NASCAR At Pocono Raceway 2012: Joey Logano Holds Off Mark Martin

Joey Logano picked up his second career win -- and his first since 2009 -- by holding off Mark Martin late at Pocono Raceway.

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NASCAR At Pocono 2012: Weekend Schedule, Weather Forecast For Pennsylvania 400

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its second appearance at the "Tricky Triangle" of Pocono Raceway this weekend, and like many Pocono races before, rain is threatening the weather forecast.

Pocono_nascar_weather_forecast_medium

It will be very warm and mostly dry today. High temperatures will be in the upper 80s and there is just a small chance of an isolated storm or two developing in the afternoon.

Our main concern for rain will be Saturday into Sunday. A couple disturbances along with a cold front coming out of the Great Lakes will spark scattered showers and storms. The best chance for these showers and thunderstorms appears to be Sunday afternoon, just in time for the Sprint Cup Series race.

Right now, this forecast has me concerned and like many weather forecasts before it will come down to timing of these weather features and the development of any showers or storms each afternoon, especially Sunday midday and afternoon.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the weekend.

Conditions in Long Pond, PA: Click here for Current Weather ConditionsLook at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

FRIDAY:
9:00 a.m. EDT
Camping World Truck Series Final practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 74
12:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series practice – Mostly sunny – temp: 83
1:40 p.m. EDT
ARCA Series Final practice – Partly sunny chance of sct'd shower/storm – temp: 86
3:30 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Final practice – Partly sunny chance of sct'd shower/storm – temp: 86
5:15 p.m. EDT
ARCA Series Qualifying – Partly sunny chance of sct'd shower/storm – temp: 87

SATURDAY:
9:35 a.m. EDT
Camping World Truck Series Qualifying – Partly sunny – temp: 73
10:40 a.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Partly sunny, chc. of scattered storms – temp: 82
1:40 p.m. EDT
Camping World Truck Series Race – Partly sunny, chc. of scattered storms – temp: 85
3:30 p.m. EDT
ARCA Series Race – Partly sunny, chc. of scattered storms – temp: 85

SUNDAY:
12 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Mostly cloudy, possible shower or storm – temp: 80
1 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly cloudy, possible shower or storm – temp: 80
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly cloudy, possible shower or storm – temp: 81
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly cloudy, possible shower or storm – temp: 82

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NASCAR: Joey Logano Defends Winning Move At Pocono

When Joey Logano nudged his way past Mark Martin to win Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono, he knew there would be plenty of questions about his method.

"I saw that one coming from three miles away," he said with a laugh.

But in speaking with reporters at a Toyota drifting demonstration on Tuesday, Logano said he had no regrets about the way he passed his former mentor to win the Pocono 400.

"Any shot you've got to win a race, you've got to take that opportunity," he said. "I wasn't going to wreck him – that's not the way to win races – but we're going to do whatever we can to win a race. Obviously, we're really hungry – we needed a win bad – but at the same time, you're racing. ... (My team) expects me to go out there and do everything I possibly can to win the race."

Martin said after the Pocono race that he wouldn't have roughed up Logano for the win and that the younger driver pulled a "bump-and-run" on him. He planned to return the favor if he had gotten back to Logano's back bumper.

But Martin also conceded that hard driving seems to be how racing goes these days.

"Mark said in his interview afterward that's kind of what our races have turned into, and it's been accepted to race really hard like that," Logano said. "And that's what our fans came to see – our fans want to see some hard racing out there, like the old-school days. That's what they were able to see at Pocono on Sunday."

It was fitting for Logano to get his first "real" Cup win (the other was a rain-shortened race) against Martin, who is partly responsible for Logano's career in the first place. Martin had long been an advocate for Logano before the driver was on the radar of major Sprint Cup Series teams like Joe Gibbs Racing.

"Mark has helped me in so much of my career; I wouldn't be standing here today if it weren't for Mark," Logano said.
"Couldn't ask for a cooler guy to race against. It was like a dream come true for sure."

The 22-year-old driver said he "wouldn't have had the opportunity" to make the move on Martin a few years ago, because he didn't have the seat time to pull it off.

"I have the experience now and I'm good enough to do that," he said. "Before, I really wasn't. And that's because you had to learn and you have to figure it out. I was 18 years old."

But will Logano remain with JGR after this season and be allowed to continue growing with his one and only Cup team? The driver's contract is up, and big-name free agents like Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch have inquired about the No. 20 ride.

Logano wouldn't say much about his contract situation, other than that he hasn't been offered anything new after his win. The driver acknowledged his sponsors might have even more to do with his future than the decision-makers at JGR do.

"As far as next year, there's no for-sure answer on anything yet," he said.

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2012 NASCAR Point Standings After Pocono: Matt Kenseth Takes Sprint Cup Series Lead

After 400 miles of hard racing on Sunday at Pocono Raceway, a Jack Roush-owned car is sitting atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for the 12th straight week.

