Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for in today's NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway:
Winners of six of the last 10 races, Hendrick Motorsports is now, without question, the team to beat. There are some in the garage, including Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, who believe Hendrick's recent success has to do with a loophole the team has found in the rulebook concerning the alignment of the rear of the car.
Whatever the reason may be, Hendrick's recent success coincides with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s rise to the top of the Sprint Cup Series standings for the first time in 280 races. But while that's all well and good, Earnhardt Jr. has made it clear he wants to win more races – something he's only done once this season. And he has an excellent chance of doing just that today, as the 88 car was among the fastest here back in June and was in contention for the win until conservative pit strategy in the closing laps resulted in a disappointing seventh-place finish.
And whether it's Earnhardt Jr. or one of the other three Hendrick cars, if today ends like the last Sunday did, you can expect more outcries in the garage over the perceived advantage the Hendrick juggernaut has over the field.
A Pocono Repeat For Joey Logano?
When the Sprint Cup Series visited Pocono in June, it was Joey Logano who won from the pole. At the time, Logano's second career victory was seen as a breakthrough of sorts, as his future with Joe Gibbs Racing was very much in doubt. Yet, six weeks later as the Cup circuit revisits the triangular-shaped speedway, little has changed; Logano's future is still uncertain and he doesn't know what team he'll drive for in 2013.
But like two months ago, a victory today could do wonders for the 22-year-old wheelman in his hunt for job security. First off, it would certainly increase his bargaining power with JGR as the organization attempts to re-sign him. Secondly, it makes him more attractive – both to other teams (Penske?) and possible future sponsors.
Winning Is All That Matters For Edwards
After mechanical troubles last week led to him finishing 29th, Carl Edwards made his intentions clear over the next six weeks: He will do anything he can to win, points be damned. It's a sound strategy, considering winning is Edwards' only hope to qualify for the Chase.
Combine that mindset with a fast car – which Edwards has, judging by practice speeds – and that makes the Roush Fenway driver a man to watch today. If there is a gamble to take involving pit strategy that will result in favorable track position, the 99 is going to take it. And if that means taking unnecessary risks – particularly in the closing stages –Edwards has no qualms about going that route, either.
Anytime there's a race at Pocono, weather is almost always a factor. Today, the weather forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain with the odds less than favorable the entire distance is completed. This means the Pennsylvania 400 will be a race to halfway, as teams jockey to get to the front. And don't be at all surprised to see some teams pull out all the stops to perhaps snag an unexpected victory.
• After losing his right-front brakes and subsequently crashing into the outside wall, Paul Menard will be starting today's race in a backup car.
• Keep an eye on pit road today, as that was a source of controversy here in June with NASCAR handing out 22 penalties for speeding – 20 of them for being too fast exiting pit road.
• If Joey Logano can win today, he will become the seventh driver to complete the Pocono sweep and the first since teammate Denny Hamlin did so in 2006.
1. Jimmie Johnson
In an ominous sign Friday, Jimmie Johnson said his team will be able to apply what they learned at Indy to Pocono. Knowing the 48 crossed the finish line 5 seconds ahead of the field, this sounds like bad news for the competition.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
As evident by his effort here in June, as well as last week in Indy where he finished fourth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte have a good handle on the high-speed, flat superspeedways. It also doesn't hurt that the 88 car was fastest in Friday's second practice.
3. Matt Kenseth
In each of the two practices on Friday, all three Roush cars were fast in practice, but it was Matt Kenseth who was quickest.
The runner-up in June, Mark Martin has more top fives and top 10s than any other driver at Pocono. What the veteran doesn't have, however, is a victory on the 2.5-mile track, which could change this afternoon.