he be the driver who has crashed out of two of the last three races, recording no finish higher than 35th? JGR has some of the best equipment on the circuit, if Yeley wants to pad his resume there is no time like the present.

David Reutimann: For Reutimann, the Cup Series and the Busch Series have been like night and day. In the Busch Series, he has racked up three Top 5s and nine Top 10s and holds down the second position in the standings. His results in the Cup Series have been the polar opposite. He’s made only 15 starts out of 21 races and has failed to finish seven of those 15 races he has made. The single bright spot for the team came at Michigan when he finished 15th, but those performances have been few and far between. Mired deep in the owner standings; unless a qualifying overhaul is in the works by NASCAR, this could very well be the pattern he falls into next season as well.

Next up for the Nextel Cup teams is the final road course race of the season at Watkins Glen. Can Juan Pablo Montoya complete the season sweep or will Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart find a way to steal the crown? Will Robby Gordon learn from his Montreal mix-up and only do burnouts if NASCAR declares him the winner? Can one of the road course ringers come in and steal the show? Will the beer battle between bubble drivers Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. continue this weekend? We’ll just have to wait until next weekend to find out who’s hot and who’s not in the Nextel Cup series.

www.frontstretch.com

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Re: Pocono Race Recap

Running Their Mouth : Pennsylvania 500
Beth Lunkenheimer

Each week, we’ll go through all the media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Nextel Cup race to capture the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find; the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members, and the car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what some select few were thinking after the Pennsylvania 500 at the Pocono Raceway.

“It was very solidifying for me today to drive the Miller Lite Dodge (Charger) into victory lane. It was a great handling car. I couldn’t thank the team enough. I did the smallest part, because a lot of work goes on behind the scenes putting this race win together. I feel like a newborn. I’m ready to run for the Chase.” Kurt Busch

“I enjoy the way people in Milwaukee get pumped up by their racing program. They always strive to be the best beer, but they always tell me go get that 8 car. I think I did this one more justice, taking Miller Lite to Victory Lane. This Busch made the best beer choice!” Kurt Busch on winning for Miller

“We’re not worried about the point standings – I’m driving as hard as I can every lap. I can’t worry about finishing behind the #2 car (Kurt Busch). They were just too good today – far faster than anyone else. You follow him and you just hope to see some smoke coming outta his car, ya know?! No one was going to catch him so you kind of sit back there and hope something happens. I really drove the last 50 laps in the mirror, watching the cars behind me and hangin’ onto second.” Dale Earnhardt Jr

“We fought brake issues all day and just couldn’t get in to the corner like we needed to and it just really affected our handling. The No. 2 car was by far the class of the field. We were just a little bit off on the setup, there are a whole lot of details it takes to win today and we just didn’t get them.” Denny Hamlin (finished 3rd)

“We actually had a stronger car than the last time we were here. If the No. 2 car didn’t exist today, then maybe some of us had a chance to win this thing, but wow, That is all I can say is WOW.” Jeff Gordon (finished 4th)

“I just think we had a good race car. That was the main thing, we had a good race car. You get a good race car, a decent race car – I did my part, didn’t get in any wrecks, it seems like that’s what happens to us most of the time. It was just a good, solid day.” Ricky Rudd (finished 13th)

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with (crew chief) Ryan Pemberton and the entire Army Team. With all they’ve had to contend with the past two weeks and then to come out and claim back-to-back top-10 finishes says so much about the character of this race team. It’s the Army spirit — you battle harder when you face adversity. It also says so much about why I wanted to come back and drive this team’s race car again next year.” Mark Martin (finished 9th)

“Considering we started 24th and ended up sixth, I don’t think that’s too bad a run. We should’ve started better than that, obviously, but it’s a decent finish nonetheless.” Tony Stewart

“We started out great and then it just kept getting tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter, and we just never could get a handle on it.” David Gilliland (finished 39th)

“We ran okay today and where we finished is about what we had today. We seemed to run 15th to 20th all day and just couldn’t do any better than that. When that’s all you’ve got, you just have to finish with it and that’s what we did. It was a smooth day; we just couldn’t seem to get fast enough to really get up there in the top-15.” Dave Blaney (finished 20th)

“It was a long day. We started off not very good at all. It was just really, really tight. Our car wasn’t the best, but I put myself in that position when I wrecked my primary car on Friday. We had to do the best we could. It was certainly not the run we wanted. We feel like we can run in the top 10 or top 15 every week. There’s a little disappointment but we’ll put this one behind us, learn from it and try to move on.” David Ragan (finished 33rd)

www.frontstretch.com

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The weekend roundup: Five things you may have missed in auto racing

1 Four races ago, it appeared that Jamie McMurray got right with Nextel Cup racing. He won at Daytona, moved to 13th in points and had become a Chase contender. Then came finishes of 38th and 33rd. On Sunday at Pocono things actually got worse as he spun a couple of times, wrecked, finished 40th and fell to 17th in points.

