For the second time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, the drivers come to The Long Pond at Pocono, where the Pennsylvania 400 runs on Sunday at noon EST. The last race here was on June 10 and produced one of the surprises of the season, when Joey Logano won, the lone high point of his 2012 season. A few other drivers are desperate for their own big high point as just six more races, including Sunday’s, are between now and the final Sprint For The Cup.
TheSportsNotebook has been harping the past several weeks, about the need for Carl Edwards to get a win. He’s got the point totals to qualify for a wild-card berth in the postseason, but the prerequisite for the two wild-cards is that there must be an outright win mixed in and Edwards doesn’t have one yet. Time’s running out. To a lesser extent we can say the same for Jeff Gordon and Paul Menard, who would need to both win a race and make up points. The point deficit is significant enough that TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill, says both realistically need to think in terms of winning two races. So drivers who’ve yet to win in the season’s first twenty races, now have to get two in six weeks. Yeah, no problem.
Whoever wins on Sunday is likely going to need a strong start. The Long Pond is a tri-oval, with three different turns, each one a little bit different and none of them with good banking. That makes for difficult passing and makes intangible factors a bigger deal. “Fuel strategy is important at Pocono,” Bill said. “You’ll see drivers easing up on the gas earlier and rolling through the turns.” The structure of the track makes running on fumes virtually impossible and as a result fuel management takes on added importance.
Something else taking on added importance for those at the top of the standings is getting outright wins. The top ten drivers—those that qualify automatically—are all comfortably ahead in terms of locking up their Sprint For The Cup positions. At that point, their point totals are recast to be even, with bonus points given for each race won. Hence, even though the standings show Dale Earnhardt Junior in first, with Matt Kenseth close behind, the real leaders are Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski, each of whom have three wins. Junior, Kenseth and Greg Biffle—the top three in points, have only one win. Per Bill, that’s not devastating to their championship hopes, but surely they want to improve their position as we get closer to the season’s climactic races.