Driver Handicaps: Pocono
July 31, 2008 | 12:27 P.M. EST
Who's HOT at Pocono
• Kasey Kahne won the first race at the track with the new car after leading 69 laps.
• Denny Hamlin has two wins and a 2.8 average finish in five starts.
• Jeff Gordon has four wins and leads all drivers with 870 laps led.
• Mark Martin leads all drivers with 30 top-10 finishes.
• Kurt Busch, who won this event last year, has posted an average finish of 5.8 in his five starts with Penske Racing.
• Two-time winner Jimmie Johnson has finished in the top 10 in four of his last five starts.
• Tony Stewart has finished seventh or better in five of his last six starts.
Keep an Eye on at Pocono
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. is coming off two consecutive top-five finishes at Pocono.
• Brian Vickers' second-place finish last month was his fourth top five at Pocono.
• Carl Edwards finished second at Indianapolis last weekend and ninth at Pocono in June.
• Matt Kenseth will be racing the same car he used last month to capture his eighth top 10 with at Pocono.
• Jeff Burton recorded his seveth top 10 at Pocono last month.
Pocono Rookie Report
Three freshman drivers are set to be in Pocono this weekend with two of them guaranteed starting spots in Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500: Regan Smith and Sam Hornish, Jr. Smith is 33rd in owner points up by 90 points, with Hornish 34th with a 40 point lead over Scott Riggs in the 35th position. McDowell is 14 points out of the 35th spot, so he is not guaranteed a starting position this weekend. However, McDowell does have experience at Pocono from finishing first and sixth in two ARCA starts in 2007. Patrick Carpentier will not be running in this weekend’s Pennsylvania 500. He is returning to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for his second Nationwide Series start there. He won his first Nationwide Series career pole there last year. All four of this year's rookie contenders made their first Sprint Cup starts at Pocono back in June. McDowell had the best finish of the rookies with a 27th-place finish. Smith finished 28th (started 4th), and Carpentier started 24th and crossed the finish line 32nd. Hornish was involved in a crash and finished 42nd. Franchitti, who is no longer running in the Sprint Cup contention, also made his first start at Pocono this past June finishing 41st due to a crash. Rookie Standings
Kasey Kahne grabbed his second career Pocono pole award back on June 8, qualifying in at 170.219 mph. Kahne also picked up the checkered flag that day for his first win at the 2.5-mile triangular track, making him the 13th driver to win at Pocono from the pole. This gave Dodge a total of six pole positions since July 2003 when Ryan Newman took the top spot. Kahne also currently holds the track qualifying record at 172.533 mph (06/11/2004). In the last 11 races at Pocono (since June 2003), Chevrolet has picked up five pole positions (Denny Hamlin with two and Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip, each with one). Ford’s last pole was in 2001 when Todd Bodine won the July event. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Pocono Winners
Top 20 Driver Notes - Based on Current Standings
1. Kyle Busch: Last month, Busch made his first start at Pocono Raceway with Joe Gibbs Racing. He finished 43rd for the third time in his career after he made contact with Jamie McMurray in the early going of the race. In the 2005 June race, Busch finished fourth in his first start Pocono. In the next three races he finished 39th, 22nd and 12th, respectively. Busch's final two Pocono starts with Hendrick Motorsports in 2007 saw him capture a career-best qualifying effort in third (August) and respective finishes of eighth and 12th.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr: Last August Earnhardt Jr. ended a streak of six consecutive finishes outside the top 10 with a runner-up finish from the pole. The finish was his fourth top five in 16 Pocono starts with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Last month Earnhardt Jr. scored a top-five finish (fourth) in his first track start with Hendrick Motorsports. This weekend Junior will return in the same car (chassis No. 88-498) he raced in June.
3. Jeff Burton: In 2006, Burton turned around his luck at Pocono Raceway with a pair of ninth-place finishes, which ended a streak of finishing 19th or worse in the four previous races. Last month he finished fifth in his seventh track start with Richard Childress Racing. All but four of his 14 top-10 finishes came with Roush Racing from 1996-2004. This weekend Burton will debut a new car (chassis No. 255) that will carry a special AT&T Olympics paint scheme.
4. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson swept the Pocono Raceway events in 2004, leading 63 percent of the laps there that season. His 42nd-place finish in the 2007 June race ended a streak of 10 consecutive top 15-finishes at the track. Johnson was able to rebound in the last two races with respective finishes of fifth and sixth, which lowered his overall average to 10.3. After winning last weekend at Indianapolis, Johnson will go for back-to-back wins this weekend in the same car (chassis No. 502) that finished second at Chicagoland.
5. Carl Edwards: In 2005, Edwards won the June event in his first career start at Pocono Raceway. He won the race from the 29th starting position, which is the furthest back a driver has started and won a race at the 2.5-mile track. The victory was also the first for owner Jack Roush at Pocono. After finishing fourth in the July race that season, Edwards' only other top 10 in five additional starts came last month in ninth. This weekend he will return in the same car (chassis No. Rk-587) he raced in June.
6. Jeff Gordon: In 31 starts at Pocono Raceway, Gordon has captured four wins, two poles, 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes. His most recent victory came in the 2007 June event when he led 26 laps from the 18th starting position in the rain-shortened race. His last of four Pocono DNF's came in the 2006 June race after he lost the brakes and crashed hard into the Turn 1 wall. Gordon, who finished 14th last month at Pocono, leads all drivers in laps led at the track with 870.
7. Greg Biffle: Since scoring his second top 10 at Pocono Raceway with a sixth-place finish in the 2006 June race, Biffle has posted an average finish of 23.0. In 2005, the team experienced brake problems and finished 30th and 17th, respectively. His other top 10 came in the 2004 July event when he finished fourth. This weekend Biffle will return in the same car (chassis No. RK-585) that finished 15th last month at Pocono.
8. Denny Hamlin: In 2006, Hamlin became the sixth driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history to sweep both races at Pocono Raceway. He led a combined 234 laps en route to the victories, both of which he started from the pole. His sixth and third-place finish last season dropped his finish average to 2.8, which is nearly eight points ahead of any driver. Last month Hamlin finished third again, but this time it came in his first track start behind the wheel of a Toyota. This weekend Hamlin will be racing the same car (chassis No. 214) that finished eighth at New Hampshire.
9. Kasey Kahne: Kahne is coming off his first win at Pocono Raceway after leading 69 laps from the pole. It marked his third top 10 in nine starts. Kahne first pole at the track came in his first start in 2004 when he set the qualifying record. This weekend Kahne will be racing the same car that he won with in June.
10. Tony Stewart: In 19 Pocono starts, Stewart has one victory and 13 top-10 finishes. Stewart ended a four-race streak of finishing 27th or worse in the 2005 July race when he finished seventh. He ended a five race streak of finishing seventh or better last month after a pit road speeding penalty knocked him back to 35th. Stewart, who has led a total of 114 laps at Pocono, will be racing a brand new car (chassis No. 219) in the Pennsylvania 500.
11. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has yet to reach victory lane at Pocono Raceway, but has posted eight top-10 finishes in 17 starts. His last top 10 came last month when he finished seventh. In 2005, he finished 30th or worse in both Pocono races for the first time in one season. Kenseth, who has led in eight races for 29 laps, has a 14.4 finishing average at the 2.5-mile track. This weekend Kenseth will return in the same car (chassis No. RK-606) that he raced at Pocono last month.
12. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is coming off his second finish of 39th or worse at Pocono Raceway after he made hard contact with the inside retaining wall coming off Turn 3 in June. His worst finish, of 41st, came in this event in 2006 when Tony Stewart made contact with his No. 07 Chevrolet on the front stretch early in the race. NASCAR penalized Stewart one lap for aggressive driving after the accident, which saw Bowyer slide down into Carl Edwards before it was over. The 2007 season was a much better one for Bowyer at Pocono where he scored his first top 10s at the track. This weekend he will return in the same car (chassis No. 241) that finished 26th at Michigan last month.
