Denny Hamlin and the 5 Drivers Who Need a Win at Pocono

Zach Brown@SundayDriver7Correspondent IJune 5, 2013

Denny Hamlin and the 5 Drivers Who Need a Win at Pocono

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    Since arriving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2006, no one has been better at Pocono Raceway than Denny Hamlin. His four victories and eight top-five finishes are the most of any driver during that time, according to racing-reference.info

    But after missing four races because of a broken back, Hamlin sits 26th in the point standings and needs to start winning races to have any chance of competing for this year's Sprint Cup championship. 

    Every driver wants to end each week in Victory Lane, but Hamlin is one of several drivers who have to be looking at Pocono as a must-win race. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Greg Biffle

    Biffle currently sits 13th in the point standings, but is within striking distance of 10th place. He has one Pocono victory to his credit, but only three other top-10 finishes in 20 career starts at the track. With two races coming up at Michigan International Speedway—a track where Biffle has won three times—he does not need a win at Pocono as bad as the others on this list. 

     

    Paul Menard

    Menard currently sits ninth in the Sprint Cup standings, his highest position after 13 races in seven full seasons, but he has yet to earn a top-five finish. His average finish is actually lower than last year (15.8 compared to a 15.5 in 2012) which suggests he and his team haven't improved as much as everyone else is struggling. His consistency has been enough to keep him in the top 10 all season, and Menard can make the Chase for the Sprint Cup without a victory if his team can just get a little better over the next 13 weeks.

     

    Aric Almirola

    One of the biggest surprises of the season so far has been Aric Almirola, who has the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 sitting 12th in the Sprint Cup point standings. As good as the year as been, however, the second-year driver has yet to earn a Sprint Cup victory, and Tony Stewart's win at Dover on Sunday bumped Alimrola out of a Chase for the Sprint Cup spot for the first time all season. Almirola will probably need at least one win to make the Chase this year, but Pocono is not the track for that to happen. 

Ryan Newman

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    Dover was a disaster for Ryan Newman and his No. 39 team. After starting fifth, Newman slowly faded through the pack until he was outside the top-20. On lap 299, he took out his frustrations on David Gilliland, wrecking both their cars, and relegating himself to a 36th-place finish. 

     

    Why does he need a win?

    It has been a frustrating year for Newman, who sits 20th in the Sprint Cup standings. In 13 races, Newman has failed to finish four races and has posted just a single top-five finish. 

    Newman has missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup twice in the last three years and has just three victories in that time. If he is going to make the Chase this year, he is going to have to find Victory Lane, and Pocono is a track where he can do it. In 22 races at the track, Newman has one win, seven top-fives, and an average finish of 12.4, sixth among active drivers.

Brad Keselowski

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    The defending Sprint Cup champion started the season strong with four consecutive top-five finishes, but his fifth place finish at Dover last week was his first in the last nine weeks. After the race, Keselowski's car failed post-race inspection, costing he and his team six valuable points and dropping him to tenth in the standings. 

     

    Why does he need a win?

    Keselowski earned last year's championship by picking up five wins during the season. With the point standings so tight this year—eighth through 13th are separated by just 21 points—Keselowski and the No. 2 team need to start winning races and picking up maximum points. 

    Pocono Raceway is a track where Keselowski has had mixed success in the past. In six races at the track, he has two top-five finishes, including a victory in 2011, and four finishes of 18th or worse. A win on Sunday would help erase the effects of last week's penalty and solidify the team's position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 

Jeff Gordon

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    Jeff Gordon was the last driver to qualify for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, edging out Kyle Busch by three points for the 12th and final spot. After 13 races this year, Gordon finds himself in the same position, holding a seven point advantage over Aric Almirola for the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 

     

    Why does he need a win?

    Gordon has yet to find Victory Lane this year, but he does have three top-five finishes on the season. He also has three DNF's to match, which have helped put the driver deep in the standings and on the brink of missing the Chase for the first time since 2005. 

    Pocono could be the medicine Gordon and his team need. Gordon leads all active drivers with six victories at Pocono Racewayincluding one in each of the past two seasonsand a seventh triumph on Sunday would go a long way to putting the 41-year-old into the Chase for the ninth time. 

Jimmie Johnson

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    Jimmie Johnson was the class of the field last week in Dover, leading 143 of the race's 400 laps. But after being black-flagged for jumping the final restart, Johnson had to settle for a 17th place finish. The result allowed Carl Edwards to close to within 30 points of Johnson for the Sprint Cup points lead.

     

    Why does he need a win?

    Johnson's miscue on Sunday cost the team more than a win, it cost them valuable bonus points for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Seeding for the Chase is based on wins, with each victory in the regular season worth three points. Matt Kenseth currently leads the way with three victories to Johnson's two, giving him the edge with 13 races remaining in the regular season.

    As we saw in 2011, those three points could be crucial in determining this year's Sprint Cup champion, and Johnson will be looking to make up lost ground by earning his third career Pocono victory this Sunday. 

Denny Hamlin

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    Despite sitting on the sidelines for a month with a broken back, Denny Hamlin still has a chance to earn one of the two Wild Card positions in the Chase for the Championship. He has two top-five finishes in his last three races and had a top-10 car at Dover before cutting a tire late in the going. 

     

    Why does he need a win?

    In order to make the Chase for the Championship, he will need to pick up at least one win—probably two—and will need to make up 74 points on 20th place Ryan Newman over the next 13 races.

    Pocono is Hamlin's best track. In 14 races at the Tricky Triangle, the Chesterfield, VA, native has four victories, eight top-fives and nine top-10 finishes. He has led more than 25 percent of the laps he has run at the track during his career. Hamlin's Chase hopes hinge on victories, and his best opportunity comes this Sunday at Pocono.