If NASCAR drivers ever faced an uncertain situation, the Party in the Poconos 400 fits the description.
Pocono Raceway was repaved last year and drivers struggled to find the groove on the race track and the timing lines in the pits. This year, NASCAR introduced the Gen-6 car and the new body style is requiring fresh setups. Practice was essential, so teams looked up at the sky in desperation as rain soaked the track for two days and canceled all of Friday’s activities.
Sunday’s race will be lined up by points and that is the official qualification position for the field. Any driver who has to drop to the back to start the race will be credited with his or her official spot on the grid for the purpose of place differential, and that is important for at least one team this week.
Two organizations practiced at Pocono in recent weeks and would have had a major advantage if Saturday’s sessions had not been run. Stewart-Haas Racing would have been happy to see all of practice canceled, since they were one of only two teams with laps on this track in the Gen-6 car. Tony Stewart has the consolation that he at least maintained his speed after posting the fourth-fastest time in Happy Hour and the seventh-best speed in the first session.
Danica Patrick was a dark horse at the beginning of the week and she remains one now that practice is complete. Less than a handful of drivers posted 10 or more consecutive laps and she was among them. Patrick tends to improve with seat time and her long run will be beneficial.
Jimmie Johnson posted the fastest 10-lap average in Happy Hour, which confirms his status as a favorite to win. With the field being lined up by points, starting from the pole will not hurt any either.
Richard Childress Racing also practiced at Pocono recently and might have been happy to see practice rained out, but Paul Menard had a problem as soon as the track was open on Saturday morning. He broke a transmission but won't have to give up his ninth-place starting position -- transmission changes are allowed at road courses and Pocono, where shifting gears is commonplace. Still, keeping his current Pocono streak of five consecutive top-15s alive could be a challenge for Menard.
Jamie McMurray is another driver who was not pleased in practice. During the misnamed Happy Hour he told reporters that Chip Ganassi Racing is currently struggling on flat tracks and that the team is “going to have a long night” ahead of them.