13. Kevin Harvick: Harvick's last of four top 10s at Pocono Raceway came in the 2006 July race. His fifth-place finish in that event marked his best effort in 14 career starts. Harvick, who has yet to lead a lap at Pocono, will race chassis No. 254 in the 200-lap race. This is the same car that finished 15th last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
14. David Ragan: Ragan has a 27.7 average finish in two Sprint Cup Series starts at Pocono Raceway. Ragan has also competed two times in the ARCA/REMAX Series at Pocono with his best effort being a fourth-place finish. This weekend Ragan will debut a new chassis (No. RK-613) in the Pennsylvania 500.
15. Brian Vickers: Even with respective finishes of 35th and 29th in 2007 with Team Red Bull, Pocono Raceway still remains Vickers' third best track on the circuit based on finishing average (13.0). Last month he scored his fourth top five at Pocono Raceway with his second runner-up finish at the track. Prior to that finish, his other three top fives came with Hendrick Motorsports in 2005 and 2006.
16. Ryan Newman: Last year in this event, Newman recorded his sixth top 10 in 13 starts at Pocono with a seventh-place finish. The race prior, he won the pole and finished second. The other time he started from the pole he won the race (July) after leading 88 laps. Newman has led in nine Pocono races for a total of 161 laps. This weekend he will drive the same car (chassis No. PRS-55) that finished 21st in the Coca-Cola 600. The car will also carry a new red Avis Car Rental paint scheme.
17. Martin Truex Jr: Truex has competed in five races at Pocono Raceway. His third-place finish in the 2007 June race is his best to date. Last month Truex finished 17th in his first start at the track with the new car.
18. Kurt Busch: Busch captured his first win at Pocono Raceway in the 2005 July race in his last track start with Roush Racing. In his previous nine starts at the speedway with Roush, Busch posted four top-five finishes, with a pair of runner-ups in the July event in 2002 and 2003. Since joining Penske Racing in 2006, Busch has put together an average finish of 5.8, which includes a win in this event in 2007. This weekend, Busch will be back in the same car (chassis PSC-550) that finished eighth last month at Pocono.
19. Bobby Labonte: Labonte has competed in 31 races at Pocono Raceway scoring three wins and nine top-10 finishes. Labonte, whose last win at Pocono came in the 2003 July race, has posted an average finish of 16.0 in his five starts with Petty Enterprises.
20. Jamie McMurray: McMurray has yet to finish inside the top 20 in five starts at Pocono Raceway with Roush-Fenway Racing. His two top 10s at the track came with Ganassi Racing. This weekend McMurray will race the same car (chassis No. RK-594) that finished 20th last month at Pocono.
Pocono Loop Data Stat Leaders (2005-2007)
*Fastest Early in a Run
*Fastest Late in a Run
Avg. Running Position
1. Denny Hamlin
1. Denny Hamlin
1. Denny Hamlin - 5.6
2. Kurt Busch
2. Kurt Busch
2. Kurt Busch - 8.4
3. Jimmie Johnson
3. Mark Martin
3. Ryan Newman - 9.8
4. Tony Stewart
4. Jimmie Johnson
4. Tony Stewart - 10.7
5. Jeff Burton
5. Tony Stewart
5. Brian Vickers - 11.8
Laps in Top 15
1. Kurt Busch - 1074
1. Tony Stewart - 300
1. Denny Hamlin - 130.4
2. Tony Stewart - 1032
2. Ryan Newman - 292
2. Kurt Busch - 113.5
3. Ryan Newman - 1027
3. Matt Kenseth - 286
3. Tony Stewart - 102.2
4. Mark Martin - 987
4. Jeff Burton - 269
4. Ryan Newman - 98.7
5. Jimmie Johnson - 954
5. Kevin Harvick - 259
5. Brian Vickers - 97.9
*Fastest Early In a Run: Ranks each driver during the first 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
*Fastest Late In a Run: Ranks each driver during last 25 percent of laps run since a pit stop.
*Quality Passes: Passing a car running in the Top 15 while under a green flag.
*Driver Rating: Formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race.
RacingOne Staff Picks
Jeff Wackerlin: Brian Vickers
Pete Pistone: Tony Stewart
Rachael West: Jeff Gordon
Kym Opalenik: Denny Hamlin