Denny Hamlin has won his second pole of the year as he set the pace during the final round of qualifying at the Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 400. Hamlin’s speed of 181.415 mph was barely able to edge out Kurt Busch as he now has 19 career poles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His lap was also quick enough to abolish the old track record set by Joey Logano in 2012.
This is the first time Hamlin has sat on the pole at Pocono since 2006. In 2014, Hamlin has now qualified on the front row three times, and finished sixth after sitting on the pole at Bristol, but led just four laps during that event.
“We were definitely not a pole winning car after practice, and even after the first round. It all worked out for us for a pole run,” Hamlin said.
Logano will start seventh in the No. 22 Ford after the Fords were seemingly not strong during practice. However, Logano believe his Team Penske car is going to be fast enough to contend for the victory.
“I don’t think we were struggling. I think we were trying things to get the setup where we wanted it to be. When you come to the race track for the first time with a new rules package, there are a lot of big differences to get used to,” Logano said after qualifying.
Brian Vickers paced the majority of Friday’s lone practice session, and was fastest in the first round of qualifying. However, Vickers dropped to fourth in the second round, and evidently will start ninth in the No. 55 Toyota.
“We got a little too tight. I’m not sure why. I guess we have to go back and figure it out,” Vickers said.
After winning back-to-back races, Jimmie Johnson will start 20th in the No. 48 Chevrolet as he made two attempts in the second round of qualifying, but could not break into the top-12.
“The driver blew Turn 2. I just got too greedy down in two and lost the nose in corner exit,” Johnson said.
Here are some notables from qualifying:
-Matt Kenseth missed the cut to move to the second round as he will start 26th on Sunday. Kenseth struggled in both Pocono races last year, and is coming off of back-to-back top-fives.
-Kasey Kahne also missed the top-24 for the third time this season. Kahne will start 27th in the No. 5 car after putting the 20th quickest time up in Friday’s practice.
-Austin Dillon made it to the final round of qualifying for just the third time this season.
-Alex Kennedy will start 42nd in his first start of 2014.
-Dave Blaney spun out in Turn 1 during his qualifying lap. Blaney was not able to complete a lap, but will start at the tail end of the field since only 43 cars are entered in the race.
After hitting the high-banked Dover International Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has arrived to an unorthodox track. The Pocono Raceway, home of the “Tricky Triangle,” is hosting the 33rd annual Pocono 400, and the 73rd race in the track’s history.
In this weekend’s version of statistically analyzing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field, we will give you a look at a bit of history of the results which drivers have recorded.
-Jamie McMurray: After controversially having damage due to the concrete breaking apart at Dover, McMurray is looking to have a cleaner race this weekend at Pocono. Though McMurray has never finished better than ninth at Pocono, he has been consistently inside the top-20 at the two-mile triangle.
-Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is coming off of a runner-up finish at Dover, and is now eighth in the points standings. However, he is utilizing a chassis that has yet to run on the track. After winning at Pocono in 2011, it has been all or nothing for the Michigan native. He has two top-six finishes since then, but also has two finishes outside of the top-15.
-Austin Dillon: Dillon is the most experienced of rookie drivers at Pocono. He has a pair of top-10 finishes at Pocono in two Camping World Truck Series events, but did not lead a single lap in either of those races. After running inside of the top-10 at the season-opener in Daytona, he has yet to crack the top-10 since. However, he has nine top-20s since the Daytona 500 and is solidly 15th in points.
-Kevin Harvick: Harvick has never won at Pocono in 26 starts and has led just five laps after completing over 4,500 laps over the course of his career at Pocono. He was arguably the only driver that could contend with Jimmie Johnson for the win at Dover, but ended up having to make an unscheduled pit stop and was on a pit cycle which was different from the leaders. Harvick has nine top-10s at Pocono, but it is safe to say that he will be a contender this weekend.