But unlike the 11 previous weeks, it isn't Greg Biffle, who dropped from first to third overall after engine trouble relegated him to a 24th-place finish.

"It's unfortunate we fell back that far," Biffle said following his worst result of 2012. "But the points are so tight we knew that if we had an issue we were gonna drop a lot. ... You're vulnerable when you're only one point or 10 points ahead, but that's racing. As long as it doesn't happen in the Chase, I'm happy."

The Roush Fenway Racing teammate who replaced Biffle as the points leader is Matt Kenseth, who used a steady seventh-place finish to reclaim the No. 1 spot for the second time this season.

Kenseth has finished 11th or better in 10 of his last 11 starts, so it's no surprise Kenseth is in the position he's in points-wise heading into next weekend's race at Michigan.

"It's better than being second, but I'm just kind of disappointed right now because I thought we had a shot to win under the right circumstances," Kenseth said. "Us and [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] were pretty strong when we were out front and it just didn't happen. I couldn't go on restarts. I thought I was getting a good roll at them, but they would just kind of drive by me. That's frustrating.

"We'll keep working on it, but I'm happy we got a decent finish and took over the point lead."

Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after Pocono (in relation to the Chase):

  1. Matt Kenseth +100
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. +90
  3. Greg Biffle +84
  4. Denny Hamlin +81
  5. Jimmie Johnson +70
  6. Kevin Harvick +47
  7. Martin Truex Jr. +42
  8. Tony Stewart +25
  9. Clint Bowyer +20
  10. Brad Keselowski +3
  11. Carl Edwards -3
  12. Kyle Busch -6 (Holds No. 1 Wild Card, one win)
  13. Paul Menard -27
  14. Ryan Newman -28 (Holds No. 2 Wild Card, one win)
  15. Joey Logano -28 (loses No. 2 Wild Card on tiebreaker to Newman)
  16. Kasey Kahne -46 (-18 points behind Newman/Logano for Wild Card spot)
  17. Marcos Ambrose -74
  18. Jeff Burton -75
  19. Jamie McMurray -80
  20. Aric Almirola -81
  21. Juan Pablo Montoya -86
  22. Jeff Gordon -90
  23. Mark Martin -100
  24. Regan Smith -116
  25. AJ Allmendinger -121
  26. Bobby Labonte -138
  27. Kurt Busch -151
  28. Casey Mears -183
  29. David Ragan -186
  30. David Gilliland -198
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NASCAR At Pocono Results 2012: Mark Martin Frustrated With Joey Logano's Winning Pass

When Joey Logano muscled his way past Mark Martin and into the lead in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway, it wasn't a surprise to anyone – including Martin himself.

However, that didn't mean Martin was happy with the way Logano went about capturing the lead. The veteran driver said it's not the way he would have gone about it if the roles were reversed.

"It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time," Martin said after calling Logano's pass a "bump-and-run" move. "It's not how I would have done it, but certainly if I'd have had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return. But I couldn't quite keep up with him.

"It was great racing, and everybody does what they decide to do."

RELATED: NASCAR results, recap from Pocono

All Martin could do afterward was swallow a somewhat frustrating and foul-tasting second-place finish.

"We went after that thing really hard," Martin said after the race. "We had a great race car. I really stuck my neck out on the line to get that lead, almost pulled it off the restart before, and I was willing to risk it all to try to get the lead.

"And once I got out there, Joey was just stronger than we were, just a little bit stronger, and I just – you know, I was pushing as hard as I could push and had a little slip there off of (Turn) 3 and he was able to get up on me and get by. We certainly would have got back up there and raced for the win after the pass if we'd have had the car. But he was able to pull away."

Not surprisingly, Logano had a different version of how everything unfolded.

"... I was able to have a big run coming to him there," Logano said. "Went into (Turn) 1 and I tried to out-brake him, and he was protecting the bottom. I was trying to stick my nose in there, and we got really close, and I'm not even sure if we touched each other or not, but I know I got him air-loose at least and able to slide up underneath him and clear him by the time he got off of 1."

But for a traditionally clean driver like Martin, having to use your bumper to get around a competitor is not something that is looked kindly upon. That explains why the veteran was not too enamored with the move Logano executed on him to seize the lead and prevent him from winning for the first time since September 2009.

But even amid the disappointment of losing a race he felt he had won, Martin was still able to reflect on what was otherwise a very satisfactory day for him and his Michael Waltrip Racing team.

"It was a great race, and I'm very, very proud of my race team for putting me in something that would give me a shot," Martin said. "I'm having fun with it. Maybe next week we'll be the ones with the trophy."

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NASCAR, Drivers Differ On Reason For Pocono Speeding Penalties

A group of reporters surrounded NASCAR's vice president of competition following Sunday's Pocono 400 and all seemed to be wondering the same thing: What was the deal with the surprising number of pit road speeding penalties?

