Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
1. Kevin Harvick
Harvick finished fourth at Pocono, his Sprint Cup Series-best 15th, top 10 result of the year, and fifth top five finish in the last six races.
He extended his lead in the Sprint Cup point standings to 189 over Jeff Gordon, and with only five races left before the Chase For The Cup begins, Harvick can focus on winning. If the Chase were to start today, Harvick would be third in the standings, behind five-time winners Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
“To relinquish my points lead,” Harvick said, “they’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. And when they reset the point standings, that’s exactly what they’ll do, those damn, dirty Chase For The Cup formatters.”
2. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson led 96 of the first 120 laps in the Sunoco Red Cross 500, but that dominance gave way to changing track conditions that rendered the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet loose.
Johnson fell back, and, on lap 164, in a battle to remain in the top 10, made contact with Kurt Busch’s No. 2 Dodge. He sent Busch spinning into the wall and through the infield grass.
“For the first half of the race,” Johnson said, “everyone saw a display of dominance comparable to that of my trophy case. Unfortunately, taking four tires near the end of the race was the wrong option. That was our mistake. Experience should have told us to see what Jeff Gordon does, and do the opposite.
“I can take comfort in knowing that I led the most laps, but I can take more comfort in knowing I’ve led the most victory laps. Plus, for wrecking the Miller Lite car, I cashed in those bootleg bonus points put up by Keith Stone, smooth spokesman for Miller Lite rival Keystone Light, right here in the Keystone State.”
3. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin, winner of the last two Pocono races, failed in his quest for the three-peat, finishing fifth in the Sunoco Red Cross 500.
Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford decided on four tires during a lap 170 caution, and Hamlin restarted 15th. When green flag racing resumed, track position appeared to outweigh grip.
Although he gained ten positions in the final laps, Hamlin was never a threat, as Greg Biffle, with only two fresh tires, sailed away for the win.
“Thankfully,” Hamlin said, “we didn’t have the overheating issues we had at Indianapolis. My gauges went haywire there. Now, after a $50,000 fine levied by NASCAR, censors , not sensors, are my biggest worry.
“But I suppose NASCAR’s fine will teach me a lesson, that lesson being that if you’re biting your tongue, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you. Thank goodness Kyle Busch takes criticisms much better than NASCAR, otherwise I’d be a poor man.”
4. Jeff Gordon
Gordon led with 30 laps to go at Pocono before a crucial pit stop left him in tenth place after several drivers opted for only two tires and fuel.
Gordon restarted tenth, and although his eventual finish of sixth was solid, it left his winless streak at 60 races. He is still second in the point standings, 189 behind Kevin Harvick.
“That’s a lot of miles since my last victory,” Gordon said. “And I suppose you can log that mileage on the ‘lost’ highway.
“And speaking of ‘roads I’ve been down,’ I had another near certain win ripped from my grasp. You could say Jimmie Johnson indirectly cost me the win, because he wrecked Kurt Busch, which led to the red flag that halted my momentum. I’ve been so close so many times this year. But, as everyone knows, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and the old Sprint Cup points format.”
5. Tony Stewart
Stewart started from the pole at Pocono and parlayed a quick pit stop late into the runner-up finish, unable to catch Greg Biffle down the stretch.
Stewart’s No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevy was the first out of the pits among cars that took four tires during a caution on lap 170. Stewart has top 10 finishes in seven of the last eight races, and moved up a spot to eighth in the points, 361 out of first.
“I find it amusing that Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman were fined for criticizing NASCAR,” Stewart said. “Their outspoken teammates, Kyle Busch and I, respectively, are the ones with the reputations for being loose-lipped. Frankly, I’m offended that I haven’t uttered a fineable offense. That will have to change. I, as much as anyone, long for the days of ‘non-filtered Smoke.’”
“Honestly, I can think of better ways to use ‘hush money’ than writing a check to NASCAR. Like, for example, to a certain Rolling Stone writer.”
6. Kurt Busch
Busch’s day ended suddenly at Pocono after Jimmie Johnson’s attempt to bump draft Busch’s No. 2 Dodge resulted in disaster, as Busch slammed the inside wall before sliding through the infield grass. He finished 33rd, and fell two places in the point standings to seventh, 358 behind Kevin Harvick.
“I know Johnson said there was no intent,” Busch said, “and it wasn’t on purpose. However, for all intents and purposes, I still got wrecked. Any apology from Johnson is mere doublespeak to me. As far as an apology goes, I’ll tell him the same thing I told people during my recovery from ear surgery: ‘I’ll hear none of it.’”
“The Miller Lite Vortex Dodge was destroyed. As beer goes, Johnson’s action should be considered ‘domestic’ battery.”
7. Kyle Busch: Busch finished a disappointing 23rd at Pocono, plagued by a broken radiator pan and late loose-handling conditions that negated a charge to the front. Busch remained sixth in the points, 356 out of first.
“It’s been nine long races since my last win,” Busch said. “It’s evidence of an alarming pattern, in which solid starts to the season are followed by late-season swoons. It seems the talk concerning me shouldn’t center on ‘old’ Kyle or ‘new’ Kyle, but rather on the possibility that we’re seeing the ‘same old’ Kyle."
8. Jeff Burton: Burton finished eighth at Pocono, scoring his 11th top 10 finish of the year and fourth in a row. Burton moved up two spots in the point standings to fifth, 323 out of first.
“I guess the big stories in NASCAR now,” Burton said, “are the fines levied against Hamlin and Newman, and Kurt Busch’s anger towards Jimmie Johnson. Both stories ‘have legs’, so to speak—one concerns a foot in the mouth, the other a foot in the a**.”
9. Carl Edwards: Edwards powered to a third place finish at Pocono, recording his fourth consecutive top 10 finish, buoyed by a critical two-tire pit stop late in the race.
Earlier this year, Edwards strung together three straight top 10s, after his incident with Brad Keselowski in Atlanta saddled him with probation.
Two of his most recent top 10s have come after another probationary decree by NASCAR, this time for his part in an incident with Keselowski on July 17th at Gateway in the Nationwide series.
“Yes, there seems to be some correlation between my performance and probation,” Edwards said. “Apparently, I find more motivation from a slap on the wrist than a kick in the tail."
10. Greg Biffle: After a key two-tire pit stop late in the Sunoco Red Cross 500 bore him an all-important track position, Biffle did the rest, clearing Sam Hornish, Jr. for the lead on lap 180. With clean air in front, Biffle sailed away from the rest of the field, many of whom opted for four tires.
“What a stunning finish to the race,” Biffle said. “No, not stunning that a Ford won, but stunning that NASCAR didn’t throw a phantom debris, also known as 'phe-bris,' caution to bunch the field for an exciting restart. I wonder if backhanded compliments are subject to a fine under NASCAR’s ‘That Hurts Our Feelings’ policy on critical comments, also known as the ‘Boo Who?’ code?”