FYI WIRZ: NASCAR Drivers Go Uphill to Pocono with 6 Races to Chase

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIJuly 31, 2013

Carl Edwards makes a point in the Daytona media center.  Credit: Dwight Drum
Carl Edwards makes a point in the Daytona media center. Credit: Dwight Drum

Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team roar out of historic Indianapolis uphill to the Pocono Mountains with a 75 point lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That’s big math for the new NSCS point scheme, which only allows 48 possible points per race.

Johnson and team aren’t likely to be giddy over a big point lead. They are more likely to be thrashing to get more wins out of the six regular season races remaining before NASCAR resets all points to playoff configuration for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 

A lot of math defines the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., Sunday, August 4. 

Johnson’s hauler with two ready race cars probably won’t strain much motoring from Indianapolis Motor Speedway at about 730 feet of elevation to Pocono Raceway, located about 1860 feet above sea level, but it is uphill.

Numbers count. Both the Indianapolis and Pocono tracks are 2.5 miles long and built on about 1,025 acres.

Numbers don’t always match. Similarities stop with shape, as IMS is a rectangular oval and Pocono is a triangle. Banking is different too, as IMS is nearly flat with 9 degrees, while Pocono is more elevated at 14 degrees.

All track math will be important to the 43 drivers and teams that take the green flag this weekend, but to those drivers struggling to get into the Chase, one number is primary. It’s a single digit. It’s the next win.

These six drivers with one win—Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman—could climb high on the Chase point mountain with another win in the next six races.

Three drivers in contention now have no wins, but they have points and probably need a win to secure a spot in the Chase. Both Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have enough good finishes to put them among the top five, but one win would enhance their standings. Keeping their performances consistent will help as well.

One driver, Jeff Gordon, needs it all. Gordon is on the bubble at 10th in points and probably needs a win plus consistent finishes to sustain his position for a Chase spot.

Top drivers Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Gordon shared their words going into the Poconos, where fast math will continue lap after lap.

Edwards, in his No. 99 Ford, hangs around the top point earners, the Chevrolets and Toyotas, week after week. 

“Pocono is a big, fast and difficult racetrack,” Edwards said. “It takes every part of your car and team working perfectly to win there. It’d be great to get bonus points before the chase starts. It’s a fun race track. Hopefully we come out of there with a smile.”

Harvick could continue to roll with his lame-duck ride into the Chase and be a top contender running into Homestead. 

“The first thing is you’ve got to survive the restart,” Harvick said. “The track is fast. Each corner is fast. Turn one is a corner where you drive in and down shift. The key to Pocono is getting up off the corners and in the throttle and being able to stay in the throttle.”

Kenseth has four wins to rely on heading into the final six races, but he and the No. 20 team would welcome another win or two.

“We learned a fair amount during the July race at Pocono,” Kenseth said. “Things will change from the first race as we head back this weekend. I enjoy racing at Pocono now since they repaved the track because that track surface is incredibly smooth.”

With two wins Busch and the No. 18 team seem likely to take a spot in the Chase championship quest. His past playoff experience hasn’t been productive enough to get a grasp on the Sprint Cup trophy, but that could change.

“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably Turn 1,” Busch said. “Most of your passing is going to be done through Turn 1 and off of Turn 1 getting into Turn 2. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”

Gordon has yearned to add another championship to the four he has won prior to the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff configuration. He knows what his team needs.

“This is a challenging track,” Gordon said. “We need to find speed early while also having a fast car over the long runs. We need to string together strong finishes. It seems like every time we get decent finishes, something happens to halt momentum.”

Gordon summed up what is on the mind of every driver and team close to qualifying for the Chase.

“We have six races left before the Chase, and we need to make the most of them, so we can earn a spot. If you earn a spot, the points reset puts you right back in the title hunt."

Twelve drivers have one win or more in 20 NSCS races. Wins in the next six races are likely to add up to Chase contention. 

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.


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