"Cars were speeding," Pemberton said.

Though an unusually high 22 penalties were assessed for cars speeding on pit road – 20 of them for being "too fast exiting" – Pemberton said all of the penalties were due to driver or team error, not a problem with NASCAR's equipment.

"You go through that (from) time to time," he said. "We also had a gear change. Maybe (teams were) going off last year's notes and short-cutting what you do. I don't know. It's up to the race team."

Pemberton dismissed the idea there could have somehow been a problem with the scoring loops in the 10th section of pit road, where many drivers were busted.

"There's nothing wrong with the loops," he said. "There's a time to pass over them, calculates the speed and that's the end of it. Pretty simple."

Some of the drivers, though, didn't see it as such a simple issue. Kevin Harvick – who was one of those busted – called it a "problem" on Twitter, and both Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson shared that belief.

"It was obvious that the section had some kind of issue, because I know both times I got busted, I was under the limit with my tools that I have available," Keselowski said. "I was consistent down pit road, so if I was speeding in that sector, I would have been speeding in the others – but it didn't show that.

"I think there's plenty of evidence to show that there is something wrong with the section timing, with whether they're looking at who got busted or what I just said there."

Johnson also said there was "something wrong with the timing loop." His theory was the second yellow line – the one that indicates the end of pit road – was somehow "oriented differently" with the scoring loops than at other tracks.

"When we get to the end of pit road, when your nose hits the line, you take off," he said. "I did that the first time and I got nailed. Alright, maybe I just overdid it. The second time, I waited until the tail crossed the yellow line and still got pinned."

Pemberton said since the track has been repaved since last year and has a reconfigured pit road, there's a chance teams weren't using the newest information.

"The bottom line is every week, there's maps printed back here for crew chiefs to come get," Pemberton said. "Some choose to get them, some choose to measure their own lines and some go off last year.

"We put the loops in the racetrack. It's just simple math."

Would Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs really have cut corners and not done their homework on such an important issue? There's no clear answer, but one thing is for sure: A lot more research will take place when the race teams come to Pocono in August.

"We need to physically walk down and mark it off ourselves to understand what happened there," Johnson said. "We got nailed along with a lot of other guys."

List of pit road speeding penalties from the Pocono 400:

Travis Kvapil, too fast exiting on lap 3

AJ Allmendinger, too fast exiting on lap 3

Martin Truex Jr., too fast exiting on lap 4

AJ Allmendinger, too fast exiting on lap 7 (while serving penalty)

Clint Bowyer, too fast exiting on lap 17

Brad Keselowski, too fast exiting on lap 32

Jeff Gordon, too fast entering on lap 41

Jimmie Johnson, too fast exiting on lap 42

Kevin Harvick, too fast exiting on lap 42

David Reutimann, too fast entering on lap 42

Kyle Busch, too fast exiting on lap 43

Jimmie Johnson, too fast exiting on lap 43 (while serving penalty)

Travis Kvapil, too fast exiting on lap 45

David Reutimann, too fast exiting on lap 45 (while serving penalty)

Travis Kvapil, too fast exiting on lap 48 (while serving penalty)

David Ragan, too fast exiting on lap 48

Jeff Burton, too fast exiting on lap 67

JJ Yeley, too fast exiting on lap 69

Travis Kvapil, too fast exiting on lap 79

David Reutimann, too fast exiting on lap 106

Aric Almirola, too fast exiting on lap 125

Brad Keselowski, too fast exiting on lap 129

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Won't Second-Guess Team's Strategy After NASCAR Pocono Race

Though Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave an unusual start-and-stop interview on TV following Sunday's Pocono 400 – an interview that resulted in a flood of speculation from concerned fans on Twitter – the driver was actually his normal self when the camera turned off.

Why the halting interview? As Nate Ryan from USA Today first observed, the driver may have been distracted by an unruly fan who was yelling at one of Earnhardt Jr.'s handlers while TNT's Ralph Sheheen began an interview.

Afterward, though, Earnhardt Jr. acted no differently than he does in any other post-race situation. He answered questions for several minutes, explaining the team's strategy at this point in the season, and then told reporters to travel home safely.

The TV interview aside, Earnhardt Jr.'s day will be remembered for a gamble the team chose not to take.


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Late in the race, when it seemed many drivers were on the edge of their fuel window, Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte chose to pit for gas instead of try and stretch their gas for the win.

As it turned out, race winner Joey Logano was among the cars who were way short on fuel but benefited from an unexpected amount of caution laps (which help drivers save more gas).

"I don't like running out of gas," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I ran out of gas here one year, and that pisses me off so bad, it's just hard to recover from it mentally over the next couple weeks. There's no excuse in running out of gas. You put fuel in it and you go run."

Once Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team feel secure in the point standings, the chances of taking a risk to try and go for a win might increase. But despite his winless streak stretching back four years, the focus is on points rather than wins.