-Kasey Kahne: Kahne has been underperforming this year compared to his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports. After winning at Pocono in August of last season, Kahne should feel fairly confident this weekend. The No. 5 team is utilizing the chassis which they used to finish third with at Kansas. Although he has been successful at Pocono in the past, Kahne has an average finish of 17th as he has been involved in multiple wrecks at the track.
-Michael Annett: Annett, like most of the rookie drivers, has never run a race at Pocono. Coming off of what would have been a solid run at Dover had he not experienced trouble to put him over20 laps down, Annett could have a decent race at Pocono.
-Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose compares Pocono to a road course since drivers have to attack each corner differently from one another. In a year where he has just two top-fives, each at short tracks, Ambrose needs a solid run at a larger track. He has six top-20 finishes at Pocono in 10 races, but also has two top-10s.
-Danica Patrick: This could be opportunity weekend for Patrick. However, she is using a car that has been nothing better than mediocre this weekend, and she struggled mightily at Pocono in 2013. If she could have a clean race, Patrick should be able to run inside of the top-25 this weekend.
-Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won his first pair of races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono back in 2006. He has two more wins at Pocono, but has yet to win at Pocono since the track was resurfaced. Hamlin has led 11 of the 16 races he has started at Pocono, but did not lead a single lap in either event at Pocono in 2013. Besides winning at Talladega, he has been inconsistent this year, especially on the larger tracks.
-Casey Mears: Mears has had a solid year after Germain Racing created an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Pocono has been one of his better tracks in the past, and finished inside of the top-25 in both races last year. Currently, he sits 24th in points with six top-15s after 13 races into the 2014 season.
-Tony Stewart: Stewart is coming off of his best race of the year at Dover. He ran inside the top-10 through all 400 miles, and was going to be a contender for the win had the caution not come out late in the race and he was able to save enough fuel. He won his first race as an owner-driver at Pocono in 2009, and has run very well since the repave. In 30 starts at Pocono, Stewart has 22 top-10s with an average finish of 11th.
-Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been solid at Pocono in each of the last four races at the track. He has seven top-10s in 16 starts at Dover, but has not contended for a win at the track since 2010. Bowyer enters Pocono 17th in points, but is coming off of one of his better races this year at Dover.
-Greg Biffle: With speculation growing that he might stay at Roush-Fenway Racing, Biffle has finished outside of the top-15 in three straight races. With RFR’s inconsistency this year, Biffle needs a solid run. He finished runner-up during this race last year, but has been inconsistent at the larger tracks this season. With a win at Pocono in 2010, Biffle is looking to regain his momentum as he is now 16th in points.
-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse Jr. struggled in both Pocono races in his rookie year – finishing 26th and 24th, respectively. He has dropped to 26th in points after eight finishes of 22nd or worse this season.
-Kyle Busch: Along with Hamlin, Busch has just been missing a little something on the larger tracks which has prevented him from going to victory lane. He has never won at Pocono, and it is one of his worst tracks with an average finish of 17.8 in 18 starts. Currently, Busch sits seventh in points, even after getting wrecked by Bowyer last weekend at Dover. He has seven top-10s at Pocono, and is looking for his third straight finish of eighth or better at the Tricky Triangle.
-Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has started off races slow this year, but begins to contend for the win after the halfway mark, just like his days at Roush-Fenway Racing. Coming off of back-to-back third-place finishes, Kenseth has momentum on his side. Pocono was one of the few tracks which Kenseth struggled at in 2013, and has done so for the majority of his career. In 28 races at Pocono, Kenseth has just 10 top-10s with a best finish of third in 2003 – his championship season.
-Joey Logano: With two wins this year, Logano can test out different setups as he is all but secure in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has led laps in all but three races this season, but has had three finishes of 32nd or worse. Logano edged out Mark Martin for the win at Pocono in 2012. Since then, he has raced solidly inside of the top-13 in each of the last three Pocono races. Currently, the Team Penske driver sits sixth in points and is looking to have the best season of his young career.
