Driver reports: Coca-Cola family of drivers
June 09, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR.com
News and updates for the select group after Pocono weekend
Oh, there you are Stewart-Haas Racing. You too, Greg Biffle.
The Coca-Cola Racing Family had a stellar week at one of the trickier tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit -- the Tricky Triangle, in fact.
Greg Biffle broke out of a six-week slump to finish second, his best showing of the year. Meanwhile, Tony Stewart finished fourth one week after his first victory, and fellow SHR driver Ryan Newman finished fifth, giving the Coca-Cola Racing Family three drivers in the top five.
That’s not all, either.
With Denny Hamlin taking eighth and Joey Logano coming in 10th, that put five Coca-Cola drivers in the top 10.
A roundup on the Coca-Cola Racing Family in order of how they finished at Pocono:
Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Recap: There wasn’t a driver in the Coca-Cola Racing Family -- and perhaps all of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- that needed a strong finish more than Greg Biffle. Biffle, after all, had six consecutive showings outside the top 10, with four of those six finishes coming outside the top 20. The result was a tumble down the standings and out of the postseason picture. Thanks to his Herculean effort at the 2.5-mile triangle, Biffle climbed to 10th in the standings and solidified himself as a legitimate postseason threat.
Quotable: “It was definitely a struggle for us. We had two pit stops that weren’t the greatest. We hung a lug nut and we were struggling for track position all day. We were really, really good in Turn 1 and 2, and really good in the tunnel, which it’s been many, many years since I’ve been that good across the tunnel. I felt like I was as good as (race winner Jimmie Johnson), but he was driving away from everybody, so he’s got something figured out over there. But it was a good day for us.”
His standing: Biffle is 10th in the standings with 395 points.
Outlook: Biffle has momentum entering Michigan, a place he’s seemed to figure out. Not only did Biffle win the fall race last year, but he has three wins at the 2-mile facility.
Tony Stewart (No. 14)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: With three consecutive top-10s, the man they call Smoke is on fire. And it’s not just him, either. One of the biggest story lines early in the year was how much Stewart-Haas Racing had struggled. Well, that may be a thing of the past. Not only did owner Tony Stewart finish fourth at Pocono, his buddy and teammate Ryan Newman finished fifth.
Quotable: “It’s one thing if one car runs good, but to have two or all three of us running good shows that we are gaining momentum. It's not just one team, the whole organization is gaining momentum. Really proud of our group at SHR. The Hendrick engines today were awesome. There's not doubt of having four of the top-five cars with Hendrick horsepower shows the strength there. Just happy and proud of that effort too.”
His standing: Stewart is 13th in the standings with 378 points.
Outlook: He has a victory, so Stewart currently owns one of the two wild-card entries into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. If he keeps driving this well, though, he likely won’t need to worry about the wild card because he’s within striking distance of the top 10, which carries with it an automatic entry into the sport’s postseason.
Ryan Newman (No. 39)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Newman is considered one of the smartest drivers on the circuit. Having a degree in engineering tends to do that. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Newman’s team hit on pit strategy unlike any other team, and that it had the No. 39 group in position to challenge for a win before Jimmie Johnson asserted his dominance. Still, a fifth-place effort isn’t at all bad, and it keeps Newman in contention for the postseason with 12 races remaining in NASCAR’s regular season.
Quotable: “We had an awesome Haas Automation Chevrolet. Thanks to all the fans for coming out today. It’s good for the Quicken Loans group with their ‘Bring it Home’ sweepstakes. Five people are going to get their mortgage paid for a month as a result of this finish today. Go to QLRacing.com to find out more about that. And, obviously, it’ll be a Bloomin' Monday for everybody from Outback Steakhouse. Strategy worked out to our benefit with the yellows there at the end. Just a good rebound day for us. That is something we definitely needed as a team. Matt (Borland, crew chief) and the guys did a great job on the strategy.”
His standing: Newman is 18th in the standings with 363 points.
Outlook: Newman’s top-five Sunday was his second of the year, but he has four DNFs. His Chase chances will almost certainly rely on a victory, which he has two of at Michigan.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Recap: Hamlin couldn’t manage a win at one of his best tracks, but he still finished eighth. In his mind, though, that wasn’t enough, and he said as much in a post-race interview where he questioned the power in his engine. Again, Hamlin’s showing isn’t the issue, it’s just that he needs victories after missing four races with a back injury.
Quotable: “We weren’t competitive. Really, we were a little bit off all weekend. Really eighth is about where I thought we were going to end up. I’m proud of the whole FedEx Ground team. My pit crew gave me a chance to at least battle those guys for a few laps by picking me up like four or five spots on the last stop. We’re fighting it. We’re just trying to do everything we can and grind and finish good when we don’t have a winning car. And, by no means did we have a winning car this weekend.”
His standing: Hamlin is 25th in the standings with 285 points.
Outlook: It was a bit deflating for Hamlin to not seriously challenge for the win at a track that’s not only difficult to master, but a track where Hamlin seemingly had the nuances of the triangle figured out. He’s nearly 80 points out of 20th place, which is when he would become eligible for a wild card. It’s starting to look more and more like Hamlin will need to win twice.
Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Recap: Quietly, Logano has worked his way back into the Chase picture. The only reason it’s been a quiet ascent is because he’s still outside the top 15 in the standings. Remember, Logano was docked 25 points when his car failed an inspection. Without that demarcation, he’d be a top-11 driver and in the Chase. His 10th at Pocono was the third consecutive top-10 finish for the No. 22 team
Quotable: “It was frustrating. I really wish we had qualified because you think 400 miles would be enough time to get up there and it really wasn’t. It was just so hard to pass today. I felt like we had probably a seventh- or eighth-place car and we about got to where we needed to be. We were up there at one point and then we’d get a bad restart or something happens in front of you and you lose them back and you try to get them back again. I think what you saw were the restarts being so chaotic because it’s so hard to pass after four or five laps into a run. … I feel like we were better than we finished with the Shell/Pennzoil Ford, but, overall, a top-10 isn’t the end of the world but it’s not what we wanted.”
His standing: Logano is 16th in the standings with 369 points.
Outlook: Michigan calls for Logano, but the 23-year-old hasn’t done well at that track in a while. All three of his top-10s came in 2010 or earlier. In the past four races, Logano’s best finish is 18th.
Danica Patrick (No. 10)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: As has been the case for most of the season, there were good things and bad things to take away from Patrick’s day. She got a compliment from boss Tony Stewart after her first go at Pocono, but the driver finished 29th after starting 30th. Still, it’s a learning process. The Tricky Triangle is difficult for veterans, and it was her first start there.
Quotable: “We just got shuffled back at the end on the restarts. It’s disappointing because we could have had a much better finish. It’s just part of the process, learning how to get better on restarts, especially at the end of races. That’s where you can really gain a lot of spots.”
Her standing: Patrick is 28th in the standings with 246 points.
Outlook: Patrick has no experience at Michigan, the 2-mile superspeedway just a few hours from where the driver grew up.