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Post-Pocono driver reports

June 10, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Post-Pocono driver reports
News, notes and quotes as the Sprint Cup tour heads to Michigan

1. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 521 points.
Last week: He’s back. Not that Johnson went anywhere, actually, but one week after a late-race penalty ruined his shot at a win, the No. 48 was absolutely dominant at Pocono. Johnson won for the third time this season Sunday, leading a staggering 128 of 160 laps at the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle. A series of late cautions didn’t hamper things, either, as Johnson’s car was a rocket on restarts. Five-Time increased his points lead to 51 points over Carl Edwards, enough for Johnson to sit out an entire race and guarantee he’d still be in first.
What he said: “I'm sure we've had some other really strong races like that, but not in recent memory. What a race car. Not only the car and the handling and the grip that it had, but also the engine and what was under the hood. When I would lean on the throttle, this baby would yard anybody and everybody. Hats off to everybody in every department at Hendrick Motorsports.”
This week: In 22 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Johnson has four top-fives and nine top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Johnson ranks third out of 51 drivers with an average place of 10.2.
Last year: Johnson is heralded as one of the most consistent drivers on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit, and for good reason -- the results speak for themselves. But Johnson had been inconsistent at Michigan for the past nine races at the 2-mile speedway. That span produced four results in the top 10, but three results outside of the top 20. The 2012 Quicken Loans 400 was a good one for Johnson, though. The veteran driver recorded his second consecutive top-five, finishing fifth after running outside of the top 10 for the first 140 of 200 laps.

2. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is second in the standings with 470 points.
Last week: Edwards just keeps plodding along. Despite starting second and leading nine laps, he finished 18th at Pocono in his third consecutive showing with a finish outside the top-10. The No. 99 team has a win to fall back on regardless, and the guys below Edwards in the standings have been far more inconsistent. And from the sounds of things, it sounds like Edwards wasn’t pleased when Friday practice was rained out.
What he said: “It’s easy to make mistakes here, so you’d rather make those mistakes in practice. Less practice here is bad for us all around.”
This week: In 17 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Edwards has two wins, nine top-fives and 13 top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Edwards ranks second out of 51 drivers with an average place of 10.2.
Last year: In a story line that told the story of Edwards’ Chase-less season, the driver of the No. 99 Ford didn’t necessarily have a bad showing, but he walked away from the track disappointed. No, on the surface, finishing 11th at Michigan wasn’t too bad. But Edwards said he and his team picked the wrong setup for his Ford, which caused a loose condition all day and also contributed to him starting 42nd. The finish, coincidentally, dropped Edwards to 11th in the Sprint Cup points standings.

3. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is third in the standings with 452 points.
Last week: Bowyer led all Michael Waltrip Racing drivers with the best finish at Pocono Raceway, which is good. The fact that he did so while taking 15th place is bad. It was a rough day at the office for all three MWR cars but Bowyer, who started third before free-falling down the field, didn’t lose ground in the standings.
What he said: “Tough day at the office. Got a little work to do at the ole (team) camp. We'll get it back!”
This week: In 14 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Bowyer has six top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Bowyer ranks 14th out of 51 drivers with an average place of 16.2.
Last year: Bowyer paced his Toyota brethren in 2012, finishing the Quicken Loans 400 in seventh place. Bowyer actually thought his car was better than that, and he has a point -- although the No. 15 led just one lap, it ran in the top five consistently from Lap to 85 to Lap 160. A less-than-ideal late pit stop, though, pushed Bowyer toward the back of the top 10.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is fourth in the standings with 439 points.
Last week: Heading into the track where he last won (Michigan), Earnhardt has some considerable momentum following his Pocono performance. Junior pushed eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson down the stretch before eventually ceding second place to Greg Biffle and finishing third. It’s Earnhardt’s second-best finish of the year, behind only his second-place effort at Fontana in March. It was his first top-five showing since that race, too.
What he said: “Yeah, we have been carrying momentum for a good solid year now. We had better finishes last year; we started this year off really good. We just had a lot of problems since then and just struggled to get good finishes. We are all right. We know what we need to do. Confidence is there, all the fans can rest assured we feel like we are on the right track. We want to get a win, man.”
This week: In 27 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt has two wins, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and two poles. He is the defending race champion. In the past eight years at Michigan, Earnhardt ranks fifth out of 51 drivers with an average place of 12.5.
Last year: After four years and 143 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, it happened. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the circuit’s most popular driver, got back into Victory Lane with a dominance performance at the 2-mile Michigan track on Father’s Day. Junior started 17th, but pit strategy following a two-hour delay due to weather helped the No. 88 car make huge gains. In 29th place through 20 laps, Earnhardt was in the lead by Lap 70. All told, Earnhardt led 95 of 200 laps, including the final 30. There was no fretting the finish either, as he beat second-place Tony Stewart to the start/finish line by more than 5 seconds.

5. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fifth in the standings with 434 points.
Last week: Harvick kept his top-10 streak going, finishing ninth at Pocono to remain fifth in the points standings. It was Harvick’s fourth consecutive top-10, and five of his six top-10s this season have come in the past six races. The No. 29 Chevrolet started fifth and may have challenged for a spot in the top five if not for a pit-road speeding penalty.
What he said: "The Rheem crew did a great job today at Pocono Raceway, especially coming back from that mid-race setback on pit road. Recovering from that mistake to finish in the top 10 is proof of how hard this team works each week."
This week: In 24 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Harvick has one win, three top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Harvick ranks 15th out of 51 drivers with an average place of 16.3.
Last year: Harvick made 74 green-flag passes in last year’s Quicken Loans 400, a stat that tells just how much ground the driver had to make up. Starting wasn’t the problem -- Harvick came off the grid second and was still in the top 10 when the first competition caution flag came out on Lap 27. Following his pit stop, Harvick was called back into pit road when a member of the No. 29 team noticed the dust cap was missing from the left-front hub. Repairs put Harvick in 39th position. It took the rest of the race, but Harvick managed to crack the top 10 by the end of the 200 laps, finishing 10th for his first top-10 at the Michigan spring race since 2007.

6. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth is sixth in the standings with 418 points.
Last week: When Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his car on Lap 133 and collected Matt Kenseth, it looked like Kenseth would get his fourth DNF of the season. The No. 20 car was salvaged, though, and three late caution flags ensured Kenseth would finish the race on the lead lap, albeit in 25th place. Prior to that incident, Kenseth had been running in the top 10.
What he said: “I really, honestly, don’t know (what happened). If I didn’t leave him enough room, sorry. If I did leave him enough room and he got loose and spun out underneath me, that’s just racing. I hate to use that term, but it just is.”
This week: In 27 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, 12 top-fives and 17 top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Kenseth ranks fourth out of 51 drivers with an average place of 10.3.
Last year: Kenseth called his day “up-and-down,” but he maintained his points lead over hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. by finishing third. It was a tremendous finishing kick for Kenseth, who hadn’t been better than third when he crossed the start/finish line under the checkered flag since Lap 50. He also led for 17 laps.

7. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is seventh in the standings with 412 points.
Last week: Busch lost ground on the last restart, but that’s piddling. After a rough three-race stretch earlier this season, it appears that Busch has found his groove once more. He ran in the top five at Pocono and was third on the final restart. A poor jump then dropped Busch back to sixth, where he finished up a 38-point day.
What he said: “We probably had a seventh-place car all day long and found ourselves in third on the last restart. I just couldn’t get going for some reason on that last restart. I just didn’t do a good job there and we found ourselves in sixth.”
This week: In 16 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Busch has one win, three top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Busch ranks ninth out of 51 drivers with an average place of 14.2.
Last year: Michigan isn’t one of Busch’s best tracks, but ‘Rowdy’ was coming off a win in the fall race at the 2-mile track. That success was not to be repeated in the 2012 spring race. Busch, who qualified 34th, was up into the top 10 by Lap 34. Then engine issues struck for the third consecutive race. The driver went to the garage, and eventually came back out, to complete 157 of 200 laps and finish 34th. To give an idea of how rotten of a day it was for Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch’s 34th-place effort was the best among JGR’s three entries. Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano didn’t finish due to wrecks.

8. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is eighth in the standings with 400 points.
Last week: Kahne lined up on the grid seventh and was confident in his car, but we didn’t get a chance to see if that confidence was deserved. The No. 5 Chevrolet had mechanical issues on the very first lap and went to the garage. Kahne returned to log 141 laps, but it was far too late to compete for points. He finished 36th.
What he said: “I know that when I took off, in second gear, I had no power and it was just vibrating like crazy. The faster I went, the worse the vibration was. They changed a lot of things, but nothing was wrong. In looking at everything, it all looked fine. But still, you can’t make up 20 laps at Pocono.”
This week: In 18 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Kahne has one win, seven top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Kahne ranks 12th out of 51 drivers with an average place of 15.3.
Last year: It was a rough go at Michigan for Kahne, who started the race with such promise in the fourth spot on the grid. Fourth was as high as the No. 5 Chevrolet would get, though, as Kahne struggled with his machine even before he was in a wreck with Joey Logano and David Ragan, bringing out a caution on Lap 127. Kahne would finish in 33rd place, logging 151 of 200 laps.

9. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Keselowski is ninth in the standings with 398 points.
Last week: Keselowski had a gritty effort for the second consecutive week, a showing more impressive than his 16th-place finish would indicate. For one, Keselowski ran at the front of the field throughout Sunday’s race. Secondly, he had perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of the race. Battling Tony Stewart for fourth place, Keselowski got under the No. 14 and sent both cars into a synchronized spin. Incredibly, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion regained control of his car (as did Stewart).
What he said: “Fast race car today. Soon, we will put all the pieces together and get the finishes we deserve.”
This week: In seven career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Keselowski has two top-fives and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Keselowski ranks 18th out of 51 drivers with an average place of 18.1.
Last year: In the middle stages of the 2012 Quicken Loans 400, Keselowski “blistered” -- his words -- his right-rear tire, setting his whole day off line. The driver had worked his way into the top 10 after starting 25th, and the emergency pit stop dropped him back to 31st. Keselowski, who also called it a hard-luck day, finished 13th at his hometown track.

10. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is 10th in the standings with 395 points.
Last week: Is the Biff back? Well, maybe. Certainly Sunday’s performance was a step in the right direction for a No. 16 team that had gone six races with finishes of 13th or worse. Biffle’s Ford showed power at Pocono, allowing the veteran to finish in second place. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “We’ve really struggled this season, but once we got some track position we were pretty good. The 48 was definitely in a league of his own today. I was just hoping I could get up to his rear bumper or something would happen and I could get close enough to race with him, but we just needed a few more adjustments.”
This week: In 20 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Biffle has three wins, nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Michigan, Biffle ranks first out of 51 drivers with an average place of 8.2.

Last year:
Biffle had a great day at Michigan, finishing fourth after starting third.

11. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolett 

Where he stands: Gordon is 11th in the standings with 393 points.
Last week: Gordon couldn’t sneak his way into the top 10, but he came close. Despite battling a tight No. 24 Chevrolet, the veteran came in 12th place. Only a second-place effort from Greg Biffle kept Gordon out of the top 10 in the standings, but he’s only two points back in 11th place and with one of two wild-card entries into the Chase.
What he said: “I would say I spend a little bit of time looking through the field and evaluating how we're running, what our potential is, mainly has been the case for me most of the time is I put a lot more focus on what we're doing and what we're capable of doing than I do the rest of the competition. You have to evaluate what other guys are doing and how well they're running and what kind of strength they have.”
This week: In 40 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon has two wins, 18 top-fives, 25 top-10s and five poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Gordon ranks sixth out of 51 drivers with an average place of 12.6.
Last year: Only one driver (Carl Edwards) gained as many positions as Gordon from the start of the race to the end. The No. 24 started 28th and steadily crept through the field, getting into the top 10 by Lap 80. Gordon ran as high as second place before ultimately finishing sixth, his second consecutive sixth-place effort at Michigan.

13. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Stewart is 13th in the standings with 378 points.
Last week: Stewart continued his climb up the standings and is up to 13th following his fourth-place finish at Pocono. He owns the final wild-card spot due to his one victory. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: “Really happy with (the finish). We got kind of pinched down there in the tunnel; or not pinched down -- we were the one doing the pinching, and got hit in the left rear there and moved up the track, and fell back to 12th and fought back to fourth there with all those restarts there, so pretty happy with that.”
This week: In 28 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Stewart has one win, 11 top-fives and 19 top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Stewart ranks eighth out of 51 drivers with an average place of 12.8.
Last year: Stewart couldn’t catch Dale Earnhardt Jr. down the stretch, but then again, no one could. So ‘Smoke’ did the next-best thing, finishing second for the first time at Michigan since 2005. Stewart did it in style, too, staying in the top 10 for nearly the entire race and leading 18 laps one day after posting the 27th best time in the final practice.

Five in the rearview mirror …

Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Menard is 12th in the standings with 385 points.
Last week: Well, it happened. For all of Menard’s consistent showings, he hasn’t been dazzling. That caught up to him at Pocono. The No. 27 Chevrolet finished 30th after blowing a tire on the last lap, and his 13-point day was enough to drop him three spots in the standings and out of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field. Now, Menard must start finishing in the top 10 consistently to climb back up … or better yet, win.
This week: In 13 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Menard has one top-five and two top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Menard ranks 31st out of 51 drivers with an average place of 22.8.

Aric Almirola (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Where he stands: Almirola is 14th in the standings with 377 points.
Last week: It’s been four races since Almirola polished off his career-best streak of four consecutive top-10s. In the four races since, he’s finished 20th or worse, including Sunday’s 21st-place finish at Pocono.
This week: In two career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Almirola’s best finish is 17th in 2012. In the past eight years at Michigan, Almirola ranks 17th out of 51 drivers with an average place of 18.1.

Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is 15th in the standings with 374 points.
Last week: Busch continues to knock on the door of opportunity, and you get the sense that door will eventually open. It didn’t happen at Pocono, where Busch was fastest in the final practice but had a blunder on pit road. By overshooting his pit box during stops following a caution on Lap 126, the driver was 24th on the ensuing restart. He was in the top 10 prior to that gaffe, and he still managed to finish seventh.
This week: In 24 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Busch has two wins, three top-fives, eight top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Busch ranks 10th out of 51 drivers with an average place of 15.1.

Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 16th in the standings with 369 points.
Last week: Logano’s No. 22 team has pieced together three top-10s following his 10th-place effort at Pocono. And consider this -- on performance alone, meaning not counting a 25-point penalty for a failed post-race inspection, Logano would be one point ahead of 11th-place Jeff Gordon and in control of a Chase wild-card spot. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In eight career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Logano has three top-10s. In the past eight years at Michigan, Logano ranks 21st out of 51 drivers with an average place of 19.1.

Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Newman is 18th in the standings with 363 points.
Last week: With a wily pit strategy, Newman had the No. 39 in position to challenge for a win Sunday. That didn’t materialize, but his fifth-place showing was good for a two-spot jump in the standings.| Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
This week: In 22 career starts at Michigan International Speedway, Newman has two wins, five top-fives, seven top-10s and one poles. In the past eight years at Michigan, Newman ranks 19th out of 51 drivers with an average place of 19.0.