The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Pocono Raceway for the Axalta 400 this weekend, and opening practice was a bit adventurous for some and calm for others.
The practice was dominated by three teams, Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.
However, much like the majority of the past two seasons Kevin Harvick was fastest. He turned a lap of 176.932 mph with ten minutes left in practice. The quick lap in practice was roughly five miles per hour slower than last June’s pole time of 181.415 mph. Pocono is one of five tracks that Harvick has never recorded a win at in the Sprint Cup Series.
Kyle Busch recorded the second fastest time in the opening practice as he laid down a lap of 176.772 mph. Busch is coming off of a 36th-place finish last week in Dover and needs a good run in order to gain some ground on the top-30 in points. Remember, Busch was given a waiver due to his injury in the XFINITY season-opening race at Daytona and needs to get a win and be in the top-30 in points in order to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Carl Edwards rounded out the top-three as he was just a tad slower than his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Edwards hasn’t won at Pocono since 2008 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing. Now that Edwards is in the Chase because of his fuel-millage win at Charlotte, he has self-admittedly said that he will go-for-broke in the remainder of the races leading into Chicago in September.
In 2014, Dale Earnhardt Jr. swept both Pocono races and is looking to win his third straight at the historic track. Earnhardt unloaded off of the truck and recorded the fourth fastest time in the only practice before qualifying. Last season he started from the eighth and ninth positions respectively and still wound up in Victory Lane.
All of the Chevrolets from Stewart-Haas and Hendrick Motorsports were very quick. Pocono is a track where horsepower is a virtue, and those two organizations running Hendrick-powered engines have proven that they have the speed to get it done.
“I think Hendrick chassis and power will be pacing the field through a large part of the weekend,” said three-time Pocono winner Jimmie Johnson.
Coming into Pocono, those two organizations have combined to win eight out of the 13 races ran so far in 2015.
There were two incidents in practice as Sam Hornish went for a spin in Turn 1 and Tony Stewart spun off of the “tunnel turn” and hit the inside wall. Stewart had to go to a back-up car and remarkably made it out towards the end of practice. Stewart was 29th quickest.