For the second time in 2013, Juan Pablo Montoya almost got his first oval win in NASCAR last week at Dover before being overtaken late and finishing second. But he gained legions of new fans when he outsmarted the points leader on the final restart. Now, the series heads to what’s become one of the best tracks on the circuit after a much needed re-pave.
More Toyota engines went up in smoke lat week at Dover, as both Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. lost their motors during the race, relegating them to finishes deep in the field. As has become the case lately, Kyle Busch dominated much of the race before falling back later and eventually finishing fourth.
Denny Hamlin‘s comeback fantasy took a huge hit with 20 laps to go when he blew a tire and slammed the wall. Luckily, he didn’t re-injure his back, but his hopes of making the Chase are getting slimmer and slimmer.
The big storyline of the day came on the final restart, when Montoya lined up as the leader next to Jimmie Johnson. Quite brilliantly, Montoya suckered Johnson into jumping the start, which resulted in a pass-through penalty for Johnson, creating his eventual 17th-place finish. Montoya held out for as long as he could, but just couldn’t hang on to the lead and was passed by Tony Stewart with less than 10 laps to go to give Stewart-Haas Racing its first victory of the season and breathe new life into Stewart’s Chase hopes.
Elsewhere, on the very weekend he regained the services of his crew chief after a suspension following penalties at Texas, Brad Keselowski‘s car once again failed post-race inspection, this time for the car being too low in the front. Although crew chief Paul Wolfe is on probation for the infractions at Texas, the penalties were much less severe than the first time around, with Wolfe being assessed a $25,000 fine and Keselowski losing six championship points. It drops the 2012 champion to 10th in the standings, just eight points ahead of 11th place Jeff Gordon.
This week, the series heads to Long Pond, Pa., for the Party In The Poconos 400 Presented by Wal-Mart at Pocono Raceway. The title was determined via a fan vote, and it’s hilariously awesome. Pocono is an interesting track in that’s the only non-road course the series goes to that doesn’t have four turns. Instead, it’s in the shape of a triangle, with three distinctive turns and straightaways. The track underwent a re-pave before the series visited it in 2012, and the results were better than expected. A new, smooth surface made for extremely fast racing and the ability for cars to run side by side for longer, increasing the competition value.
Last year, Joey Logano, in his last year with Joe Gibbs Racing, got by Mark Martin late in the race to take the victory in an event marked by seven cautions and some wild crashes.
- He won’t be mathematically eliminated, but this is the do or die week for Denny Hamlin. If he doesn’t get to victory lane on Sunday, his Chase hopes are gone and he can be ready to sit out of the championship hunt at the end of the season.
- The cars already picked up a ton of speed last year after the track re-pave, and with the Gen 6 car going even faster, we should see significantly higher speeds again this weekend. Whether that will have any effect on the competition level or number of accidents remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure, this race will be fast.
- Races at Pocono have long been fuel mileage events, with the team that’s able to play the best strategy taking the victory. If we see another event marked by long green flag runs, we’ll be in the same situation this weekend, making fuel mileage paramount.
- The Toyota engines have continued to struggle and show flaws in nearly every race this season. While they’ve visited victory lane, their wildly inconsistent track record should have Camry drivers concerned about another track with sustained high RPMs like Pocono.
Who To Watch
- Jeff Gordon finished a solid third last weekend and is a six-time winner at Pocono. He continues to have fast cars and when the luck goes his way, he’s as good as anybody on the track.
- Jimmie Johnson claims he didn’t jump the restart last weekend and refuses to admit he was simply outsmarted by Montoya. NASCAR stuck to its guns, as it should have, and upheld the penalty, but Johnson will be looking to rebound this weekend. He still holds the points lead.
- Juan Pablo Montoya continues to be fast all season, and just like at Richmond earlier this year, lost his opportunity to win late in the race at Dover. The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing cars are quick this season, and it’s only a matter of time before they get to victory lane.
Who Will Win
I said it’s do or die time, and I think Denny Hamlin will rise to the challenge and grab the checkered flag. He’s won at Pocono before and he’s always good here. This is a crucial race if he even wants a small chance at making the Chase.
2013 Sprint Cup Standings (after 13 of 36 races)
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards -30
3. Clint Bowyer -50
4. Matt Kenseth -74
5. Kevin Harvick -74
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -75
7. Kasey Kahne -81
8. Kyle Busch -99
9. Paul Menard -102
10. Brad Keselowski -104