-Alex Bowman:Bowman has a pair of third place finishes at Pocono in two ARCA Series starts back in 2012. He struggled mightily at Dover – getting into the wall three times, and is looking to have a solid day.
-Jeff Gordon: Gordon lost the points lead to Kenseth after Dover, but has a win which should make him feel more secure entering the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The No. 24 car has been fast at each race this year, and he might just be able to capture another victory this weekend at Pocono. He is using the same chassis that he used to win at Kansas, and has had his fair share of success at the two-mile track. Gordon has six wins and 29 top-10s in 42 starts at Pocono, and if he leads 28 or more laps on Sunday, he will surpass the one thousand laps led mark at Pocono.
-Cole Whitt: After making the switch to BK Racing from Swan Racing, Whitt has run inside of the top-30 for the past four races. Though he has not run great, he has outrun his teammates and has shown improvement from the events he ran with Swan.
-Paul Menard: Menard has seven top-10 finishes already this year. He is using the chassis which he used at Darlington, and is looking to capture his second top-five of the season. Menard has two top-10 finishes at Pocono in 14 starts at the track, but finished 30th or worse in both Pocono races last year.
-Ryan Newman: Since making the move over to Richard Childress Racing, Newman has been running inside of the top-20 for the most part. However, he has not been contending for wins. That may change at Pocono as he participated in the test on May 27, and he is racing the car which he ran at Las Vegas and Texas. Newman has an average finish of 11.7 at Pocono in 24 starts, and is looking for his fourth straight top-six finish.
-Alex Kennedy: Kennedy is making his season debut for Circle Sport Racing in the No. 33 Chevrolet. He will also race the two road course events over the summer months. He made three starts for Humphrey-Smith Motorsports last year (including Pocono).
-David Ragan: Ragan and the entire Front Row Motorsports team have struggled getting adjusted to the new aero package this year. However, Ragan finished 21st in one of the two Pocono races last year, and is expected to run inside the top-30 if he does not experience any mechanical issues.
-Reed Sorenson: Soreneson’s best career finish at Pocono was 20th in 2009 with Richard Petty Motorsports. Coming off of one of his best races this year at Dover, Sorenson will welcome a new sponsor to the No. 36 Chevrolet this weekend with Theme Park Connection coming aboard for Tommy Baldwin Racing.
-David Gilliland: Gilliland has experienced trouble over the past four races, and is looking just to finish a race. His best Pocono finish with Front Row Motorsports was a 21st-place finish in 2012.
-Kurt Busch: Busch will be using a brand new chassis this weekend. After finishing 18th at Dover, Busch is 28th in points, but is rather secure in the top-30. However, he has just two top-10s this year, and has been extremely inconsistent. Busch has a pair of wins at Pocono in 25 starts, and also has 14 top-10s at the track including a third-place finish at Pocono in August last year.
-Kyle Larson: Larson has never raced at Pocono, so he will be doing the “double” by racing the ARCA Series event on Saturday. He has run well at the high speed tracks this year, and has finished inside of the top-20 all but two times this season.
-Aric Almirola: Almirola has consistently run around the top-20 at Pocono over the last three races. His No. 43 car has run inside of the top-13 over the past four races, and has momentum on his side.
-A.J. Allmendinger: The alliance with RCR has begun to pay dividends for JTG Daugherty Racing. He has three top-10s this year, but has struggled at Pocono as of late. Allmendinger’s average finish at Pocono in 12 starts is worse than 24th, and had a pair of 33rd-place finishes in both Pocono races last year.
-Jimmie Johnson: Coming off of back-to-back wins, Johnson is looking for his third win of 2014. After running very well at both races at Pocono last season, including a win in this event, Johnson is poised to return to victory lane once again. He has three career wins at Pocono with an average finish better than ninth in 24 starts.
