Kurt Busch Wins the Pole for the Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 at Pocono

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) LONG POND, Pa. – NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying can be fraught with twists, turns and unexpected bumps in the road.

Friday’s qualifying session at Pocono Raceway, which saw Kurt Busch capture the Coors Light Pole for Sunday’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400 had them all.

Throughout the day, Turn 2 – the Tunnel Turn – had been a major topic of concern.

“There are grocery store parking lots around the country that are jealous of those three bumps that have developed there,” said Busch, speculating that an offseason beautification project with water feature, enhancing the exterior tunnel entry, somehow created the lumpy racing surface.

“To me, if they could just go ahead and take some bumps like that and put them over in the other corners too, it would be even better,” said Carl Edwards. “It adds something. As long as it’s not breaking parts, I believe it gives us an opportunity to setup passes.”

Ultimately, the issue with the bumpy track took a back seat when Denny Hamlin spun in Turn 1 in the final minute of qualifying, halting the session with 39 seconds remaining and preventing himself and four other drivers from posting a time in the final round.

“It really is a bizarre set of circumstances,” said Jimmie Johnson, a winner of four races this season but one of the drivers left in the qualifying cold. “It’s just unfortunate (for) the guys that were on the track. But as long as NASCAR is consistent (with the rule) through all three series, then we will take our medicine and just deal with it. We (start) ninth. That is the best we’ve been in a while.

Joey Logano, the last driver not from Hendrick Motorsports to win at Pocono, was not so forgiving. Logano said he already had a ‘headache’ thanks to the bumps – and that was before his lap in progress was negated by Hamlin’s spin.

“A car spins out and they throw a red flag for it and then you don’t get an opportunity to go out and make a lap,” Logano said. “I don’t understand it. It makes me mad. I don’t get it. We didn’t even have a chance to try to put our car up front.”

Busch suggested that Pocono Raceway attempt to grind the bumps prior to Sunday’s race. Earnhardt was encouraged that Pocono Raceway CEO Brandon Igdalsky was not only aware of the situation, but planning to take action before the Sprint Cup Series returns in late July.

“I feel like they understand that while we can probably get through this weekend with what’s back there right now, it’s probably not in their best interest to leave it as-is,” Earnhardt said. “It will continue to get worse and I don’t think that we can get our race cars through there if it gets much worse than it is.”

Carl Edwards finished second in qualifying. “ My plan with Denny (Joe Gibbs Racing teammate) almost worked out,” Edwards joked. “But he didn’t spin early enough to keep Kurt from catching me.”

Martin Truex Jr. qualified third in the Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, unaware that the session had been cut short but well aware of the challenges in Turn 2.

“It’s wild,” he said. “The first time through there, I thought either our car was way off or there’s something wrong with the race track. The bumps are 10 times bigger than they were last year, which is crazy. You’re going across bumps that are 8-10 inches tall and, literally, the tires are coming off the ground.”

Jeff Gordon qualified fourth and series leader Kevin Harvick, who posted the fastest lap in each of the first two qualifying sessions, was fifth. Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne were the other drivers who were burned by Hamlin’s spin, having waited too long to attempt a lap in the five-minute session.

Kurt Busch noted during practice that he was losing speed in Turns 1 and 3 and elected to focus on the vast majority of the course, not the troubles in Turn 2. His team also overcame a “wrong gear ratio in the transmission in third gear.”

“There was so much disconnect when we first got here,” said Busch, whose third pole of the season was the 19th of his career. “We had to drop back, reboot with (crew chief) Tony Gibson, (engineer) Johnny Klausmeier, the whole gang. Today was a big group-bonding day and a strength-building day on what this No. 41 team can do together.”

With 43 race entries, all drivers qualified for Sunday’s race.

Tony Stewart, mired in 28th in the point standings, was forced to a backup car after a crash coming out of the Tunnel Turn in the 36th minute of Friday’s practice session. Stewart was 28th in the first round of qualifying and failed to advance. “Driver error,” said Stewart, who has managed just one top-10 finish this season. “I was already past the bump. I got loose on the exit (of the turn) and couldn’t catch it.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400

1. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 177.599 mph.
2. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 177.550 mph.
3. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 177.522 mph.
4. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 177.211 mph.
5. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 177.200 mph.
6. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 176.526 mph.
7. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 175.967 mph.
8. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 177.676 mph.
9. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 177.385 mph.
10. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 177.193 mph.
11. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 176.800 mph.
12. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 176.070 mph.
13. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 176.036 mph.
14. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 176.005 mph.
15. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 175.943 mph.
16. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 175.895 mph.
17. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 175.699 mph.
18. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 175.671 mph.
19. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 175.531 mph.
20. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 175.466 mph.
21. (55) David Ragan, Toyota, 175.418 mph.
22. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 174.832 mph.
23. (15) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 174.236 mph.
24. (9) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 173.819 mph.
25. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 174.791 mph.
26. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 174.771 mph.
27. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 174.683 mph.
28. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 174.652 mph.
29. (33) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 174.317 mph.
30. (51) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 174.031 mph.
31. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 173.873 mph.
32. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 173.772 mph.
33. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 173.695 mph.
34. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 173.410 mph.
35. (38) David Gilliland, Ford, 172.467 mph.
36. (34) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 172.437 mph.
37. (23) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, Owner Points
38. (98) Josh Wise, Ford, Owner Points
39. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, Owner Points
40. (26) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, Owner Points
41. (83) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, Owner Points
42. (32) Travis Kvapil(i), Ford, Owner Points
43. (62) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, Owner Points


Earnhardt Jr. Holds Off Harvick to Complete Sprint Cup Season Sweep at Pocono

By Seth Livingstone (NASCAR Wire Service) LONG POND, Pa. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. realized that it took a bit of luck for him to win at Pocono Raceway in June. But he knew his team was firing on all cylinders Sunday when he completed the season sweep.

Benefitting from impeccable pit strategy, Earnhardt led the final 14 laps and a car with the performance to hold off Kevin Harvick on a restart with three laps to go to ring up his third victory of the 2014 season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 400.

“It wasn’t about luck this time,” said Earnhardt, who roared past Brad Keselowski in the June race after Keselowski caught a piece of trash in his grill and began to overheat.

Earnhardt credited crew chief Steve Letarte and his team for not resting on their laurels at Pocono.

“We were determined to go home from the last win and improve the car,” Earnhardt said. “Steve and the guys studied and improved the setup. We had a little luck on the win the last time with Keselowski having the debris and we wanted to be in the driver’s seat this go-round with a faster car.”

Letarte said the homework paid off in a faster Chevrolet.

“I feel we unloaded a better car for the second Pocono than we did the first Pocono,” he said. “You cannot ever assume a winning car is going to be good enough the next week. While we were excited to win (in June) and we’ll take it, there was room for improvement, so we worked very hard between that race and this race.”

The result was Earnhardt’s second season sweep of his career (Talladega 2002). He also became the first driver to sweep at Pocono since Denny Hamlin in 2006.

Almost from the outset, Sunday’s 400-miler was a battle of pit strategies regarding fuel strategy and tires. Throw in a 13-car wreck that took much of the field out of contention for the final 34 laps and crew chiefs had their hands full.

Letarte made the ultimate decision to take four fresh tires with 39 laps to go, then bring Earnhardt back for a splash of gas 10 laps later.

“All we needed to get there was a gallon or two while the rest of the guys in front of us needed four tires and a full tank,” Earnhardt said “We were on pit road for two seconds in the box and they were in their pit stalls for 12-14 seconds. We were able to leapfrog those guys. We weren’t technically leading the race when the (next) caution came out, but we were ahead of those guys on where we needed to be.

“It takes a really, really smart guy to understand what to do and take those gambles. Sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t. I’ve got a lot of faith in Steve and the strategy he used today gave us the opportunity to get by some guys that we probably weren’t going to pass on the race track.”

It was the fifth consecutive Sprint Cup victory at Pocono for Hendrick Motorsports, which also had Jeff Gordon in contention for much of the race.

Gordon, a six-time winner at Pocono, led a race-high 63 laps. He also became the first driver to lead 1,000 laps at Pocono and passed the 24,000 mark in career laps led in Sprint Cup competition.

Joey Logano, who led the first 30 laps, finished third ahead of Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle.

Saving fuel, Biffle found himself with the lead after AJ Allmendinger’s crash brought out a caution with 21 laps left. But Biffle couldn’t hold off Earnhardt, who took command with 14 laps to go.

“I was heartbroken when that caution came out,” said Biffle, who thought strategy had given him a fighting chance. “That just killed our day. We had a 20th-place car but got track position and drove our butt off. (If the race stayed green) it was going to be ‘Mickey Mouse’ –- who would run out of fuel — unless those guys could catch us.”

Earnhardt had opened a 2.7-second lead on Harvick when Kurt Busch hit the wall, bringing out another caution that created the final restart.

“With Kevin, I’m racing one of the best,” Earnhardt said. “That guy is going to get everything he can out of his car. I was anticipating him being right there on the inside going into (Turn) 1. I knew I was just going to have to really get brave, drive it down in there and pray for it to stick.”

Harvick, who overcame a pit road speed penalty on Lap 96 and found himself 14th after driving over a storm drain in avoiding major damage during the 13-car melee, gave it all he could.