"(Logano and other drivers who gambled) gotta get some wins to try to get the Wild Card, and I'm not going to give up 30 points or 20 points in a race," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Not just yet. ... It was the right call for us at this time."

Earnhardt Jr. moved up to second in the point standings and now sits 10 points behind new leader Matt Kenseth. He has a 90-point lead on the 11th-place driver (and thus is 90 points inside a Chase spot). But there are still 12 races to go until the Chase cutoff.

"Best car I've had at Pocono in a long, long time," he said. "Just really trying not to be too upset about it, because we did a lot of good things today and we've got a lot to look forward to.

"Dover (traditionally) kind of starts off where I tend to go south, so yeah, it's been nice to run good. Our team is strong. I expect it to keep going. I will be terribly disappointed if we don't continue to run like this at all the ovals."

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NASCAR Pocono Results 2012: Joey Logano Pulls Bump-And-Run To Beat Mark Martin

On a speedway with a fresh coat of asphalt, Joey Logano may just have gotten a fresh start.

After reclaiming the lead from veteran Mark Martin on Lap 157 of 160, Logano pulled away to win the Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR at Pocono Raceway, his first victory since a rain-shortened win at New Hampshire in 2009.

More important, the second triumph of Logano's career couldn't have come at a better time -- during a contract year in which doubters have considered the 22-year-old a prime candidate to lose his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing to a more established star.

Logano, who gave crew chief Jason Ratcliff his first Cup win, beat Martin to the finish line by .997 seconds, the first time in 31 Sprint Cup events a driver has won from the pole. Tony Stewart ran third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

Matt Kenseth ran seventh and took over the series lead by 10 points over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., who came home eighth after leading 36 laps, second only to Logano's 48.

When NASCAR called the sixth caution of the race after Kasey Kahne pounded the Turn 2 wall on Lap 37, Earnhardt -- short on fuel -- brought his Chevrolet to the pits for fuel, while Logano, Martin, Hamlin, Stewart and Kenseth remained on the track.

Earnhardt restarted 16th and worked his way back to eighth before Logano took the checkered flag.

Here are the NASCAR results from today's race at Pocono:

  1. Joey Logano
  2. Mark Martin
  3. Tony Stewart
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Clint Bowyer
  7. Matt Kenseth
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  9. Paul Menard
  10. Jamie McMurray
  11. Carl Edwards
  12. Ryan Newman
  13. Marcos Ambrose
  14. Kevin Harvick
  15. Jeff Burton
  16. Regan Smith
  17. Juan Pablo Montoya
  18. Brad Keselowski
  19. Jeff Gordon
  20. Martin Truex Jr.
  21. David Reutimann
  22. Bobby Labonte
  23. David Gilliland
  24. Greg Biffle
  25. Dave Blaney
  26. Travis Kvapil
  27. David Ragan
  28. Aric Almirola
  29. Kasey Kahne
  30. Kyle Busch
  31. AJ Allmendinger
  32. Tony Raines
  33. Stephen Leicht
  34. Michael McDowell
  35. Casey Mears
  36. JJ Yeley
  37. Joe Nemechek
  38. Mike Bliss
  39. Stacy Compton
  40. Scott Riggs
  41. Reed Sorenson
  42. Josh Wise
  43. Landon Cassill
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NASCAR At Pocono 2012: Viewer's Guide For Today's Race

Here's a viewer's guide for today's Pocono 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race:

Storylines

Keys to Winning: Reliability and Fuel Mileage

The race may be 100 miles shorter and the asphalt might be brand new, but Pocono is still Pocono and that means high speeds and high rpms, which because of the increased speeds will put a greater strain on engines and transmissions. And don't be at all surprised if we see a replay of last weekend at Dover when four drivers exited the race with engine failures.

Along with mechanical reliability, the other two keys to winning today will be finding a compromise between what are three distinct corners and what is still essentially a one-groove racetrack and of course, as is always the case at Pocono, fuel mileage. And with long periods of green flag racing the standard rather than the exception on the triangle-shaped track, whoever can best save fuel and maximize the number of laps they can make on a tank of gas, will likely be the driver celebrating in Victory Lane later this afternoon.

Passing at a Premium

As mentioned above, because there is just one groove, passing opportunities could be limited today as there are questions as to whether drivers will be able to race side-by-side for any extended period of time. That said, after three days of testing/practice along with yesterday's ARCA race, the racing groove does appear to be getting wider, so just maybe there will be more passing than we expect? Otherwise, the majority of passing will likely occur in the pits and on restarts.

The Push to The Chase Begins Today

With this race marking the start of the second half of the regular season all one has to do is take a quick glance at the standings to see quite a few big names, who find themselves in a somewhat precarious position entering the stretch run to the Chase.

Among them is Carl Edwards, 11th overall but winless since March ‘11 and has yet to find the form which carried him to a second-place finish in points just last year; Jeff Gordon, who has fast cars but has been continually victimized by bad luck and costly mistakes; and Ryan Newman, who since winning at Martinsville has fallen off the map having finished no better than 14th in the last seven races.