-Justin Allgaier: Allgaier won at Pocono in the ARCA Series back in 2008, and has four top-10s in six prior Pocono starts. He is starting to pick up momentum with Steve Addington as he has five top-25 finishes this year.
-Brian Vickers: Vickers has been running well in his return to full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He has five top-10s this year, and currently sits 13th in points. This will be the first time Vickers will race at Pocono since 2011, but he completed the test in late May which should help him get readjusted to Pocono. In 14 prior starts at Pocono, Vickers’ best finish was second in 2008 with Red Bull Racing, and in 2005 with Hendrick Motorsports as it has been one of his better tracks. However, he has not raced on the new surface.
-Timmy Hill: Hill will be running the No. 66 Toyota at Pocono as Joe Nemechek will be racing at Texas in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
-Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has five top-10s at Pocono in 16 starts, and nearly won at Pocono in 2012. This year, however, Truex has struggled with Furniture Row Racing. He had his best run of the year at Dover with a sixth-place finish, and is looking to take that momentum to Pocono.
-Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt Jr. has six top-10s this year, and has run well at the larger tracks. His average finish this year is approximately 12th after 13 events, but is still looking for a win on a non-restrictor plate track. Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top-five in both Pocono races last year, and is utilizing the same chassis he raced with at the Auto Club Speedway earlier this year.
-Carl Edwards: Edwards has been inconsistent this year, but when he runs well – he races inside of the top-five. When he runs poorly – Edwards struggles to stay inside of the top-20. He’ll be racing with a new chassis this weekend, and is looking for his third win at Pocono in what will be his 19th start at the track. Edwards has eight top-10s at Pocono, and is looking to capture his first win since 2008 at Pocono.
43 cars are entered in the race, so no drivers will miss the event.
Kyle Busch is two for two this weekend at the Dover International Speedway. After dominating the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on Friday afternoon, Busch scored his 66th career win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and now has a total of 134victories in NASCAR’s top-three divisions.
Busch led 124 of the 200 laps in the Buckle Up 200, providing the eighth win at Dover for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series. He restated his dominance, especially on restarts as he was able to pull out front within the first two laps of each restart, providing the No. 54 car with a comfortable lead for the long green flag runs. Entering this weekend’s events at Dover, no driver had previously won both the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series events at the Monster Mile. Busch will be looking to complete the Dover triple on Sunday afternoon during the FedEx 400.
Late in the race, Trevor Bayne was able to get around Joey Logano, who had won four straight Nationwide Series contests at Dover prior to this weekend. Logano led 59 laps on Saturday’s spectacle, but just didn’t have a car capable of keeping up with Busch who was setting a staggering pace after the second round of pit stops.
"This team has made some really big gains this week. We have been eighth to 10th every week and it kind of stinks to be that close. I will never complain about a second place finish, but when you can get that close, you want to keep going," Bayne said.
After being more than two seconds behind Busch, Bayne close the gap to less than half of a second with 15 laps to go. However, Bayne just could not keep up with Busch who showed signs of getting stronger within the concluding 10 markers. This marks Bayne’s second top-five of the year, and now sits fourth in points.
Regan Smith leaves Dover with a four point lead over Elliott Sadler as the two were battling for the ninth position late in the race. After leading the race early, Chase Elliott ended up finishing fifth, and is now 22 points behind his teammate, Smith, for the points lead.
Cale Conley was running 18th, just trying to earn experience when James Buescher got loose off of Turn Four, and slid into Ryan Reed. Reed tried to save it, but slammed into Conley, tossing his No. 33 Chevrolet into the outside wall in Turn One.
Dylan Kwasniewski had a track bar issue late in the race, sending his No. 31 Chevrolet to pit road where he went 12 laps down.
Joey Logano will be leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series field to the green flag on Saturday afternoon for the Buckle Up 200. Logano set a blistering pace during the second qualifying session at 23.155 seconds to win his 24th career Nationwide Series pole award and his first of 2014.
