News & Media

Notes: Time quickly expiring for Chase hopes of many

August 01, 2012, Official Release,

Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway isn't quite a must-win race for competitors in the Chase wild-card derby. But it's close to it. Just six races remain until the 12-driver field for this year's Chase is set following the Sept. 8 event at Richmond.

Nothing changed at Indianapolis. Kasey Kahne, with two victories, continues to hold the first of two wild cards available to drivers ranked 11th through 20th in the standings with most wins. Kyle Busch follows, 11th in points -- 55 out of the top 10 -- with one win.

Follow your favorite driver's chance of winning this week's race and making the Chase.

Ryan Newman (14th) and June Pocono winner Joey Logano (17th) each need another trip to Victory Lane.

Time is running out for two pre-season favorites who qualified for the Chase in 2011. Carl Edwards, who lost the 2011 title to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker, finished 29th at Indianapolis and dropped to 12th in the points.

"We have to go race. We can do that, we can race like that," said Edwards, who has a pair of Pocono victories. "It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins."

Five-time Pocono winner Jeff Gordon faces the same reality -- ranked 15th and 79 points out of 10th. Gordon finished 19th at Pocono in June after a litany of issues cost him track position.

Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton also remain wild-card eligible. None have a Pocono win.

Pocono a mixed bag for JGR

Two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers love the unique layout of Pocono Raceway. The other finds the Tricky Triangle just that.

Logano, winner of June's Pocono race, placed himself in the wild-card conversation with a pass for the lead of Mark Martin with three laps remaining. That same race, teammate Denny Hamlin rung up a typical top-five Pocono finish, another in a line of solid performances that include four career wins at the 2.5-mile track. Logano looks to become the first driver to win three consecutive poles at Pocono since Bill Elliott in 1984-85.

But then there's the curious case of Busch, dominant at almost any venue he enters -- except for Pocono. In June, he finished 30th. And it wasn't all that surprising. In 15 starts, Busch has four finishes of 30th or worse. His Pocono Driver Rating of 86.5 makes the track his fourth-worst in terms of the Loop Data statistic. His average Pocono finish of 18.3 makes it his fifth-worst track.

But there have been glimmers of brilliance from Busch at NASCAR's most unique venue. Prior to June's race, Busch ripped off two consecutive top-five finishes, including a second-place finish in this race last year.

Momentum, as well as a sense of urgency, envelopes Busch as the regular season comes to a rapid close. Busch finished second last week at Indianapolis, his first top-five finish since the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May. Prior to the Indy run, Busch had an average finish of just 22.6 in the previous seven starts.

Pocono a black hole for Childress drivers

Kevin Harvick and his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Series Chevrolet are likely to qualify for the Chase for the third consecutive year. Harvick ranks sixth in the standings with a 65-point cushion over 11th-place Kyle Busch.

That's the good news. The bad? Harvick and RCR are winless in 2012. The team is riding a drought of 30 races dating to the beginning of last year's Chase. Harvick's last victory came at Richmond this past September.

There's still time for Harvick to improve his seeding -- or for teammates Menard (16th) and Burton (20th) to qualify as a wild card. Pocono, however, wouldn't appear to be a likely place for that renaissance.

RCR's most recent of two Pocono victories -- both by Dale Earnhardt -- came in 1993. The organization has not posted a finish better than fourth since 1994. RCR's average finish at the 2.5-mile triangle is 15.8 -- fractionally higher than Harvick's average of 14.0. Qualifying has been the team's Achilles' heel: a single pole, by Mike Skinner in 1999, with an average start of 17.6 on a layout where track position is crucial.

June's results were solid but not spectacular. Menard was ninth, one of four top-10s this season. Harvick was 14th and Burton 15th.

Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Kahne will make his 500th national-series start on Sunday. The breakdown: 308 starts in the Cup Series; 186 in the Nationwide Series and five in the Truck Series. He has a combined 26 wins in the three series. ... Newman continues the hunt for 50 poles. Newman has two poles at Pocono, the most recent coming in 2007. ... John Wes Townley will make his series debut in the No. 32 FAS Lane Racing Ford.