Pocono 500 Studs and Duds
Here is a look at the people who left Pocono smelling like roses and the guys who left wondering what the heck happened to their weekends.
From first to worst back to first all over the course of one weekend. The weekend started with rain all day Friday placing Stewart on the pole based on owner points but that didn't last past Saturday as Stewart was forced to a backup car after a wreck in practice and had to start shotgun on the field.
But even after all that and all the travelling to and from Eldora for rain and racing in the Dream, Stewart and his crew chief Darian Grubb found a way to get the absolute most out of their gas and bring home the first ever points win for Stewart Haas Racing and be the first owner/driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd.
Not to mention the extra points over the rest of the field, a bit of extra security on his Chase qualification chances and the 10 point bonus coming his way after Richmond.
Pocono finish: Winner
Points: Leader, 2043
Pocono seemed to many like the kind of track that the former road racing specialist Marcos Ambrose would have a great chance of being successful on and those people were right. Ambrose started mid pack and through the course of the day combined with some help from the gas situation brought his car home just outside of the top five in sixth place.
With this finish, gaining points on the top 12, Ambrose has become a legitimate contender for a Chase spot after the quickly approaching September race at Richmond where the Chase field will be set.
Ambrose currently sits only 210 points out of the Chase behind current 12th place Denny Hamlin. With 12 races left before the cut-off Ambrose needs to gain just 17 points per race over each of his contenders to climb from 18th into the top 12.
Pocono finish: Sixth
Points: 18th, 1469, (574 behind Stewart, 210 behind 12th place Hamlin)
This has been a great weekend all around for Michael Waltrip Racing and it came to a head with Reutimann's impressive third-place performance at the tricky triangle in Pennsylvania.
With that third place finish "The Franchise" climbed himself back into the top 12 in points with a 23 point advantage over 13th place Mark Martin and 342 points behind Tony Stewart, a margin that should he make the Chase will completely disappear due to Stewart and Reutimann both having one win.
Combine the recent performances this "young" driver has been producing with the recent positive P/R he has received for spearheading the pro-Carl Long cause by donating $5,000 to help Long and his crew cheif pay they're $200,000 fine and Reutimann has got some great job security.
Pocono finish: Third
Points: 11th, 1701, (342 behind Stewart, 23 ahead of 13th place Martin)
Edwards is getting closer and closer to getting his first win of 2009 and Roush Fenway's first win since Kenseth took home back-to-back wins to start off the season. The thing that has to be reaffirming to Edwards from today's race was even after recent issues with teammate Greg Biffle not only did the two of them run and work well together but they also did the same with teammate Matt Kenseth.
Performances like this combined with Edwards public image and marketability is pretty much a guarantee that he will not be the driver leaving Roush Fenway when NASCAR imposes the four team rule forcing Roush to put the axe on one of his teams.
Carl gained some ground on 13th place Mark Martin putting him 84 points ahead and while that is by no means a safe distance for Edwards anytime you can pad the difference is a confidence builder at the end of the day.
Pocono finish: Second
Points: Sixth, 1762, (281 behind Stewart, 84 ahead of Martin)
Sure we didn't get a whole lot of chances to get a good look at the new double-file restart policy but what we did see was great. It did produce more two-wide and even some three-wide racing making those restart laps more exciting for the fans.
Also the new wave-around policy was interesting to see as the field took the green seeing numerous teams dive down pit road because they couldn't pit under caution in order to get a lap back. This policy will help teams more and keep more teams on the lead lap in races with more cautions but didn't help too much today due to the lack of cautions.
NASCAR definitely chose the right weekend to implement this policy but it will not encounter a real test until the series visits a track like Richmond, Bristol or Martinsville.
If it wasn't for bad luck then Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Toyota wouldn't have any luck during this middle stretch of the 2009 Sprint Cup season. Hamlin, who is attempting to make the Chase for the fourth consecutive time since entering full-time competition in 2006, has fallen to 12th place in the current standings only one point ahead of 13th place Martin.
Twice at the beginning of the race Hamlin lost power and came to a stop on the race track prompting NASCAR to show the caution and it seemed like his day was doomed to a 43rd place finish.
Luckily for him even though he said "I'm done" to his team over the radio they did not agree and were able to get him back on the track and pick up five spots to finish 38th and remain in the top 12.
Pocono finish: 38th
Points: 12th, 1679 (364 behind Stewart, 1 ahead of Martin)
Mark had a strong car all day long and was present in the top 10 for most if not the entire day but as a part of the late race fuel drama Martin had to stop and fell to the bottom of the top 20 finishing a disappointing 19th place and finding himself on the outside looking in on the Chase.
Sure it is only one point but guys like Martin will tell you it is much easier to defend points then it is to try to gain them and with the performances at Pocono Kasey Kahne and Juan Montoya are not far behind Martin giving more competition for a spot in the Chase.
Pocono finish: 19th
Points: 13th, 1678 (365 behind Stewart, 1 behind Hamlin)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After last week's change atop the pit box and a rather impressive 12th place finish at Dover many, including myself, thought that maybe some things would turn around for Junior and he would at least string together some top 10 finishes over the next couple of weeks.
Well Junior may have proved those thoughts wrong and have more critics saying that maybe the problem wasn't Eury Jr. when he was seemingly absent from the TNT broadcast most of the day and wound up outside the top 20 in the 27th position as the smoke cleared at Pocono.
Junior sit 20th in points and the Chase seems like an unattainable goal at this point with a 245 point deficit between him and Hamlin and 12 races to recover an average of 20 points a race. While that doesn't seem like a huge margin he is fighting against eight other drivers trying to fight their way into the top 12 the telling stat is that he only beat two people ahead of him in points, Kurt Busch(37th) and Denny Hamlin(38th).
Pocono finish: 27th
Points: 20th, 1434 (611 behind Stewart, 261 behind Hamlin)
Another dismal performance from the No. 12 team has definitely made Stremme a part of the background noise at Penske Championship Racing and has put his job there in danger. With one teammate(Kurt Busch) sitting 5th in the standings and another(Sam Hornish Jr.) making gains every week including a top 10 finish today, Stremme is the dead weight and don't think Penske doesn't notice.
With rookie talent Justin Allgaier showing great potential in the Nationwide series don't be surprised if he becomes the driver of the No. 12 either before this season ends or in 2010 unless Stremme shows some immediate improvement in his performances. If Stremme is lucky he will swap rides with Allgaier so at least he is still in a car in 2010.
The one plus Stremme has is the fact that he currently has the No. 12 in the top 35 with a 271 point advantage over the 35th place No. 34 team and a 312 point advantage over the No. 82 team. But he did lose six points to the 82 this week and should the 34 and 82 turn on the jets and Stremme continue to falter don't be surprised to see Stremme qualifying with the go-or-go homers before season end.
Pocono finish: 34th
Points: 30th, 1267 (776 behind Stewart)
Andretti had another chance to not only gain some points on the cars ahead of him in the owner's points but to put some more points between himself and the No. 82 of Scott Speed but after struggling to finish 35th two laps down to the leader that didn't happen.
Speed finished three spots ahead of Andretti gaining nine points and pulling back to within 41 points of Andretti and Andretti's status as a locked-in competitor. The last thing Andretti needs right now is to fall into the go-or-go home group and have to spend over 50 percent of the available practice time on a qualifying set and then stress over making the race.
Hopefully Andretti can capitalize on Speed's unfamiliarity with some upcoming tracks like New Hampshire and Chicagoland to get a more comfortable separation between himself and that Red Bull No. 82.
Pocono finish: 35th
Points: 36th, 862 (1181 behind Stewart)
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