Monday, June 11, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Pocono

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon lead the field at Pocono.
Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR
After the recent repave, one was left to wonder whether Pocono would be the same ole Pocono or a new, revamped version of the tricky triangle. 

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

Kasey Kahne started off his day on the right foot, with a top ten starting position and gaining positions from the start. Unfortunately, the rest of Kahne's 400 miles was not an eventful, as he maintained position inside the top 10 for much of the race.

While looking to bring home a solid finish, Kahne suddenly hit the wall at Lap 138. He headed to the garage and was unable to return to the track. Finishing 29th after having such a great run wasn't what the No. 5 team wanted nor needed to make gains in the points standings. Kahne now ranks 16th , dropping two positions from last week.

"The car was really good today," crew chief Kenny Francis said. "We just got behind on the pit strategy. I made a bad call. But he just got into (Denny) Hamlin on that restart and that must have cut the tire a little bit or something because the tire evidently started going down because he started having some smoke out of the right front and started losing ground and finally just blew going into (Turn) 1."

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

Jeff Gordon returned to a track where he’s had a lot of success, hoping to get out of his slump. All Gordon wanted and needed was a flawless day to find his way to victory lane at Pocono for the sixth time.

On Lap 33, green flag stops were under way when Gordon was one of numerous drivers hit with a speeding penalty. Gordon was able to bounce back from his penalty and found himself within the top ten. After a late caution on Lap 138 Gordon pitted for fuel only and for some reason couldn't  make any gains. Gordon closed out the day 19th,  ranking 22 in points and still has lot of ground to cover to get inside the top 10 in points. The other option to make the Chase, a wildcard position, would mean banking on a win or two between now and Richmond. 

Jeff Gordon Tweeted this after the race, "I'm embarrassed we finished 19th with a car that good! Whenever we catch a break and put ourselves in position we'll b in victory circle." 

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

After winning in clowning fashion last weekend, Jimmie Johnson returned to a track where he has run well. Starting way back in 24th Johnson would have to battle hard if he planned on getting to the front.

Johnson had no problem getting to the top five by Lap 33. But Johnson, like teammate Jeff Gordon,  hit misfortune when he got stopped not once but twice for a speeding penalty on pit road. Johnson was able to calm down, get his head back into the game and finish in fourth. Holding steady in the points, Johnson maintains the 5th position, 30 behind new leader Matt Kenseth. The way things are going, it sure looks like Johnson could be on his way to another championship.

"We had a long day, we had a lot of issues, speeding on pit road. We’ll look into it and see what happened. But either way, we still came back. We had a very fast race car, and I had a shot at the win. I got real loose in turn one and I still rallied back from that to fourth and catch the leaders," Johnson said post-race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a wild and fun day at the track dubbed the "Tricky Triangle" and almost ended his winless streak.

Earnhardt Jr’s No. 88 was in contention all day long, leading and fighting for the lead. Never once outside the top 5, it wasn't until the Lap 138 caution came out, knowing they’d lose positions, Steve Letarte made the painful decision to pit and have enough fuel to make it until the checkered flag. Restarting 16th,  Earnhardt Jr. was quickly on the move, making it all the way to 8th when the last final caution came out.

It looked like Earnhardt Jr. could have won, had he not pitted, but after losing races to fuel mileage before it was better to be safe than sorry. Earnhardt Jr finished his day in 8th,  not what the 88 crew wanted, but the silver lining is that he is now 2nd in points, just 10 behind Kenseth, and he remains the only driver to have complete every lap this season. 

“Can we start over?” Earnhardt Jr. said when he was distracted during a live interview after the race. He composed himself and said, "Well, we just didn’t want to run out of gas," Earnhardt Jr. explained why he pitted during that caution. "I didn’t know the caution flags were going to be so long. And they were long enough to help them guys make it on fuel. We’re not taking those kinds of chances - just yet."


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