Worth Noting
  • In six prior starts on the 2.5-mile track, pole-sitter Joey Logano has never finished inside the top 10 with his best result being an 11th-place finish in this race one year ago.

  • Befitting because it is referred to as the "Tricky Triangle," since the track first opened its doors in 1974 only two drivers have been able to score their maiden Sprint Cup victory at Pocono. The first was Jeremy Mayfield in 1998, with the second being Denny Hamlin, who swept both races here in his rookie campaign of 2006.

  • No driver in today's field has as many top fives (19) and top 10s (33) than Mark Martin, but surprisingly, the veteran driver has never won a race in 50 Pocono starts. His best finish is second, which he has done on six separate occasions.
Favorites

1. Denny Hamlin

Although the track is now different it's still hard not to like the guy who has four wins in 12 and showed speed in both of Friday's practice sessions. One area of concern is if this race comes down to fuel mileage, know that fuel conservation is not an area of strength for Joe Gibbs Racing.

2. Carl Edwards

Last year's championship runner-up qualified on the outside of the front row and with two victories and having finished in the top 50 percent of the time, has a history of doing on the flat 2.5-mile track.

3. Jimmie Johnson

With wins in two of the last three races and having finished worse than 12th just once in the last nine events, no driver has been better recently than Jimmie Johnson. But after qualifying 24th, the five-time Cup champion and two-time Pocono winner will have his work cut out for him on a track where passing could be difficult.

Sleeper

He's never won here - or on any oval for that matter - but with four top 10s in his last six starts it is apparent Juan Pablo Montoya knows the fast way around Pocono. Whether that knowledge translates to track which has undergone a bit of a transformation remains to be seen.

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NASCAR At Pocono: 2012 Start Time, Lineup, Live Streaming, TV/Radio Schedule And More

It's NASCAR race day at Pocono Raceway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's race for you below.

What time does the race start today? Dr. Rose Mattioli, the widow of track founder Dr. Joseph Mattioli, will give the command to fire engines today at 1:08 p.m. Eastern time. After a few pace laps, a Twitter contest winner will wave the green flag at 1:19 p.m. So if you're looking to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race, turn on your TV set at 1:19 p.m. Eastern.

Race name/distance: There are a lot of "firsts" today at Pocono Raceway. For one thing, it's the first-ever 400-mile race at Pocono (down from the typical 500 miles). Race officials and drivers alike believe cutting the laps down from 200 to 160 will make for a better show. Second, the race name is the "Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR." That's not a typo – hashtag NASCAR, as in Twitter. For the first time, Twitter is using a special page on its site to help fans follow along with the race. You can find it at Twitter.com/#NASCAR.

TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on TNT. This is TNT's first of six broadcasts this summer before handing the reins to ESPN for the rest. There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Motor Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates from the event. ***

National anthem: Naomi Scott, a Air Force service member from Dover Air Force Base, will do the honors today.

Tickets: The race is not a sellout, so you should be good to go if you're planning to make a last-minute trip on race day.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather at Pocono is iffy. There may be showers in the area that pop up and cause delays to today's race.

Last time: One year ago, Jeff Gordon picked up a victory at Pocono to tie for third on NASCAR's all-time wins list with his 84th victory (he won later in the summer at Atlanta to break that tie). Then, last August, Brad Keselowski shocked the NASCAR world by going to Victory Lane despite a broken ankle.

Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway:

  1. Joey Logano
  2. Carl Edwards
  3. Paul Menard
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Mark Martin
  7. Regan Smith
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  9. Marcos Ambrose
  10. Kasey Kahne
  11. Jamie McMurray
  12. Jeff Gordon
  13. Greg Biffle
  14. Matt Kenseth
  15. Landon Cassill
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Juan Pablo Montoya
  18. Ryan Newman
  19. AJ Allmendinger
  20. Jeff Burton
  21. Kevin Harvick
  22. Tony Stewart
  23. Martin Truex Jr.
  24. Jimmie Johnson
  25. David Reutimann
  26. Casey Mears
  27. Bobby Labonte
  28. Mike Bliss
  29. Aric Almirola
  30. Michael McDowell
  31. Brad Keselowski
  32. JJ Yeley
  33. Joe Nemechek
  34. David Ragan
  35. Josh Wise
  36. David Gilliland
  37. Travis Kvapil
  38. Scott Riggs
  39. Stacy Compton
  40. Tony Raines
  41. Reed Sorenson
  42. Dave Blaney
  43. Stephen Leicht
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NASCAR Pocono Starting Lineup 2012: Joey Logano Leads Qualifying

The top 36 qualifiers all broke the track record at Pocono Raceway during Saturday's qualifying session for the Pocono 400, but the fastest car belonged to Joey Logano.

