|Date: 7/30/2009 10:12:39 PM|
Chase Hopefuls Seek Strong Pocono Finishes
By DINO OBERTO …… “Keeping Track”
Since the inception of the ‘Chase for the Nextel Cup’ NASCAR may finally have some of the best excitement building in terms of those drivers battling to stay in or get in as top 12 title contenders.
Heading into Sunday’s Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 there will be just six races remaining before the Chase begins and no less than 10 drivers are shuffling with each other to stay in the game.
Since that first Pocono race, three drivers have fallen outside the top 12 in the 2009 point standings. They include Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and David Reutimann.
Drivers who have moved into chase-eligible spots since completion of the first Pocono race include Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Starting with 8th in the standings Kahne and down to 17th Jeff Burton there is a mere 281 point gap. In between are Martin, Montoya, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth who are all in the top 12. Next in line are Reutimann, Busch, Brian Vickers, Clint Bowyer and Burton.
With the exception of Vickers and Bowyer, the rest have bounced in and out of the top 12 almost weekly.
Statistically speaking Kahne and Martin should fare well at Pocono. Kahne has a win and holds the track record at 172.533 mph and has always been an up-front runner at the tricky tri-oval.
Despite never having won at the Long Pond track, Martin can be considered a master there with a record 19 top fives and 31 top tens. His four wins so far in 2009 have brought his career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win total to 39. But Pocono is one of five series tracks where he hasn’t won. The good news? He’s placed as high as second six times, most recently in 2004. Still, Martin’s Pocono win record stands at 0-45.
Nonetheless both Martin and Kahne should exit Sunday with good showings and needed insurance for the Chase.
Last month after Pocono Montoya sat 15th but since has been on a surge including a near win last week at Indy. At Pocono he broke through for his best finish, 8th, in just five starts. His current momentum could very well carry him to a top five and possibly a breakthrough win on Sunday.
Roush Racing teammates Biffle and Kenseth should also be safe as Pocono remains a strong point for any of the cars from the leading Ford camp. In the past few years rarely has there been a time at Pocono when Biffle was not challenging for the lead. Meanwhile Kenseth seems to quietly find himself among the top ten. Both drivers can factor in as winners.
Reutimann actually jumped into the top 12 after last month’s impressive third place Pocono finish. No doubt he’ll need to fall back on those notes.
Busch and Burton have been on a downward spiral since June at Pocono. Busch was ninth and Burton 10th in points after the Pocono 500 and are now under pressure to battle back into title contention.
Brian Vickers can be considered the dark horse at Pocono. Vickers has been a very decent qualifier and an even stronger performer come race time. He has twice finished second in just 11 starts at the 2.5-mile oval and two other times was fourth.
In the last six races he has three poles and four top ten’s including a fifth a week ago at Indy.
As for Bowyer he will need nothing short of having strong runs from now until Richmond when the final race takes place for entry into the Chase.
Pocono Raceway, considered one of the most challenging tracks on the circuit, should produce the needed excitement NASCAR yearns for in building up to its Chase and for those aforementioned drivers it will be a race within a race.
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