Who Will Win?
Denny Hamlin: Is this the race that Hamlin vaults past Dale Earnhardt Jr. and into the top 10 in the standings? We all know how good Hamlin is at Pocono (four wins and eight top 10s in 11 starts) and barring any engine problems, Hamlin should be near the front again on Sunday. If Hamlin wins, he's almost a certainty for the Chase, with two victories to his credit. But the wins won't matter if he gets into the top 10. – Nick Bromberg
Jeff Gordon: I've been on the 24 bandwagon for going on a month, and why would I stop now when they're heading back to the track where he won earlier this season? If there's one place he's been consistent, it's on flat tracks – yeah, I said pretty much the same thing last week, but only because it's true. He could get snookered again by someone gambling on fuel, like he did at Indy, but there's no doubt he will be a presence up front at Pocono. – Jay Hart
Denny Hamlin After a season in which we thought he'd become the next great NASCAR star, Denny Hamlin has burbled around the lower edges of the top 10, rarely showing any sign of the form that won him eight races last year. Now's the time he reminds us how good he can be; his encore performance starts this weekend at one of his best tracks. – Jay Busbee
Three things to watch for at Pocono …
1. Will Joe Gibbs Racing have engine trouble? The organization thought it had things figured out from its early-season issues, but the engine problems are back. Denny Hamlin has had to swap out engines prior to two of the last three races. While they've got them before the races have begun, there still has to be some concern within the JGR camp.
2. Who will play the fuel-mileage game? This is a theme to be repeated for the foreseeable future, as teams looking for a wild-card berth will be gambling for a victory. This will be especially true at large tracks such as Pocono, where fuel mileage frequently comes into play. Don't expect drivers on the Chase bubble, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., to play this game unless they're absolutely sure they can make it, but do expect someone like Juan Pablo Montoya, whose only shot to make the Chase is to win, to take the risk.
3. Who will miss their shift? Shifting is back at Pocono, and while drivers prefer it (because it gives them something to do on the big, long track), it can present problems. Miss a shift and your engine will suffer the consequences – as will your spot in the points standings.
• Jeff Gordon turned 40 on Thursday. It will be a much-talked-about topic of conversation at Pocono. Does the kid, now an old man in sporting-world parlance, still have what it takes to win a championship? – Jay Hart
• What else? It's Hail Mary, half-court heave, all-in-on-every-hand time. Other drivers have seen Paul Menard and David Ragan, two guys with a less-than-impressive history, put themselves in position for the Chase. Expect some of the most daring strategy (and perhaps rule-massaging?) you'll ever see over the next six weeks. – Jay Busbee
• Pocono? Again? Weren't we just here? The Sprint Cup Series hits its second 2.5-mile flat track in as many weeks and hopefully Pocono will be as drama-filled as the end of the Brickyard 400. If fuel mileage comes into play again – a distinct possibility – we could see some more gambling. And besides, think of the wild-card craziness if someone like Greg Biffle or Kasey Kahne gambles on fuel to win Sunday. – Nick Bromberg
From The Source
Jimmie Johnson: "Keys to winning [at Pocono]: I think the first thing that comes to mind is fuel mileage. It's one or the other. You either have a really fast car and poor fuel mileage [or] not running so good, roll the dice, stay out, save fuel. … I'd rather have the better-driving racecar and fight for the finish."