Logano, who also led Friday's final Sprint Cup Series practice session, won the pole for Sunday's race with a track-record speed of 179.598 mph.

It was the fourth pole of Logano's career and first since the last time NASCAR visited Pocono, in August.

Here is the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway:

  1. Joey Logano
  2. Carl Edwards
  3. Paul Menard
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Mark Martin
  7. Regan Smith
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  9. Marcos Ambrose
  10. Kasey Kahne
  11. Jamie McMurray
  12. Jeff Gordon
  13. Greg Biffle
  14. Matt Kenseth
  15. Landon Cassill
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Juan Pablo Montoya
  18. Ryan Newman
  19. AJ Allmendinger
  20. Jeff Burton
  21. Kevin Harvick
  22. Tony Stewart
  23. Martin Truex Jr.
  24. Jimmie Johnson
  25. David Reutimann
  26. Casey Mears
  27. Bobby Labonte
  28. Mike Bliss
  29. Aric Almirola
  30. Michael McDowell
  31. Brad Keselowski
  32. JJ Yeley
  33. Joe Nemechek
  34. David Ragan
  35. Josh Wise
  36. David Gilliland
  37. Travis Kvapil
  38. Scott Riggs
  39. Stacy Compton
  40. Tony Raines
  41. Reed Sorenson
  42. Dave Blaney
  43. Stephen Leicht
DNQ: David Stremme
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NASCAR At Pocono 2012: Martin Truex Jr. Won't Have Regular Crew Chief

One of the year's biggest surprises is undoubtedly Martin Truex Jr., who, on the strength of eight top-10 finishes in 13 starts, heads into this weekend's Pocono 400 sitting sixth in points.

It's a remarkable turnaround for a driver who finished 18th and 22nd overall in his first two years with Michael Waltrip Racing and entered 2012 in the last year of his contract, uncertain as to what his future may be.

"I feel good about where we are at," Truex said Friday at Pocono. "I feel like that we've met our expectations. I felt like we knew where we could be this part of the season and we've done a good job with that. Like you said, the few wins that we had a chance at that slipped away is pretty frustrating, but I feel good about it. The team's done a nice job. We've been consistent."

This weekend, however, Truex will be without the man who has guided him to what is his best start points-wise of his career. Crew chief Chad Johnston is back home with his wife, who is due to give birth to a baby boy any day now.

"It's been a little bit different not having Chad around," Truex said. "He's really been kind of the heart and soul of this team for close to the past year, so it's been a little bit different."

But, as has become evident this season, MWR is a far deeper team than in previous years. While Johnston will certainly be missed, it shouldn't prevent Truex from being in contention for a good result Sunday.

Calling the shots for Truex and sitting atop the No. 56 pit box will be MWR competition director Scott Miller, a former Richard Childress Racing crew chief.

"Everything has gone good," Truex said. "The guys have done a nice job of stepping up and getting the job done the past few days and we've had a good few days of testing, a good practice today (Truex was 12th fastest in Friday's first practice) and looking forward to the rest of the weekend with our NAPA Toyota and keeping our car up front where it belongs."

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NASCAR At Pocono 2012: Does A Shorter Race Make For A Better Race?

When Pocono Raceway president Brandon Igdalsky sat down with his grandfather early last summer, the young track executive emphasized the need to shorten Pocono's traditional 500-mile NASCAR race lengths.

Igdalsky's grandfather, the late track founder Dr. Joseph Mattioli, listened as the reasons were laid out before him: There was pressure from fans, media and drivers alike, the attention spans of many Americans seem to be getting shorter all the time and it would be better for the sport as a whole.

And perhaps the biggest factor was that by removing 100 miles, there wouldn't be as much time for drivers to ride around. The intensity of the racing, Igdalsky figured, would be increased.

"Do we think it's going to be a better show?" Igdalsky said this week, in advance of Pocono's first 400-mile race. "We wouldn't have done it if we didn't think so."

Igdalsky's plea to his grandfather worked. Before Mattioli ceded control of the track to his grandchildren last August, he signed one more sanctioning agreement with NASCAR – which included the 400-mile races.

"I don't know if it was the old age being gentle or he was understanding it," Igdalsky said with a laugh. "He agreed with it at that time."

Now the question heading into the weekend is this: Do 400-mile races make for a better show than 500-mile races?

Those who have watched the seemingly endless Pocono races over the years might be quick to say, "YES!"

"Five hundred miles here for some reason just seems to get drug-out and drawn-out," Tony Stewart said Friday. "I think you're still going to have the same quality of racing, you just don't have to wait that extra hour for that exciting conclusion."

And really, that's what entertainment is all about these days, right? It's the last five minutes of a basketball game or the ninth inning in baseball: Hurry up and get to the good stuff.

"The way it was described to me that made it much more palatable is they took the middle 100 miles out," Carl Edwards said.

