News & Media

Track Smack: Edwards falling, Gordon climbing; Pocono bound

June 07, 2012, ,

Topics: Chase wild card gets interesting; new-look Pocono; NNS a race again

1. Carl Edwards is on the verge of falling out of the top 12. Jeff Gordon is on the verge of getting back into the top 20. At this point, which of these two drivers stands the better chance of getting into the Chase as a wild card?

David Caraviello: As strange as this may seem looking at the standings, I really think the answer here is Gordon -- and it's not that close. Jeff has been in almost every race this season before mechanical issues, pit mistakes, bolts of lightning, boils and locusts, or whatever else have descended and knocked him out. Dover was a perfect example -- a race he could have won gone awry. I still think they're fast enough to knock out a few Ws, and I don't know if you can say that about Carl right now.

Mark Aumann: It's Gordon. There's this huge, dark cloud over the No. 24 Chevy this season and he can't seem to get out from under it. He could have won Martinsville. He should have won Dover. He's led twice as many laps as Edwards, who pretty much ran up front at Richmond and nowhere else.

Jill Erwin: I've gotta figure Jeff Gordon's luck can't keep going the way it is. He's the only guy having a worse 2012 than I am. He's led twice as many laps as Carl has despite having only five lead-lap finishes. That's five lead-lap finishes in 13 races. That's insane. So yeah, whenever Gordon gets back on track, his car and team is just better right now than Carl's. I should have taken the contrarian position. Would have been more fun. Now we all have to sing Kumbaya or something.

Mark Aumann: Jill, you were supposed to bring the bongos. OK, I guess we're on to the next topic. Seriously, I wish I could say Edwards was better than what he's shown. But despite how consistently strong he ran in 2011, he didn't win a race. And he's going to need to win at least one, perhaps two, to make it back.

David Caraviello: Thing is, I really thought this would be the point in the season where Edwards would kick it into another gear. Pocono is his track, and his record there is outstanding. Of course, the resurfacing changes everything, but you have to think this is one of those weeks he has circled on the calendar. He gets one win, and everything changes. But other than Richmond, has he really been close to a win this season? There's something missing there, and I'm not sure what it is.

Mark Aumann: David, I don't know that there'd be as much cause for concern if it wasn't for the fact that Carl's teammates are 1-2 in the standings. They're doing something that the No. 99 isn't.

David Caraviello: Yeah, Mark, we've touched on this before -- when Carl wins, he wins in bunches, and then he tends to go long stretches without winning again. Clearly, we're in one of the lulls. And everyone talks about the hangover from a championship near-miss ... but I don't know if it's that as much as it is they were in the thick of it for so long last season, they never really got the chance to work ahead for 2012. Of course, Tony Stewart didn't either, and he still has two wins and pretty much a guaranteed Chase spot regardless of his rather ragged run at the present.

Mark Aumann: And with Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne having one win apiece, suddenly there's a need to score two. Can Gordon do that in a 13-race span? Perhaps because he's been closer to doing it, that's why I'm leaning that direction. But where?

Jill Erwin: Edwards is outstanding at Pocono? Gordon has a better average finish, a better ratio of top-10s to starts ... forget Carl breaking out this weekend. Maybe Gordon finds some of that old Triangle magic. I mean, he's finished in the top 10 in six of the past seven races there.

What are the odds?

Will Edwards make the Chase? Gordon? Predictions are updated throughout the week, so check back often to see where the drivers stand.

David Caraviello: That's right ... isn't Four-Time the defending champion of this race? Even so, Edwards has two wins and an average finish of 13.8 at Pocono. OK, maybe that isn't exactly outstanding. But it's not bad. He's usually competitive there, and I'd expect him to be the same this time around, unless the resurfacing just throws everything completely off. Which is certainly capable of happening.

Mark Aumann: Is there an "Edwards track" or a "Gordon track" between here and Richmond? Maybe Atlanta -- for both of them.

Jill Erwin: Where can Gordon win twice in 13 races, Mark? Why, the two Pocono events are only seven weeks apart!

Mark Aumann: Funny, it sometimes seems like the race itself takes seven weeks.

David Caraviello: Mark, Stewart and Brad Keselowski hold the keys to the entire wild-card race. With two wins each, they basically control their own destiny unless somebody unforeseen goes on a run. They end up in the top 10, everything opens up for guys like Gordon and Kahne. They end up outside the top 10, it's a points race. Those two guys are the ones to watch from here to Richmond, because everything hinges on them.

Jill Erwin: Can we have a moment of silence for the old 500-mile Pocono race? You could mow a farm and still not miss the whole race.

David Caraviello: Of course, with the added testing, some of us will be in Pocono for six days.

Mark Aumann: And there's plenty of mini-golf and go-karts for everyone, David.

Jill Erwin: I hope you're getting hazard pay for that, Caraviello.

DriverWT-5sT-10sFin. 21+Lead Lap Fin.DNFsLaps LedPolesAvg. St.Avg. Fin.Rank
J. Gordon013752403115.820.821^

David Caraviello: Or pierogies, at least.