2 The best-finishing Ford at Pocono on Sunday was not owned by Roush Fenway. It was owned by Robert Yates. Driving it was Ricky Rudd. Rudd finished 13th. Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway was one spot behind Rudd at 14th. Ford has just two victories in the last 11 races at Pocono.

3 Maybe Robby Gordon should go after Prozac as a sponsor. His bizarre actions at the end of Saturday’s Busch race were tough to figure. Did he think Mike Helton was going to be amused by Gordon’s repeated refusal to park his car and insulting victory celebrations. More likely, Helton spent his time with Gordon after the race wishing him well in his new career.

4 The trademark Helio Castroneves happy-talk routine lay in rubble next to his race car after he was involved in a crash with Vitor Meira in Sunday’s IndyCar race at Michigan International Speedway. Castroneves jumped out of his car and got in Meira’s face as Meira sat in his wrecked car. Call it the battle of Brazil.

5 You think NASCAR is wacky when it comes to governance. How about Formula One on Saturday? It penalized Fernando Alonzo because, officials said, his team hindered teammate Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying effort. Alonzo was stripped of the pole. Hamilton won the race.

www.kansascity.com

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Grading the top 12 after Pocono
sportingnews.com.

Here's our weekly grading of the top 12 drivers in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series points standings. All race and performance references are from Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

1. Jeff Gordon, A; 3,236 points. I'm a fan of the Chase, but it doesn't seem right considering the kind of season Gordon is having. His 14th top-five finish equals his top fives for all 36 races in 2006.

2. Denny Hamlin, A; 2,870. Mr. Pocono adds a third-place finish to his two firsts and a sixth.

3. Matt Kenseth, B; 2,825. Kenseth started 37th and worked his way to the front. Unfortunately his car lost its grip in the final 50 laps and he faded from the top 10 to a 14th-place finish.

4. Jeff Burton, B; 2,763. Burton finished 11th, spending most of his day in that neighborhood. His average running position was 12th and he logged 162 laps in the top 15. He is comfortably in the Chase. It's time to go for another win.

5. Tony Stewart, A; 2,749. No excitement this week. Stewart brought home the No. 20 in sixth after starting 24th. Stewart: "We should've started better than that, obviously, but it's a decent finish nonetheless."

6. Carl Edwards, F; 2,682. Is the No. 99 team trying to challenge the No. 11 team to be the king of pit-road disasters in 2007? If so, the rules to the No. 11 team now apply to the No. 99: Automatic F, regardless of finish, in any race there is a debacle on pit road.

7. Jimmie Johnson, A; 2,624. Johnson regained his mojo with his first top five since New Hampshire. The bigger news was how feisty Johnson was in his communication back to his team during the race. By the way, crew chief Chad Knaus' suspension ends after this week's race at Watkins Glen.

8. Kyle Busch, B; 2,611. Busy, busy day for Busch, who somehow finished 12th. No driver in the top 17 spent fewer laps in the top 15 (40 for Busch), yet he also led two of the 25 laps his brother didn't (which is saying a lot). Tip of the helmet to the No. 5 team, which spent the entire race making major adjustments to the car.

9. Kevin Harvick, C; 2,600. Not a memorable day for the 29 team. Harvick started 23rd, fought an ill-handling car and finished 17th. A slow pit stop on the fifth caution didn't help matters, either.

10. Clint Bowyer, B; 2,552. For the second week in a row, Bowyer started last because his team changed engines in the 07. And for the second week in a row, he brought his car back to the front. Sunday, he finished eighth. It's great that Bowyer and the 07 team can forge solid finishes after last-place starts, but that kind of handicap wears on a team and might be a reason Bowyer is the only driver in the top 12 without a win.

11. Martin Truex Jr., D; 2,437. Truex qualified 13th but started 41st because of an engine change. It was a day of catch-up from that point forward, topped by a 22nd-place finish. The bigger picture: Truex missed the top 10 for the fourth consecutive race and is in danger of falling out of the top 12.

12. Kurt Busch, A; 2,399. Busch led a race-record 175 laps and leap-frogged Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the top 12. What more could you ask?

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