Why will it be a better race? Because, as Greg Biffle said, "There will be more urgency to go." In addition, drivers will be less likely to fall out of the race due to equipment failures – which can certainly happen with all the shifting and high speeds at Pocono.

"I think 400 miles is going to make for a little bit more entertaining race," Jeff Gordon said, "as well as hopefully (getting) more of us to the finish."

But some drivers don't think reducing the race by 100 miles will mean much at all.

"Four hundred miles is still a really long time," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "This is a track that is very long and just lends itself to feeling like it takes forever to get around it. I don't think it is going to feel like a short event in no way to me, personally."

Aside from the drivers, some fans might be concerned they're paying the same ticket price as last year for 100 less miles of racing this year. But Igdalsky said there have been surprisingly few complaints.

To those with concerns, Pocono responds by saying the increased entertainment is more than expected to make up for the reduced distance.

"Overall, we think it's going to give them even more value for their dollar," Igdalsky said. "I really think with the new asphalt and everything, it's going to put on a great race."

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NASCAR At Pocono 2012: Hendrick Motorsports On A Roll

Heading into Sunday's NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway, there is no doubt which team is the favorite to win the Pocono 400: Hendrick Motorsports, the same team which has won every race for the last month.

It's a far cry from earlier in the year when one of the most asked questions in the garage was, "What is wrong with Hendrick?"

And as the races clicked by each week with a Hendrick car failing to win, many believed the four-car organization was mired in a slump of some sorts. After all, it's not often that it takes 10 races before a Rick Hendrick-owned car goes to Victory Lane.

But the funny thing is, since that elusive first victory of 2012 at Darlington – the 200th in its illustrious history – Hendrick hasn't stopped winning.

So what has changed and how has a team which many perceived to be behind the eight ball gone from being winless in 10 races to undefeated in the last four (counting the non-points All-Star Race)?

Because it wasn't as if Hendrick had completely fallen off the map, even when they weren't winning. Since the green flag dropped in Daytona, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have all been consistently competitive and fixtures at or near the front of the field (though Gordon, for a variety of reasons, hasn't necessarily finished up front) and the same can be said recently of Kasey Kahne – once he was able to shake off his early season setbacks.

"I think we've really gotten our act together," defending race winner Gordon said Friday at Pocono. "We didn't start the season on top of our game, but in great fashion for Hendrick Motorsports, everybody has been working really hard since the start of the season to try to find a little bit more speed and grip in the cars. Over the last month, month and a half we have done that. It is showing with all the cars."

With the Sprint Cup Series now halfway through its regular season, there is a lot to like about where Hendrick finds itself with both Earnhardt Jr. (third in points) and Johnson (fifth) comfortably inside the top 10 and Kahne in Chase contention thanks to his win at Charlotte.

"It does go through the organization," Johnson said Friday. "When any member of the team runs well or wins, all the other drivers, crew chiefs and engineers focus on that setup and what in that setup worked for them and what can we apply to our car, or do we need to completely get rid of what we were using and go that route. It stimulates conversation and also direction."

And as Hendrick has resumed its winning ways, the question is no longer "What's wrong?" but "Will they ever lose?"

"You just hope that you can maintain that or continue to improve on that as the season goes on to stay ahead of the competition," Gordon said. "This sport is so competitive. Not everything works at every track. The last couple of races...we've been to, there is no doubt our equipment is really good right now."

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At Pocono, Jeff Gordon Defends NASCAR Reporter Involved In Kurt Busch Situation

SportingNews.com reporter Bob Pockrass, the target of Kurt Busch's comments which drew a suspension from the NASCAR Pocono race this weekend, had an influential driver spring to his defense on Friday.

When asked about Busch's suspension, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon first gave a short answer about how officials were perhaps trying to send a "wake-up call" to Busch. But then he suddenly veered from the question and addressed Pockrass' role in the matter, unprompted.

"The one thing I will say is I really support Bob Pockrass in this situation," Gordon said. "I don't think Bob asked anything out of line. I don't think he provoked anything. He was just kind of following up on some things Kurt was leading to.

"I think Bob is one of the premier writers and investigative reporters in the garage area. Nobody works harder than this guy."

That's much different than what Tony Stewart said about Pockrass on Wednesday, when the defending champion labeled Pockrass as "the biggest mixer in the whole media center" and a "tabloid journalist."

Gordon disagreed with Stewart's comments and said the media's role is "to create entertainment for people to watch and read."

"We as competitors have to understand that side of it," Gordon said. "If you don't like a question, don't answer it. It doesn't mean you have to go to the level that Kurt went to in how he responded to it."

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For Family Of Late Pocono Founder, NASCAR Weekend Brings Mixed Feelings

Ten months ago, Dr. Joseph Mattioli called a news conference at Pocono Raceway and didn't tell anyone what it was about.

As his unsuspecting family stood nearby, Mattioli announced he was retiring and would be handing full control of the Pennsylvania racetrack to three of his grandchildren.

