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Momentum hard to find, even harder to maintain

July 31, 2014, Kenny Bruce,

Bruce: Piecing together wins remains difficult, even at 'similar' tracks

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Who gets on a hot streak now? Jeff Gordon, winner of last week's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? The Joe Gibbs Racing gang, which finished 2-3-4 at Indy? Or what about Kasey Kahne, who finally looked once more like a potential candidate for Victory Lane?

Momentum is a great thing to have in NASCAR. The only problem? It's difficult to carry it from one week to the next. The perfect setup at one track rarely translates to the following venue. Some of it does, of course, but even those tracks that seem similar have their differences.

Of course, it's not impossible. While Jimmie Johnson didn't win in his first 11 attempts this year, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion promptly reeled off three wins in his next four starts.


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Others have been nearly as impressive, most notably the Team Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, took two of three, sandwiching wins at Kentucky and New Hampshire around this year's second stop at Daytona. Logano snatched wins at Texas and Richmond, with a forgettable finish at Darlington in between.

Generally speaking, the 1.5-mile tracks are somewhat similar, as will the restrictor-plate tracks and the series' two road courses. But none will be exactly the same. Conditions will never be exactly the same. Some teams will get better as the weeks unfold; others will struggle.

All of which make winning on a regular basis an irregular occurrence.

Now, as the series dusts off from last week's stop at Indianapolis and heads to Pocono Raceway for Sunday's 400, will anything from last week prove to be beneficial this time around?

Both are huge 2.5-mile tracks, and it's often said that strength at one will translate to the other. But not everything that works at one will work at the other, according to some in the garage.

"Nope," says Steve Letarte, crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. "Not really."

It's closer, he said, than if the series was traveling to a short track this week, such as Bristol, or a road course such as Watkins Glen where the teams will be in two weeks. "But Turn 1 (at Pocono) is very banked, so that limits what you can run for Turn 3."

The uniqueness of Pocono is that it features three drastically different turns. Indy's four corners, on the other hand, are flatter, and there's one more turn for teams to navigate.

That doesn't mean everyone will toss out everything and start from scratch, or build based solely on notes from this year's previous Pocono stop.

Earnhardt Jr. won at Pocono when the series visited there in early June while Gordon won last week at Indy. Hendrick teams have won the last four Pocono races. Before Earnhardt Jr.'s win, Kahne, Johnson and Gordon made trips to Victory Lane.

"Without a doubt I'm going to make sure I look at exactly what the 24 ran (at Indy) and see how far off it was from what we ran at Pocono, as fast as he's been all weekend," Letarte said.

Alan Gustafson, Gordon's crew chief, said there's enough that will translate from one to the other that it can be beneficial in some ways.

"Really, if you rewind, we raced Pocono (where Gordon finished eighth), improved on that; now we went to Indy, and improved on that and go to Pocono. It's a constant evolution. It can be applied everywhere.

"I think it will apply to Pocono probably the most. It can help a lot of places. … But I think Pocono is probably the track that will correlate the most."


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