Pocono Story Lines

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson will look to end a dubious streak today at Pocono Raceway. (Photo: Getty Images)

LONG POND, Pa. - Jimmie Johnson could achieve something today at Pocono Raceway that he’s done only once since 2009.

Finish outside the top 10 in four consecutive races. 

The only other time he’s done this in the last five season was last year. He rebounded to win his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

Johnson’s rough streak started at Daytona when he placed 42nd after he was involved in an early crash. Two tire issue in the first 15 laps at New Hampshire sent him into the wall and a 42nd-place finish. He placed 14th last weekend at Indianapolis.

“This year has been as inconsistent as probably any of them for us,’’ said Johnson, who starts 17th.

Crew chief Chad Knaus said the team has plenty of work to do.

“We are not as fast as what we want to be,’’ he said. “Quite honestly I don’t think anybody is. You will see a car go out there and lead the most laps and potentially win the race, then show up the next week and they can’t run worth a (darn). It’s been pretty consistent throughout the garage. We just hope that we can get running the way we need to when we get to those final 10 (races).”

Johnson evokes confidence despite the struggles.

“When the Chase starts, we roll into our 10 best tracks,’’ he said. “So, we’re trying to maintain sanity until then and obviously keep progressing our cars through the end of summer.”

How Johnson does is just among the many story lines with today’s GoBowling.com 400.

Brad Keselowski

He should have won at Pocono in June but relinquished the lead late when he had trash on the grille and tried to slip behind another car to remove it. The ploy helped Dale Earnhardt Jr. win.

Keselowski has been on a surge lately. He won at Kentucky and followed it two weeks later with a victory at New Hampshire. After an uneventful 12th-place finish at Indy, Keselowski is looking to show his strength again. He got the weekend started well by winning Saturday’s Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway. He starts today’s race third. 

Strategy

Expect a variety of pit calls just like last weekend’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where teams often pitted once they hit their fuel window regardless if it was a yellow- or green-flag lap. Teams can pit under green at Pocono and not lose a lap because the track is so long.

Adding a twist to all of this is the weather. Once again rain is a factor. With the threat of rain, the question becomes how much will that impact decisions by crew chiefs? It could add a tantalizing subplot.

Denny Hamlin

He runs the first of what could be six races - pending the team’s appeal - without crew chief Darian Grubb, who is out after violations discovered last weekend at Indy in post-race inspection.

Hamlin said he and his team will use this as motivation, but Hamlin struggled with his car during part of practice Saturday. He starts 13th. Which way will he go when the green flag waves?

Race for Chase

There have been 11 different winners this season, leaving the final five spots for the Chase - at this point - for non-winners. Among those seeking their first victory of the year are pole-sitter Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon.

Only one of the last eight races this season has been won by a first-time winner. That was Aric Almirola at Daytona. Will there be another first-time winner Sunday?

Hendrick Dominance

Hendrick Motorsports has won the past four races at Pocono with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon winning those races. Can the streak continue?

Motor Racing Network - "The Voice of NASCAR" - will have live coverage of Sunday's GoBowling.com 400 from Pocono Raceway starting at noon (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

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