Entering Dover, Logano is winless in the Nationwide Series this year. However, he is currently seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings with two wins which should lock him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Logano has won four straight races at Dover International Raceway, and has an average finish of 5.4 in 10 starts at the track.
Logano set the pace in the first round as well with a time of 23.289 seconds. Brian Scott fell just short of Logano’s time at 23.289 seconds in Round One.
Chase Elliott will start on the outside pole after pacing both practice sessions. Elliott was less than a tenth of a second off of Logano’s lap, but was not able to get a run off the corners like Logano. This will be Elliott’s eighth start inside of the top-10 in 2014 and his second start on the front row. Chris Buescher was the second highest qualifying rookie as he will start eighth in the No. 60 Ford.
After winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Friday afternoon, Kyle Busch qualified fourth in the No. 54 Toyota.
James Buescher will start 21st in the No. 99 Toyota. Dylan Kwasniewski was extremely loose during his run, and is going to start mid-pack. Morgan Shepherd will start last as he makes his first start of the year in the No. 89 Chevrolet.
Short tracks always get tempers flaring. Matt Kenseth knows that a little too well by now. A few years ago, Jeff Gordon yanked him by the collar at the Bristol Motor Speedway. Now, Kenseth has gotten into trouble with NASCAR's most outspoken driver, Brad Keselowski.
On a night where tires were blowing, flames were soaring out of cars and tempers were flaring like Bugs Bunny against Elmer Fudd - but not in such a humorous fashion, Kenseth and Keselowski started the first of possibly many wars to come.
Kenseth and Keselowski were battling for the lead with a handful of laps remaining during Saturday evening's running of the Toyota Owner's 400 at the Richmond International Raceway. Keselowski went to pass Kenseth, but was seemingly blocked by the driver of the No. 20 Toyota. After racing side-by-side for slightly over a lap, Keselowski went for the lead off of Turn Four, but his car became extremely loose. This lead to Keselowski's teammate, Joey Logano, going under the duo battling for the front spot, and was able to hold onto the lead to win his second race of the year.
"I had a shot at winning the race, and I felt like he ran me up the track," Keselowski said after the race. "You make a move like that when you are going to win the race, not when you are just keeping someone else from winning a race.
Proceeding the "block," Keselowski tapped Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing car multiple times in the closing laps, but nothing too serious. However, once the checkered flag waved, chaos erupted between the two. Even though no fists were thrown like Marcos Ambrose's epic punch which connected with Casey Mears' face, the two have been fighting words - something that might come into play as the season continues.
When the drivers were heading to pit road as the race concluded, Keselowski took his frustration out on Kenseth's car, starting a brand new rivalry. Keselowski got into Kenseth on the cool-down lap, causing a domino effect with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger each hitting Kenseth's rear bumper. Kenseth sits second in the points standings while Keselowski is seventh, but also has a win which should lock him into NASCAR's version of the playoffs.
Now, NASCAR has their newest rivalry. The two have completely different personalities, and it does not appear they want to make amends anytime soon. In the days since the hectic race, the two drivers have hit to social media to do some venting.
Looking back, I needed some time after the race 2 cool off. Funny how much clearer the picture can be when emotion is removed #ijustwannawin— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 27, 2014
The 120th person to RT this that's NOT named Brad, will win my shades from Richmond. #winmattsmojo— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) April 28, 2014
Someone should have told Kenseth fans that the race was during the evening.
Keselowski then Tweeted out this message: "Huge thank you to gargoyles for giving me glasses so great I don't want to give them away," with a picture of his rather nice pair of sunglasses.
Prior to this, Joe Gibbs Racing Tweeted out a picture of Kenseth's damaged car:
@JoeGibbsRacing seems their was a lot of extra work after Daytona 500 practice this year too.— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 28, 2014
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the two drivers act on their budding rivalry. In the midst of a season where ratings have decreased compared to 2013, a rivalry between two championship contenders can certainly bring back some interest into NASCAR.