“I timed that last (restart) pretty good,” Harvick said.. “But I couldn’t turn into the corner like I needed to to stay beside him. I thought if I could get beside him going into (Turn) 1 I’d have a chance, but he was a little better than I was in Turn 3.”

On his way to his Victory Lane celebration, Earnhardt took a phone call from team owner Rick Hendrick.

“I just thanked him for how much he changed my life and how he has supported me,” Earnhardt said. “I wanted to thank him and make sure he understood how much I appreciated him. I wanted him to know how much it meant to me that I got the chance to drive this car and get a win today.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – 400
Pocono Raceway
Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Sunday, August 03, 2014

1. (9) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 160, $193265.
2. (6) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 160, $206058.
3. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 160, $180941.
4. (14) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 160, $154466.
5. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 160, $150450.
6. (5) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 160, $149451.
7. (8) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 160, $126279.
8. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 160, $103515.
9. (13) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 160, $96965.
10. (12) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 160, $103215.
11. (1) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 160, $123010.
12. (24) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 160, $111298.
13. (4) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 160, $84415.
14. (27) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 160, $108835.
15. (11) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 160, $132826.
16. (22) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 160, $105523.
17. (30) David Gilliland, Ford, 160, $102723.
18. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 159, $116090.
19. (39) David Ragan, Ford, 159, $99573.
20. (37) Ryan Truex #, Toyota, 159, $86937.
21. (33) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 159, $79340.
22. (38) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 159, $78990.
23. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 159, $120848.
24. (31) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 159, $78515.
25. (34) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 158, $78790.
26. (40) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 158, $74940.
27. (35) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 158, $77765.
28. (42) Alex Kennedy, Chevrolet, 158, $74615.
29. (26) Carl Edwards, Ford, 157, $93465.
30. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 156, $86815.
31. (36) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 154, $76665.
32. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 144, $101898.
33. (29) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 143, $101004.
34. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 137, $73590.
35. (28) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 125, $110376.
36. (16) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 124, $107348.
37. (15) Brian Vickers, Toyota, Accident, 116, $105079.
38. (18) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Accident, 116, $117166.
39. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 111, $117966.
40. (41) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, Accident, 88, $68030.
41. (32) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 28, $56030.
42. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Engine, 23, $99871.
43. (43) Johnny Sauter(i), Toyota, Electrical, 11, $48530.


PHOTOS: Friday at Pocono

By Chris Owens — View photos from Friday’s Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series practice sessions as well as the ARCA Racing Series ModSpace 125 from the Pocono Raceway.



Development Journalists

Five Predictions for Pocono and Iowa

By Jason Schultz – Pocono Raceway and Iowa Speedway are two of the most polar opposite race tracks you will find on the NASCAR schedule.

Pocono’s three-turn layout will surely shakeup the race to the Chase for the Sprint Cup. In addition, it will allow the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers to flex some muscle on one of the biggest tracks they compete on.

Iowa has produced fantastic short-track finishes in the past, and the possibility of having another on Saturday night is high. Expect these ideas to play important roles as they drive this week’s five predictions.

Last August when the Truck Series took on the “Tricky Triangle,” @RyanBlaney22 was victorious. With five top-five finishes in the last six events, momentum will be on his side as he looks to continue the streak. Anticipate his consistency as of late to result in his first victory this season.

When the “Dash 4 Cash” program commenced last month in New Hampshire, @ReganSmith was the first driver to walk away with a $100,000 bonus. He is once again eligible for the prize this weekend and will aim to post a similar result. Watch for the No. 7 Chevrolet to earn it for a second time.

It is very rare that a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular competes in an independent Nationwide Series event. Brad @Keselowski will attempt the feat as he will travel nearly 1,000 miles from Long Pond, PA to Newton, IA.

He wouldn’t make the trip unless he sees an opportunity to score his third series victory of the season. I believe the 2010 Nationwide Series champion will do exactly that on Saturday night.

@KyleLarsonRacin is competing on some tracks for the first time this season, including Pocono. Like every challenge the 22-year old phenom faces, he conquers it. He placed fifth in June and hopes to have a better run on Sunday. I expect him to score another top-five finish.

If it hadn’t been for a piece of debris flying onto Keselowski’s grill late during the Pocono 400 in June, he would have won. Instead of reminiscing on what could have been then, focusing on the opportunity that lies ahead this weekend will be crucial for his success.

The No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford will be considered a heavy favorite this weekend. He reached Victory Lane three years ago which showed he knows how to get it done at the track. The team will have another outstanding performance in route to the win on Sunday.

Mid-summer racing always seems to be action-packed. With Blaney picking up his first win of the season, Smith taking the D4C, Keselowski winning in Iowa, Larson finding success once again and Keselowski rounding out Sunday with a Pocono victory – it will surely be a fun weekend for all race fans.

Jason Schultz is a Popular Speed Development Journalist