Pocono Story Lines

Ryan Newman

Crew chief Luke Lambert and Ryan Newman last scored a top-10 finish at Richmond in late April. (Photo: Getty Images)

LONG POND, Pa. - Halfway through the Sprint Cup Series’ regular season, Richard Childress Racing remains winless.

That’s not the biggest concern for Mike Dillon, vice president of competition at RCR, though.

“We need to lead laps,’’ he said.

Heading into today’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway, Childress drivers Paul Menard (45 laps), Ryan Newman (10) and Austin Dillon (one) have combined to lead 56 laps of 4,357 run this season. Thirteen drivers have led more laps than RCR this season.

Today’s race could be an important step for RCR. It used one of its four tests allowed at NASCAR tracks at Pocono last week.  

The RCR cars have not often shown that they could compete with the top cars at non-restrictor-plate tracks this season - an exception was Menard at Las Vegas when he finished third.

Still, all three RCR drivers are in a Chase spot at this point. 

“We’ve got a little bit of momentum,’’ Mike Dillon said. “I’m hoping it shows up in the next five races.’’

He says that all three of the team’s cars could have finished in the top 10 last week at Dover. Menard was 10th. Austin Dillon placed 20th after running out of fuel at one point, and Newman was 31st after the transmission got stuck between second and third gear.

The work continues, though. The RCR cars are scheduled to test July 1-2 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

How the Childress teams run today - Austin Dillon is RCR's highest starter at 11th - is just among the many story lines at Pocono.

Kasey Kahne

In what has been a disappointing season so far, Kahne says he’s not letting it beat him up as in past years.

“My weeks aren’t near as down as some people maybe would think they should be after the way we have performed at times,’’ said Kahne, 18th in the point standings. “I mean you just have to move on after a race and figure out how you can make it better and then do that at the next track.’’

Kahne starts today’s race 27th. Although the rules for the cars are different from last year, Kahne won at Pocono in August and had one of the stronger cars in June before mechanical issues slowed him.

Kahne is using the same chassis that he finished a season-best third with at Kansas Speedway last month. In this up-and-down season for Kahne, the question is which way will he go today?

Jimmie Johnson

Meanwhile, Kahne’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, goes for his third consecutive Cup victory. No driver has won three in a row since Johnson won four consecutive races during the 2007 Chase. This is the sixth time since then that Johnson has had a chance to win three races in a row. 

“The thing that brings a lot of optimism to our team is this is (crew chief) Chad (Knaus’) favorite race track,’’ said Johnson, who starts 20th. “He loves the challenge here of trying to figure out how to get the car to go down those long straightaways and then through three different corners. We’re excited and are looking forward to it.”

If Not Johnson, Then ...

Pay attention to Stewart-Haas Racing. Kevin Harvick, who starts fourth, posted the fastest laps in each of Saturday’s practices. Tony Stewart also was near the top as was Kurt Busch. Danica Patrick was 11th in the final practice. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also was strong in practice Saturday for Hendrick Motorsports.

Also, don't ignore Brad Keselowski, who has shown speed this weekend and the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.

Shifting

One engine builder said drivers would shift two to four times per lap. Any mistake shifting could ruin a strong car’s day. Don’t be surprised if someone falls out with engine issues because of a missed shift. Question is who will it be?

What’s Missing?

There’s no curb in the Tunnel Turn - Turn 2. Instead, there’s more apron this year. Drivers expect some will try to cut the corner, particularly during restarts.

“Clean air is so important and when we all go down into Turn 2 and we are stacked up, I am sure someone will try to use it to find clean air,’’ said Brad Keselowski, who starts third. “We will be all watching to see how they get through or if they make it. It should be interesting.

Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of Sunday’s Pocono 400 from Pocono Raceway. Air time is noon (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

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