That was always the plan -- he'd been grooming the grandkids to be his successors for their entire lives -- but that the day had arrived so suddenly came as a shock.

"You never think that day is actually going to come," said Brandon Igdalsky, one of Mattioli's grandsons and the Pocono Raceway president. "It was a surreal moment as I stood there and heard him say this. There was no warning. I had no idea; none of us did."

Five and a half months later, Igdalsky and his siblings faced another day they hoped would never come. Doc Mattioli, who founded the track in the early 1960s and ran it until that August news conference, died at age 86.

Now, with NASCAR returning to Pocono for the first time since Mattioli's death, his grandchildren are faced with not only handling their first race at the helm, but also dealing with the reality that the man they called "Pop" is gone.

"It's going to be tough, to be honest with you," Igdalsky said this week over the phone. "For the first time ever, he's not going to be there. To not see his face and not hear him laugh and giggle at the start of the race, it's going to be different. To not see him there with my grandmother for driver introductions is going to be tough for all of us."

There is nowhere on the track's expansive property where Igdalsky and his siblings can travel without thinking of their grandfather.

Mattioli's presence has always been tangible at the track, mostly because he seemed to be everywhere. From the old-school pre-race ceremonies to ordering all the cars in the press parking lot to face the same direction, Mattioli had a vision for his facility that he worked hard to maintain.

The grandkids -- Brandon (president and chief executive officer), his brother Nick (vice president and chief operating officer) and sister Ashley (secretary/treasurer) -- don't plan to to stray from Mattioli's core values, such as keeping ticket prices flat and treating the race fans like family.

But there have been major changes since the last time NASCAR raced at Pocono. There's brand new asphalt on the 2.5-mile triangle and the distance of the race has been reduced to 400 miles.

Those changes, though, happened with Mattioli's blessing. He even signed the sanctioning agreement that reduced the race to 400 miles before he ceded control.

And one of the biggest changes: After a lifetime of lessons, his grandchildren will officially be at the helm for the first time.

"What he instilled with us was his love for the fans and competitors," Igdalsky said. "The fans and everybody in this sport are as much a part of our family as anybody can be. That was part of the way he wanted it and part of what we're going to continue.

"That was who he was, and that piece of him is never going to go away from here."

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NASCAR At Pocono 2012: Denny Hamlin Says 'The Success We Had Here Is Gone'

To Denny Hamlin, Pocono is a brand new racetrack.

As Hamlin predicted two weeks ago, the repaving of the 2.5-mile triangular track has removed any advantage the driver of the No. 11 Toyota might have had at one of his favorite venues.

So for Hamlin, who won two races at Pocono from the pole in his 2006 rookie season and added one victory each in 2009 and 2010, it's just like starting over.

"The success we had here ... is gone," Hamlin told the NASCAR Wire Service after the morning session of testing on Thursday. "It's kind of a reset. You're not going to be able to look at any notes from previous [races] and race winners and try to predict a race winner for this thing.

"Strategy's going to be huge. Track position is going to be big. Of the test guys, you could probably put anyone in the top 20 out front with 15 laps to go, and no one's going to catch 'em."

Speeds have increased dramatically during the first two days of testing at the "Tricky Triangle." All 41 cars in Thursday's afternoon session were faster in race trim than Kasey Kahne's 2004 qualifying record of 172.533 mph.

Coincidentally, Kahne posted the top speed during testing -- 179.490 mph -- turning a lap in 50.142 seconds, more than two seconds faster than his 2004 record time.

"With the corner speeds being so much slower with the old surface, you didn't get off the corner as well," Hamlin said. "Everyone is shifting [gears] now, and your shift points have moved around dramatically. Obviously, that's been shortened up.

"It's just a big test session right now, trying to figure out what makes speed at this race track, what you have to do, because, really, you drive it totally different than what you used to."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dreads Upcoming NASCAR Pocono Raceway Test

Prior to next weekend's Pocono race, NASCAR will hold two extra days of open testing at the repaved 2.5-mile Pennsylvania triangle – much to the chagrin of the sport's most popular driver.

"Yeah, I'm not real excited about being up there that long," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Dover as reporters chuckled. "I don't think anybody is, to be honest with you. We'll go up there and we'll just run around in circles."

While he conceded he's "looking forward" to seeing the new surface, Earnhardt Jr. said the real reason NASCAR is holding an open test session is to lay rubber on the racing surface "to avoid any kind of debacle with rubbering the track down."

"There's really no other excuse for being there the entire week," he added.

That got me thinking: What would Earnhardt Jr. consider just as bad as two days testing at Pocono?

Here are a few ideas (add your own in the comments section below):

• Racing at Sonoma, his least-favorite track

• Swapping current crew chief Steve Letarte for former crew chief Lance McGrew

• Talking about his winless streak

• Calling attention to himself

• Joining Twitter

What else should be on this list?

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