The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is ready to tackle the “Tricky Triangle.” After arriving mid-week at the Pocono Raceway, the field has been set for the 33rd annual Pocono 400.
Denny Hamlin broke Joey Logano’s track record which was set in 2012 by flying around the Pocono Raceway at a blistering 181.415 mph. Hamlin is searching for his first top-10 at a track 1.5 miles long or larger. Even though he has a win at Talladega this year, Hamlin has struggled on the larger circuits, and is looking for some form of consistency after winning his second pole award of the year. Hamlin has won four previous races at Pocono, including his first pair of victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series back in 2006 where he won from the pole in both events.
Jimmie Johnson is coming off of back-to-back wins at Charlotte and Dover – both of which he dominated. After winning the Pocono 400 in 2013, Johnson has set his sights high for Sunday’s event. However, Johnson will have to come from mid-pack to contend for the win as he will be starting 20th in the No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson was eighth in the second practice session of the weekend and recorded the third fastest time during Happy Hour. Could Johnson win his fourth Pocono race this weekend?
Jeff Gordon comes into Pocono as the all-time wins leader at the track. Gordon was runner-up to his teammate, Kasey Kahne, in last year’s August Pocono event. However, Gordon is coming off a disastrous race at Dover where he was contending for a top-five position, but fell back approximately 10 spots within the final handful of laps.
Speaking of Kahne – he has been struggling with the handling of the No. 5 Chevrolet this weekend. He was 17th in the second practice and 14th in final practice. Although it is not horrific, compared to his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, he is struggling.
Brian Vickers has been fast all weekend. The No. 55 Toyota led the first practice session of the weekend, and was fastest in the first round of qualifying before falling to ninth in the final session. Vickers has not raced at Pocono since 2011 – making this race his first at the track since it was repaved. Entering Pocono, Vickers is 13th in the points standings in his return to full-time racing at NASCAR’s highest level.
Kevin Harvick was quickest in both of Saturday’s practice sessions, but his No. 4 team had to change their transmission. Harvick will not have to go to the rear of the field as NASCAR enables teams to change transmissions. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had to have a transmission swapped before Happy Hour in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Aric Almirola also had a transmission issue after initially believing the engine had gone out on the No. 43 Ford. NASCAR enables teams to change transmissions at Pocono as well as the pair of road courses.
Mike Bliss is on standby for David Ragan whose wife is pregnant. Alex Kennedy spun out during practice on Saturday, but did not hit anything.
The Pocono Raceway also opened up the apron by the apex in Turn 2 - the tunnel turn. Though not many drivers have attempted to drive down on the apron, Landon Cassill showed Speedway Digest what it would be like to drive into that area during a pace car ride on Sunday morning. The Chevrolet pace car immediately shot up the track and was extremely loose, and that was after going 115-130 mph. Cassill believes late in the race, someone might try to go down there, but he doesn't see many drivers taking that risk considering it is so rough on that part of the track.