Pocono Overwhelms Underdogs

If you were looking for an underdog to perhaps upstage the field and win Sunday’s NASCAR Winston Cup Pocono 500, forget it.

All was right with the world at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on Sunday as the list of usual suspects dominated the 200-lap event at the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped track.

The Yates contingency, the Gibbs duo and that guy that drives the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports DuPont Chevrolet (Jeff Gordon), covered the Top 10 along with a pair of Roush drivers (Mark Martin and Jeff Burton) who have stumbled this season but are making a comeback. Throw in Sterling Marlin, who is making a habit of being the only Dodge to finish in the Top 10, and there wasn’t any room for surprises.

No Ricky Cravens to be found near the Top 10. No Bobby Hamiltons, no Michael Waltrips, no Johnny Bensons, no Hut Stricklins this week. Just the favorites and the most well-funded teams, the way NASCAR has molded its sport to be most every week.

Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett gave Robert Yates Racing a 1-3 finish. While Jarrett would have loved to have made his fourth trip to victory lane this season, he was happy to see his teammate finally get there after 89 tries.

“We’re really happy for Ricky,” Jarrett said. “They’ve been right on the verge of winning for a long time and it’s really nice to see them finally get one.”

“We had a strong car, too. The last set of tires was the tightest we had been. That was a little unfortunate. We loosened the car up a little bit, but it wasn’t quite enough.”

Gordon continued his string of fantastic finishes and might have earned his third victory in a row had there been a few more laps. As it was, Gordon finished second for his third straight top-2 finish, allowing him to hold on to his lead over Jarrett in the Winston Cup points standings.

“To come home second (Sunday) – I think we led the most laps – is the kind of effort I’m looking for in our team,” said Gordon, who has three victories this season and has emerged as the favorite to win the Winston Cup championship.

“And if that effort gets you to victory lane, you did everything you wanted to do. Unfortunately, it just caught us a little bit short. Yeah, I would have loved to have won three in a row. Honestly, the most important thing to me is having a streak of just really strong runs and finishes.”

Tony Stewart bounced back from an uncharacteristically mediocre outing last week at Michigan to finish seventh Sunday. Labonte, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, finished right behind him in eighth.

Stewart’s strong charge the past few weeks has brought him to fifth place in the points, 239 behind Gordon. Labonte, the defending Winston Cup champion, got off to a rough start this season but has climbed into 10th in the standings, 406 points behind Gordon.

The only mystery surrounding the Gibbs organization is the fact that those two teams have combined for only one victory this season (Stewart at Richmond).

Roush Racing got a good run from all four of its drivers Sunday – something that has been shockingly rare this season. Martin finished fifth, Matt Kenseth sixth, Burton 10th and rookie Kurt Busch 13th.

Burton, who has won a race this year (at Charlotte) but has struggled for the most part to maintain any consistency, finished 10th but talked like a driver who has run up front all season.

“We sure didn’t get the result we should have gotten,” the driver of the No. 99 Citgo Supergard Ford said. “I ran in the Top 5 all day. The key, though, is that we ran well. We’re (the Roush drivers) all starting to get a little more competitive.

“We’re trying to take baby steps. We’re not trying to turn everything around in one day because that isn’t the right thing to do. We’re taking baby steps at it. We’re improving every day and that’s the right approach. We’re certainly much more competitive now.”

“Yeah, it’s coming,” Martin said of his team’s recent performances. “We’ve got a little bit more work to do, though. We’ve got half of it, we just need the other half. If we get the other half of it, we’ll be up front there.”

Up front, the way it should be. The way Martin and Burton have been throughout the better parts of their Winston Cup careers.

The way it was for the favorites on Sunday at Pocono.

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