The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolled out of iconic Indianapolis Speedway back to tricky Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, with just six races remaining to determine Chase for the Championship contenders. Those successful will face a new elimination format.
Eleven different drivers have won in 20 races, making it unlikely that five or six winless drivers will join the Chase challengers. It’s more likely that drivers who've won will win again, as their productive teams are more secure in taking chances.
Recent NASCAR history has produced an average of 12 to 13 different winners per season. Those statistics would indicate that only one or two more drivers without wins will be visiting Victory Lane before the Chase begins.
The first challenge is the GoBowling.com 400.
Most top NSCS drivers like to focus on one race at time, specifically the next one. The members of this fast group shared their thoughts on the “Tricky Triangle” in anticipation of the next green flag.
Points leader Jeff Gordon and his team are riding high after a significant win in Indianapolis and are eager to get another win to boost their initial Chase playoff position. Gordon shared technical thoughts about Pocono.
“The cool thing about Pocono is the three different corners,” Gordon said. “One is high-banked, one is flat and one is the 90 degree 'Tunnel Turn.' You approach each differently, and you have to drive each differently. It’s tricky. It’s challenging.”
Lately, Kyle Busch has been ever so close to snatching checkered flags. He analyzed Pocono for fans.
“The hardest part of the track is probably Turn 1," Busch said. “Turn 2 is the second. Turn 3 is the third. You’ve got to maneuver through the Tunnel Turn to get your car right. If you miss it by a bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner. It’s tight.”
Austin Dillon is having a good rookie year. Securing a win and a Chase spot would make his year almost magical. Dillon talked Pocono.
“I'm looking forward to going to tracks for the second time,” Dillon said. “Pocono Raceway is unique in that you have three different corners to set up for. One's flat, one's banked and one's just a weird corner. I'm up for the challenge."
Roush Fenway Racing recently announced that Carl Edwards won’t be driving for them in 2015. Edwards now has a chance to earn a championship as a lame-duck driver. Edwards analyzed Pocono.
“Pocono is a blast to drive,” Edwards said. “It's a two-and-a-half-mile track, tons of speed, three different corners. It's almost like a road course in that every lap you have to do a lot of different things to get your car to go around the track."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has carried a lot of confidence throughout the 2014 season, and that could result in another win. Earnhardt talked Pocono.
“It seems like guys that run well there can sort of sustain it,” Earnhardt said. “I've seen guys sweep there, or at least have opportunities to sweep and come close. I like the track. We have run well there since the repave. I anticipate us being competitive again.”
Jimmie Johnson has three wins and four poles at Pocono and seemed confident in returning.
“Very excited to go back to Pocono,” Johnson said. “In June, even with a damaged car, we still had a chance to win. I am very excited to go back to Pocono. I just love that track.”
Matt Kenseth could be the only driver to make the Chase without a win. Kenseth and the No. 20 team have had a solid year without getting to Victory Lane. He talked about his team.
“I really feel like we’re doing much better as a group,” Kenseth said. “We’ve been racing hard each and every week to get the best results we can, so we’ll continue to do that heading into this weekend at Pocono.”
Perhaps Edwards summed up the mood that all 11 NSCS winners will take into Pocono.
“We've got six more weeks to race just for wins and for fun, before it gets serious in the Chase,” Edwards said.
Fans without tickets to the GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway can view the action on ESPN at 1 p.m. on 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.