Race to the Chase, Week 5

Published 8:48 pm Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sunday’s Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 is the fifth event in the 10-event “Race to the Chase” which leads into NASCAR’s playoffs.

Pocono Raceway was pivotal during the first half of the 2009 Sprint Cup campaign, and more of the same can be expected Sunday.

Tony Stewart led the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings upon arrival at and departure from Pocono in June.

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Since that first Pocono race, three drivers, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and David Reutimann have fallen outside the coveted top 12 in the point standings. Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya have moved into position for the Chase.

Four drivers, Busch, Burton, Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup currently find themselves outside the top 12. Busch, in 14th, is the closest to the top 12, while Earnhardt is the low-ranked of the group in 22nd.

There was one in-out swap in the Race to the Chase standings last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. Due to his 38th-place finish, Busch moved from 10th to 14th. On the strength of his fourth-place Brickyard finish, Greg Biffle moved from 13th to 11th.

Indianapolis winner Jimmie Johnson moved from third to second place in the standings after his third win of the season, moving past Jeff Gordon.

Matt Kenseth is on the “bubble” points position of 12th entering the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono, 68 points ahead of 13th place Reutimann.

In June’s Pocono 500, Stewart won the event after taking the lead from Gordon on lap 164, then held on for a 2.004-second margin of victory over Carl Edwards.

Smoke’s next goal, a Pocono sweep

Owners have swept Pocono Raceway’s Victory Lane in single seasons, and so have drivers. But no owner/driver has produced a single-season sweep at Pocono.

Drivers who have swept both Pocono victories in a single season include Bobby Allison (1982, DiGard), Bill Elliott (1985, Melling). Tim Richmond (1986, Hendrick), Bobby Labonte (1999, Gibbs), Jimmie Johnson (2004, Hendrick) and Denny Hamlin (2006, Gibbs).

Other owners have swept Pocono with different drivers. They include Jack Roush (2005, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch) and Roger Penske (2000, Jeremy Mayfield and Rusty Wallace).

One owner/driver, Darrell Waltrip, posted wins in consecutive seasons at Pocono over the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Over those same two seasons, owner/driver Alan Kulwicki recorded the same feat at Bristol Motor Speedway’s half-mile.

Stewart can go those two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion drivers one better this week if he can repeat at Pocono as an owner/driver.

If Ryan Newman wins Sunday, Stewart joins Roush and Penske in an owner’s sweep.

Stewart’s June win at Pocono was his first points-race win as an owner/driver and the first for an owner/driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since Ricky Rudd in 1998.

Pocono’s a puzzle for Martin

Mark Martin’s 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 Martin hasn’t won. The good news? He’s finished second six times, most recently in 2004. Still, Martin’s Pocono win record stands at 0-44.

Martin has a pretty good trend going in 2009. He broke through for his first win in eight attempts at Chicagoland Speedway on July 11, and posted an Indianapolis-best finish of second place last Sunday.

The other tracks where Martin has yet to win are New Hampshire Motor Speedway (0-24); Daytona International Speedway (0-48); and Homestead-Miami Speedway (0-9).

Fast Facts

The Race: Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500

The Date: Sunday, August 2

The Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5-mile triangle)

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite; (Local WSJR 93.7 FM)

2008 Winner: Carl Edwards

2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Point Standings

Driver Points

1. Tony Stewart 3,054

2. Jimmie Johnson 2,862

3. Jeff Gordon 2,847

4. Kurt Busch 2,608

5. Carl Edwards 2,556

6. Denny Hamlin 2,518

7. Ryan Newman 2,506

8. Kasey Kahne 2,482

9. Mark Martin 2,471

10. Juan Pablo Montoya 2,461

11. Greg Biffle 2,445

12. Matt Kenseth 2,429