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Friday, July 21, 2006

Pocono Notes and Predictions

-After Tony Stewart crashed hard at Lowe’s in May, he fell from second to fourth place in the standings. Stewart suffered an injured shoulder in the crash, and some people thought he should rest at Dover and not start the race. Considering his place in the standings and how well the 20 team had run so far, it was reasonable to think he could afford not starting a race and lose the associated points. Instead, he started the race and Ricky Rudd subbed after the first pit stop. Rudd finished in 25th, nothing spectacular, but silid. Stewart is now healthy, and still running well, but has had several poor finished. Two crashes, a blown engine and fuel problems have seated Stewart in 11th place after New Hampshire. With only seven races until the Chase, the 88 points from Dover are crucial. Without the 88 points he is in 12th place with one more driver blocking his re-entry to the top 10.

-Some very elite drivers are going to be left out of the Chase. A big deal was made when Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr missed the 2005 Chase. The reason both missed the Chase was poor performance. They both had plenty of bad luck, but lightning usually struck when they were in the middle of the pack. Drivers like Stewart and Biffle have run up front practically all year and still have crazy things happen. Carl Edwards, Stewart, Biffle, Gordon, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman all have legitimate reasons to worry about missing the Chase.

-David Stremme’s season began with disappointment. After five races, he didn’t have a finish better than 28th and his team fell out of the top 35 in owner points. Through the fist 13 races, Stremme had a best finish of 21st at Texas and only three sub-30 finishes in all. Still, he has qualified for every race he’s entered (road ringer Soctt Pruett replaced him at Sonoma), and over the last month has shown improvement. A 19th at Michigan was followed by a 16th at Daytona (and 3rd fastest in qualifying) for his first two top 20 finishes of the year. After a career best 11th last week at Loudon, Stremme is not only running better, but is again very close to the crucial top 35 in owners’ points. If Stremme can limbo under the Top 35 bar, Team Ganassi is suddenly in much better shape for 2007.

Pocono Predictions
-Winner: Carl Edwards. Last year's June race winner is on the edge of a cliff to make the Chase. Roush hasn't won a race since Dover, so it's time. If Edwards can't get a top ten, he will need a lot of help to make the Chase.

-Other Front Runners: Tony Stewart. Last time at Pocono people questioned Stewart's shoulder and he proceeded to cruise home third. This week people are questioning if he will make the Chase, so he'll go out and promptly post a top five.
Jeff Burton. He has done everything but win this year. Pocono isn't a great track for Burton, but he is strong everywhere now, plus he's bringing back his Chicago car.

-Set to Drop: Kasey Kahne. Kahne is still finishing well, but hasn't been running up front as frequently.

-Section 12-4-A Candidate: Kevin Harvick. Happy has been pretty quiet on the Cup Scene this year. A little too quiet. Cue the Jaws music, something is stirring. Watch out Joe Nemechek.

-Watch out for: Stephen Leicht. Leicht is the future of Robert Yates Racing, probably sooner than anyone would like. Leicht, 19, will attempt to qualify a third RYR car for his Cup debut. He was among the leaders in Indy testing last week. He also won the ARCA race at Nashville earlier this year, but his experience is extremely limited. Juan Pablo Montoya is not the only driver with a learning curve steeper than Bristol's banking.