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Pocono story lines

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

LONG POND, Pa. – When last the Sprint Cup Series came to Pocono Raceway, back in June, Kyle Busch was the points leader, Tony Stewart didn't own his own team and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was still winless, all of which is to say nothing and everything has changed since then.

Now, heading into Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 – what a mouthful – Busch is still the points leader, but as expected Stewart announced his partnership with Haas Racing and Junior finally won.

1. Is 500 miles too many? It's the same question people ask every time NASCAR comes to Pocono, but considering what happened back in June it's an idea that might be gaining traction.

When the Pocono 500 came to a merciful end, drivers didn't pull themselves out of their cars, they flopped out in exhaustion. Temperatures were so hot inside the cars and the race lasted so long (3 hours, 59 minutes) that when it was over, AJ Allmendinger, who's quite fit mind you, fell on the floor in his hauler while crew members poured bags of ice on top of him.

"And I don't like cold stuff," Allmendinger said Friday.

Allmendinger even admitted that at times during the race he was so ill from the heat that he saw double and even felt like throwing up.

Temperatures this time around are expected to be about the same, in the mid 80s, which won't provide too much relief.

2. Is Jimmie Johnson back? Coming off his win at Indy, which followed up a second-place performance at Chicagoland, it looks like two-time defending Cup champion and Sunday's pole sitter Jimmie Johnson is starting to find his stride.

A third solid performance in a row – and keep in mind Johnson has two wins at Pocono – will make it official that Johnson is poised and ready to make a run at championship No. 3.

3. Who's moving up? When the checkered flag flies on Sunday there will be only five races left before the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field is set.

As it stands, 154 points separate Greg Biffle in seventh and David Ragan in 14th, while only two points separate Clint Bowyer in 12th and Kevin Harvick in 13th. Between them are a lot of big names, including Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

So who amongst the bubble boys will survive Pocono? And who will be left gripping as the tour heads to Watkins Glen?

4. Tire issues? Tire-gate is now firmly in the rearview mirror. Yes, there will be talk Sunday, just because of what happened at Indianapolis a week ago. But there should be no issues this weekend.

Though Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are similar tracks, the surface at Pocono isn't nearly as abrasive as the one at Indy, which should make for an uneventful day for the folks at Goodyear.

5. Sponsorship at Pocono? OK, it's more of a curiosity than a story line. But anyone who is familiar with Pocono Raceway owner Joe Mattioli knows he's proud of the fact that unlike just about every other race on the Sprint Cup schedule, save the Daytona 500, his races promote the area – the June race is the Pocono 500, the August race is traditionally the Pennsylvania 500.

But when approached by the Red Cross with an idea to donate to charity a portion of the proceeds from every ticket sold, Mattioli gave in. As for Sunoco, they're footing the marketing bill.

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