2. Speaking of Pocono, it's been resurfaced and had its race length trimmed to 400 miles. Odds of the month-long Hendrick Motorsports winning streak continuing in northeast Pennsylvania?

Jill Erwin: I'm just going to sit this one out. You guys can go re-read my Gordon love above and how he's going to totally win this race. I'll be back for No. 3.

Mark Aumann: Well, as Jill so astutely pointed out, Gordon won this race in 2011. However, Hendrick has won just twice in the past 14 races at Pocono, both by the No. 24. So it's not a lock, especially with the new pavement adding a wild card to the mix.

David Caraviello: Every week, I go to the always-educational NASCAR statistical advance, and every week I see the same thing -- the active owner with the most race wins at this track is ... Rick Hendrick! Same thing this week. Mr. H leads all car owners with 12 wins. They may have to go back to North Wilkesboro or the Daytona Beach and Road Course to find somewhere he doesn't have the most wins.

Pocono Statistics

Select drivers
J. JohnsonSt.WT-5T-10
D. Hamlin12478
J. Gordon3851727
C. Edwards14257
M. Kenseth24039
K. Kahne16135
Dale Jr.24058
G. Biffle18124
Ky. Busch14045
J. Montoya10014

Jill Erwin: OK, I lied. I can't stay silent that long. You guys know that. The repaving intrigues me in ways that Pocono hasn't intrigued me in ... well, ever. I'm hoping it will help spice up the racing, as will the shorter distance.

* Repaved Pocono presents unknown challenge

Mark Aumann: The key will be seeing if two days of testing and practice will help add a second groove. It should be lightning quick. It's just a matter of whether guys can make their cars stick in the outside groove coming out of the first and third turns. I'm guessing the Tunnel Turn still will be single-file.

* Drivers come to grips with new, faster Pocono

David Caraviello: All that said, I really think this week is when the streak ends. The resurfacing means everyone is starting from ground zero in terms of setups. Cutting off 100 miles is going to play with fuel estimations. There are a lot more variables at work, all of the sudden. And despite Jeff's win at Pocono last year, the Hendrick guys aren't exactly a near-sure-thing in Long Pond like they've historically been at Charlotte and Dover.

Mark Aumann: Tim Richmond had four of those Hendrick wins at Pocono, by the way.

David Caraviello: There you go, Mark. Richmond has four, and Gordon has five. That's nine of the 12 right there. Jimmie Johnson has two wins at Pocono, and a pretty good average finish of 9.0 on the big triangle, but I don't know if you'd think of it as one of his better tracks. So I think the door is open here for a Greg Biffle or a Matt Kenseth, given that those long Pocono straightaways like horsepower, and those Ford engines have proven themselves capable on big tracks again and again.

* Biffle, Kenseth on top but feel heat from Hendrick

Mark Aumann: It'll be weird not to see the cars bouncing up and down all the way down the frontstretch, assuming they've smoothed out the whoop-de-doos.

David Caraviello: You just wonder what it's going to look like going into Turn 1, with all the grip they'll have on that new surface, and all the speed they'll be carrying into the corner. Everyone will either be fanned out nine-wide, or fighting for the groove at the bottom. It could be crazy like the first turn at a Formula One race. Can't wait to see it.

Mark Aumann: Formula One? Then Juan Montoya is the pick, hands down. There's the "what just happened here" guy.

Jill Erwin: You know what? I'm going to go out on a slight limb and say if Gordon doesn't win (which I'm still riding that horse until it gets put down) it's going to be some out-of-nowhere guy. I don't know who, exactly, but this has the feeling of a "what just happened here" kind of race to me. Maybe because I want it to be?

Mark Aumann: This has been Denny Hamlin's house since 2006. Should he be included in the discussion, or are we discounting the fact that the track will be so different that he's just another guy in a Toyota now?

David Caraviello: Jill, here's my theory on that -- new tracks (and to a degree, this qualifies as one) favor the better teams that have their stuff together and are able to make adjustments on the fly. In that regard, give me somebody like Kyle Busch, who won the first race at Kentucky last season on a similar weekend that included a testing day on the front end. But I'm still not going to sell the Roush guys short. This is a weekend tailor-made for a guy like Kenseth, whose team makes so few mistakes, and seems able to adapt to anything.

Jill Erwin: Hamlin didn't finish in the top 10 in either 2011 race, and his average finish here is comparable to Gordon's despite having four wins there. His last came in this race two years ago.

Mark Aumann: But one of those came when Hamlin had a tire get stuck under the wheel while leading, correct? So I'm not completely ready to toss him aside like yesterday's newspaper. Or do they even have newspapers anymore?

Jill Erwin: Not discounting him, at all. His first win at Pocono was my biggest workday of my whole life. I was at a newspaper then, Mark. I was just going to type something here about needing more consistency, then I remembered I'm propping up Jeff Gordon. So really, pay me no mind.

