With 13 of 26 regular-season races complete before the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is half over, but now we're ready for another half of intense runs.
Drivers know they must get a win to secure a chance in NASCAR’s new elimination playoff format. Ten different drivers have been to Victory Lane once. Three have won twice.
The looming Chase is more like a gauntlet now. Every third race, four drivers will be eliminated. Only four top drivers will roar into Homestead for the finale. Only one will snatch the championship trophy.
The next challenge is the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on the 2.5-mile speedway in Pocono, Penn. on June 8. Comments from top drivers foretell a tricky event.
Matt Kenseth had a great run last year with seven wins, but he has zero wins in 2014. The amazing statistic is that he leads in NSCS points right now, but he needs a win in the second half of the season or he and his team could be eliminated from contention. Kenseth talked Pocono.
“Pocono made a few changes to Turn 2,” Kenseth said. “I’ve heard they removed the curb and added asphalt. So I’m curious to see how ‘race-able’ that is or how that may change how we’ve been running in that corner."
NSCS rookie Austin Dillon has no wins yet, but he looks forward to knowing Pocono.
“I'm sure it's going to be a learning experience,” Dillon said. “You have three different corners to set up for. One's flat, one's banked and one's just a weird corner, so you get after it as hard as you can and try to give it the best you can."
Rookie Kyle Larson has no NSCS wins yet, just like Dillon, but he has won in the Nationwide Series and has been very adaptable to the competitive Cup level.
“This will be my first time racing at Pocono, but I’m ready,” Larson said. “I’ll get some feel for the racetrack in the ARCA Pocono 200. The track is tricky, with the tight turns and different distances in the straights, and needing to downshift in every corner.”
Kyle Busch has one win, great skills and a very competitive team. He looks forward to Pocono.
“I think the repave set us back a bit,” Busch said. “It was always a hard, tricky place. They had a pretty tough winter up there. Hopefully it weathered the surface even more, and it widened the groove so we can put on some good racing there.”
Kevin Harvick should be comfortable knowing he and team have secured two NSCS wins, but like most drivers, he looks to the next fast contest.
“It’s got three very different corners,” Harvick said. “I think after the repave, those corners are varied even more than in the past just because you carry a lot more speed into Turn 1 than you do the other corners.”
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team might have seemed sluggish in 2014, until they nabbed back-to-back wins. Johnson, as always, is ready.
“It’s a big track,” Johnson said. “It’s tough to see it all from a fan perspective. It is Chad’s favorite racetrack because all three corners are different, the loading is different, the banking is different, and there are a bunch of tools and options to adjust the race car.”
More than 40 drivers and teams hope they bring the tools to conquer the tricky Pocono track.
Fans without tickets for the race in the Pennsylvania mountains can view the action on TNT TV at 1 p.m., Sunday.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.