News & Media


Driver Reports: Previewing the Pocono 400

June 05, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. complete four-race Hendrick sweep?

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Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota

Standing: Kenseth leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 463 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Dover, 3rd at Charlotte, 10th at Kansas, 37th at Talladega, 5th at Richmond.
Season stats: 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Pocono, Kenseth's average finish is 16.2 and his average running position is 13.4 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Pocono, he has three top-fives and 10 top-10s.
Quick hit: After seven weeks at No. 2 in the points standings, Kenseth now leads all drivers for the first time since late in last year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Can he keep it coming out of Pocono? Well, maybe. Kenseth's average place is three positions better than his average finish in the loop data era, which means he's had trouble closing out races here. Combine that with his three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 and it seems that the door is ajar for Jeff Gordon to reclaim the top spot.

2. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon is second in the standings with 461 points.
Past five races: 15th at Dover, 7th at Charlotte, 1st at Kansas, 39th at Talladega, 2nd at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Gordon's average finish is 9.9 and his average running position is 10.3 over the past nine years. In 42 career starts at Pocono, he has six wins, 19 top-fives, 29 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Gordon has won at Pocono twice in the past three years, and although he was winless here in 2013, the veteran finished second in the fall race. The Tricky Triangle can be vexing and perplexing, so Gordon's series-best 42 starts here matter more than it would at, say, a mile-and-a-half track. A top-10 run is almost certain, with the potential for more.

3. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is third in the standings with 438 points.
Past five races: 14th at Dover, 4th at Charlotte, 6th at Kansas, 30th at Talladega, 9th at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Edwards' average finish is 13.3 and his average running position is 14.4 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Pocono, he has two wins, five top-fives and eight top-10s.
Quick hit: A Ford hasn't won at Pocono since 2010, a span of six races -- which is certainly not bad, but three other manufacturers have won during that time. Edwards may not be the guy to snap that skid, though. His one win here came in 2008, and he's finished outside the top 10 in four of the past six events. Getting back into that category is a reasonable goal.

4. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is fourth in the standings with 436 points.
Past five races: 1st at Dover, 1st at Charlotte, 9th at Kansas, 23rd at Talladega, 32nd at Richmond.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Pocono, Johnson's average finish is 9.2 and his average running position is 9.6 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Pocono, he has three wins, 10 top-fives, 16 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: On Sunday, Jimmie Johnson can become the first driver since … well, Jimmie Johnson … to win three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. In 2007 Johnson won four in a row during the Chase to cement his second consecutive title. Johnson also won three in a row in 2004 and is the only driver this century to accomplish the feat. Considering he has one win and four top-fives in the past six Pocono races, he has a legitimate chance to make it happen once again.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is fifth in the standings with 429 points.
Past five races: 9th at Dover, 19th at Charlotte, 5th at Kansas, 26th at Talladega, 7th at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 6 top-fives, 8 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 17.6 and his average running position is 14.8 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Pocono, he has seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Junior can complete a Hendrick Motorsports sweep, of sorts, on Sunday. In order, the past three Pocono races were won by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, leaving Earnhardt as the only remaining member of Hendrick Motorsports needing a win. He's never won at the Tricky Triangle, but he recorded two top-fives there last year.

6. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is sixth in the standings with 414 points.
Past five races: 8th at Dover, 12th at Charlotte, 4th at Kansas, 32nd at Talladega, 1st at Richmond.
Season stats: 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Pocono, Logano's average finish is 15.6 and his average running position is 15.0 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Pocono, he has one win, one top-five, three top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Logano's second career win came at Pocono, and his average finish since 2012 -- a span of four races -- is 7.8. He has figured this place out after starting his Sprint Cup career with six consecutive finishes outside the top-10 at the 2.5-mile track. As has been the case so often this season, Logano should be considered among the favorites.

7. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is seventh in the standings with 411 points.
Past five races: 42nd at Dover, 9th at Charlotte, 15th at Kansas, 12th at Talladega, 3rd at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Pocono, Busch's average finish is 17.8 and his average running position is 15.4 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Pocono, he has four top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Busch can't let last week's horrific result -- a wreck when he was among the best in the field -- spill over into this week. It's happened in the past, but this appears to be a more mature version of 'Rowdy.' We'll know for sure if he finishes in the top 10.

8. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is seventh in the standings with 404 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Dover, 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Kansas, 38th at Talladega, 4th at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Pocono, Keselowski's average finish is 13.6 and his average running position is 16.0 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Pocono, he has one win, two top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Keselowski has won at Pocono before, with his current team but under a different manufacturer. Keselowski's average running position here over the past nine years ranks outside the top 15 among active drivers, but he's performed well enough here over the past two years -- and throughout this season -- to earn your trust in NASCAR Fantasy Live.

9. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is ninth in the standings with 379 points.
Past five races: 5th at Dover, 22nd at Charlotte, 18th at Kansas, 1st at Talladega, 22nd at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Pocono, Hamlin's average finish is 12.6 and his average running position is 11.0 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Pocono, he has four wins, eight top-fives, 10 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Hamlin has won consecutive Pocono races twice, but he finished dead last in the 2013 fall race. He also crashed out in the 2012 fall race, and Toyotas have only won twice in the 13 Cup races run so far in 2014, compared to five wins at the same point last year. So despite his four-win history at Pocono, Hamlin isn't in the same category as someone like Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon.

10. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 10th in the standings with 377 points.
Past five races: 11th at Dover, 18th at Charlotte, 12th at Kansas, 9th at Talladega, 16th at Richmond.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: Larson does not have a start at Pocono in a NASCAR national series race.
Quick hit: Larson rallied from one of his worst showings of the year to place 11th at Dover, despite starting from the rear of the field due to an engine change. He'll likely be hard-pressed to match that result at Pocono -- a truly unique track on which Larson has zero career starts, although the rookie tested here in May.

11. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is 11th in the standings with 374 points.
Past five races: 31st at Dover, 15th at Charlotte, 11th at Kansas, 18th at Talladega, 8th at Richmond.
Season stats: 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Newman's average finish is 10.8 and his average running position is 11.0 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at Pocono, he has one win, nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Newman could add another layer of intrigue to the 16-driver Chase Grid by picking up his first victory of the year. Pocono may be the perfect place to do so -- in the loop data era, he ranks fourth on the circuit in average place and average running position. Going against him, however, if the fact that a Richard Childress Racing car hasn't won here since 1993 and Newman hasn't finished in the top five yet this year.

12. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 12th in the standings with 373 points.
Past five races: 17th at Dover, 2nd at Charlotte, 2nd at Kansas, 7th at Talladega, 11th at Richmond.
Season stats: 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Pocono, Harvick's average finish is 10.9 and his average running position is 14.1 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Pocono, he has five top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Pocono is one of seven tracks on the circuit where Harvick has yet to win, and he's had 26 chances to do so. This year could be different due to the No. 4 team's overwhelming strength on the track every week, although stats favor Harvick nabbing his third win of the season at Michigan next week over Pocono this week.

13. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Vickers is 13th in the standings with 366 points.
Past five races: 43rd at Dover, 6th at Charlotte, 14th at Kansas, 4th at Talladega, 12th at Richmond.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Vickers' average finish is 17.2 and his average running position is 15.0 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at Pocono, he has four top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Vickers is coming off easily his worst showing of the season, with a busted engine sending him to a last-place finish at Dover. Now the driver has very little wiggle room in the standings, as he's above Austin Dillon -- the final driver in the Chase Grid, as it currently stands -- by just eight points. No reason to panic, but certainly Vickers must outperform his most recent showings at Pocono (39th and 22nd).

14. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Menard is 14th in the standings with 362 points.
Past five races: 10th at Dover, 8th at Charlotte, 17th at Kansas, 6th at Talladega, 24th at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Menard's average finish is 22.2 and his average running position is 22.3 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at Pocono, he has two top-10s.
Quick hit: After notching nine top-10s in 2013, Menard already has seven through 13 races this year. Is he a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup dark horse? Pocono will help answer that question as he finished 30th and 32nd in last year's two races. A top-15 -- or even a top-20 -- run would put the veteran in good shape entering the summer stretch.

15. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 15th in the standings with 358 points.
Past five races: 20th at Dover, 16th at Charlotte, 19th at Kansas, 15th at Talladega, 27th at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon does not have a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Pocono. In two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, he has one top-five and two top-10s.
Quick hit: It's been five races since Dillon had a car capable of finishing in the top 10, and he's dropped five spots in the standings during that time. With veterans Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne lurking just below Dillon, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender needs to turn his performance around, and quickly.

16. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 16th in the standings with 357 points.
Past five races: 38th at Dover, 21st at Charlotte, 16th at Kansas, 2nd at Talladega, 15th at Richmond.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Biffle's average finish is 16.6 and his average running position is 14.1 over the past nine years. In 22 career starts at Pocono, he has one win, three top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Last week was the third consecutive race in which Biffle finished worse than he did the previous event. The good news is that streak almost has to stop at Pocono, considering Biffle finished 38th at Dover. He's never finished worse than 30th at the 2.5-mile track, and owns one top-five and three top-10s in the past five starts.

27. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 27th in the standings with 241 points.
Past five races: 18th at Dover, 40th at Charlotte, 29th at Kansas, 33rd at Talladega, 23rd at Richmond.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Pocono, Busch's average finish is 12.9 and his average running position is 10.6 over the past nine years. In 25 career starts at Pocono, he has two wins, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Want a sleeper pick this weekend? You're looking at him. In the last eight races here, Busch has three top-fives and six top-10s. His two finishes outside the top 10 were due to crashes. The bigger problem this year may not be wrecking, but Busch's equipment -- if the No. 41 Chevrolet's engine holds up, he could see his best finish since winning at Martinsville in March.