* Fantasy Preview: Impossible to ignore Gordon at Pocono

3. Thanks to two weeks of bad luck on the part of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Elliott Sadler has seized the lead in the Nationwide Series standings, and third-place Austin Dillon has climbed within 14 points of the top. Is there a favorite in there somewhere?

Mark Aumann: I'm sticking with Stenhouse, although two bad races in a row starts to become a trend. Charlotte was mechanical. Dover was a case of user error.

Jill Erwin: I'm still going with Stenhouse as the favorite. After the 12th race last year, he was eight points behind Sadler. He's been here before. He knows that leading in June doesn't get you to the head table at the banquet in November. And I'm not even sure Sadler's the second choice here. Dillon is running well and makes so few mistakes for a rookie.

David Caraviello: I remember reading Track Smack a few weeks ago, and some idiot claiming that the Nationwide Series race was over, that Stenhouse was going to run away with it. Who was that moron? Oh, wait. ... Well, in fairness, who could have foreseen a two-week stretch like this for Stenhouse? The guy has been steady as a rock since recovering from that rough start in his rookie year that almost got him fired. He's like the Matt Kenseth of the Nationwide Series -- always there. The past two finishes for him seem very uncharacteristic by comparison.

Who will win the title?

Sadler? Stenhouse? Dillon? Predictions are updated throughout the week, so check back often to see where the drivers stand.

Jill Erwin: That's exactly it, Caraviello. Ricky is almost woodwork. You don't really notice him all the time, he's not going to make a ton of flashy moves or take a bunch of risks, but you look at the top 10 at the end of the day and he's usually right there.

David Caraviello: Wow, look at Jill Erwin, coming in strong. The current points leader is destined for a third-place finish? That's the kind of opinion Joe Menzer usually weighs in with. What's next, are you going to predict that Dillon is going to win five times before the season is out?

Mark Aumann: I think the off-week comes at a perfect time for Ricky. It gives him a chance to clear his head and regroup. There's a big stretch of races coming up from here on out, and Stenhouse has the equipment and the talent to put it back together.

* In the Draft: Stenhouse gets much-needed break

Jill Erwin: I'll say Dillon has at least two wins in him. Is that brash enough? Oh, and did I tell you about my days covering the NFL?

David Caraviello: Yeah, Mark, the timing for the No. 6 bunch really is ideal. And I'd agree -- Ricky is still the favorite. He's not going to be hampered by this kind of stuff all year long. His team is too good, and he's too consistent. As Jill mentioned, he trailed in the standings this time last season, and more than made up the difference. They'll right the ship, and I fully believe Stenhouse will be back on top before too long. They might even run away with it! Wait, where have I read that before. ...

Mark Aumann: Yep, too early to hit the panic button. Although I'm interested to see what Sadler learned from this situation last season.

Jill Erwin: And let's remember where they race next: Michigan. You think Ricky isn't ready to turn things around and get Jack a victory at MIS? You're crazy.

Mark Aumann: Well, let's keep psychiatric evaluations out of this, unless Kurt Busch gets the group discount.

David Caraviello: Is anybody else in this hunt? Sam Hornish is in fourth, 50 points back, and Just Allgaier is 78 behind in fifth. Is that too much? I wonder if they needed to make up more ground the past two weeks to really get into it, because I don't know if they'll get another opportunity like they've had the past two weeks. Everything points to this being a three-man race ... of course, a few weeks ago, I thought it had the potential to be a runaway. So what do I know.

Jill Erwin: Bless Hornish and Allgaier, but they're racing for non-podium spots at this point.

Mark Aumann: No, I think this has become a three-horse race, with Dillon perhaps being the one who might have the best closing kick -- just because he'll have more experience the second go-round at each track.

David Caraviello: And those RCR cars do have quite the history in the Nationwide Series ... and we know the kid can drive the wheels off anything ... and you have to give him bonus points for wearing that big cowboy hat all the time now. I'm changing my mind! Austin Dillon is going to run away with this thing!

Jill Erwin: Well, there's the curse. Sorry, Austin. I tried to fight for you, but the DC curse is too much for any man.

Mark Aumann: And two weeks from now, we'll be talking about how Elliott Sadler is running away with the championship.

David Caraviello: Austin Dillon has me wanting to wear a big white cowboy hat all the time. Think I could pull that off?

Jill Erwin: No, David, I don't. Can we please talk about the cowboy hat/belt buckle thing? Please? Because between the Dillon boys and Stenhouse, I've seriously about lost it.

Mark Aumann: DC, you'd be all hat and no cattle.

Good guys wear white; it was once said good guys finish last. Austin Dillon has his hat in the NNS title ring. (Getty Images)
Pos.DriverBehindWT-5sT-10sFin. 21+Lead Lap Fin.DNFsLaps LedPolesAvg. St.Avg. Fin.
2.R. Stenhouse Jr.-123 7 929139314.58.7
3.A. Dillon-140 6 9 01201705.37.5
4. S. Hornish Jr.-500 2 50 1003909.810.6
5.J. Allgaier-780 1 7 29217010.413.1

David Caraviello: Enough. Move along, little doggies!

The opinions expressed are solely those of the participants.