Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson is in first place for the 15th straight week after Indianapolis. He opened up his largest lead of the season, 75 points over second-ranked Clint Bowyer and 85 points over third-ranked Carl Edwards.
POCONO RECORD: 23 career starts, 3 wins, 10 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2004, summer 2004 and spring 2013. Finished 14th in this race last year and won this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: After finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, Johnson is looking for a season sweep at Pocono, having won there in early June. If he does so, it would be the second time in his career that he's won both races in a season at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. He's disappointed that he didn't win at Indy, but it's time to move on, Johnson said: "We'll try. What's on my mind, we win as a team, lose as a team. There have been some late-race mistakes on my behalf that have taken race wins away from us. Granted not a major event like (the Brickyard). But we win as a team, lose as a team. We still ended up second. We have a lot to be proud of over the course of the weekend. We'll do the best to let it roll off our shoulders."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson had the dominant car at Indianapolis, leading 73 laps, but a slow pit stop late in the race due to a dropped lug nut cost Johnson valuable time and allowed Ryan Newman to take the lead and eventually the win.
ETC.: Johnson has completed an incredible 99.8 percent (4,298) of the 4,307 total laps contested in 23 career starts at Pocono. His average start and finish are both outstanding: 9.0 and 8.7 respectively. He has 0 DNFs there.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in second place for the third consecutive week after Indianapolis. However, he dropped from 49 points to a whopping 75 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, while his lead over third-ranked Carl Edwards dropped from 17 to 10 points.
POCONO RECORD: 15 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in summer 2009. Was eighth in this race last year and finished 15th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer has had good runs at Pocono for the most part since he finished 39th there in spring 2008, finishing no lower than 16th since then. But the unique 2.5-mile tri-oval has presented Bowyer more than his share of problems and other than one top-five, just never has really challenged for a win there. Even though he hasn't won a race yet this season, consistency is more important, Bowyer says: "You can win the championship being consistently strong. We're second in points being consistently strong. I feel like -- with an exception of one (race) -- we've covered our bases. We've done a good job of being there each and every week. ... It's a humbling sport. Out of three races before (New Hampshire) were all solid top-fives (he's finished 13th and 20th since then). That's what I feel like where our team's at right now. We're a top-five team week in and week out. And if you do that, I know if you're going to get your wins. I'm really not concerned about that. Being consistent, staying in the hunt each and every weekend is what's going to give you a shot at a championship."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer was looking for a strong run at Indianapolis, but never really had a car that could battle with frontrunners Ryan Newman, who won the race, and points leader Jimmie Johnson, who finished second. Bowyer, meanwhile, finished a disappointing 20th.
ETC.: Bowyer has completed 98.1 percent (2,677) of the 2,728 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 18.6 and average finish is 15.1. He has zero DNFs there.
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: After spending the previous nine weeks in second place, Carl Edwards remained in third place for the third consecutive week after Indianapolis. However, his deficit behind points leader Jimmie Johnson grew to 85 points from 73 points prior to Indy. He closed in on second-ranked Clint Bowyer (from 17 to 10 points) and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by seven points.
POCONO RECORD: 17 career starts, 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2005 (his first career Sprint Cup start at Pocono) and summer 2008. Was seventh in this race last year and finished 18th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards has been looking for his second win of the season, and Sunday's race at Pocono gives him an excellent opportunity to do so, given his past record at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We're hoping we can take the strong run we had during the first half of the race at Indy and run that way the whole day at Pocono. We have not been as fast as we need to be for the last couple of months and I think every Ford is coming to Pocono with one thing in mind and that's a victory. It'd be great to get those extra bonus points headed towards the stretch before the chase starts. At the end of the day it's a fun race track so hopefully we can come out of there with a smile."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards had a good run going at Indianapolis until about the halfway point of the race, where he began to fade, eventually finishing 13th. Not a bad run, just not as good as Edwards had hoped for.
ETC.: Edwards has completed 95.3 percent (2,986) of the 3,132 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 18.0 and average finish is 13.5. He has zero DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place for the sixth straight week after Indianapolis. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 92 points (up from 74 points prior to Indy), is seven points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 32 points.
POCONO RECORD: 25 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth place in summer 2008, spring 2010 and summer 2010. Was 16th in this race last year and ninth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick likes big, wide tracks like Pocono, but he just hasn't gotten the kind of performances there that he'd like. He's still looking for his first win there. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "The first thing is you've got to survive the restart. The track is really fast and the thing I like about what they did at Pocono is that all the bumps are now kind of swells instead of extreme bumps. Each corner is fast. Turn 1 is a corner where you drive in and down shift. The key to Pocono is getting up off the corners and in the throttle and being able to stay in the throttle really in all three (turns)."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick never was a factor at Indianapolis, a track that he had won at previously. He led just two laps and finished a mediocre 19th.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 96.2 percent (4,528) of the 4,707 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 19.2 and average finish is 13.9. He has two DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. remained in fifth place for the third consecutive week after Indianapolis. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 124 points, is 32 points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth by one point.
POCONO RECORD: 27 career starts, 0 wins, 6 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in summer 2001 and summer 2007. Finished 32nd in this race last year but improved to a third-place finish in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt is hoping to build upon the third-place finish he had in early June at Pocono. The unique 2.5-mile tri-oval has been a challenge to him throughout his career. He's also still looking for his first win of the season.
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt wasn't spectacular at Indianapolis, but still managed a solid sixth-place finish. Here's his thoughts on that race: "I thought it was good. We had good speed. I thought the strategy was good. We had a loose wheel on the start of the race; that was weird to have a loose wheel then. We changed our strategy and made it work. The car had good speed. Right at the end, we were either running out of gas, or had a little bit of an engine problem the last two or three laps. I almost lost another spot. But the car just quit running at the end. I don't know if it was out of fuel or what. But the fuel pressure was good."
ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.0 percent (4,956) of the 5,107 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 14.6, while his average finish is 16.7. He has one DNF there.
20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth remained in sixth place for the third straight race after Indianapolis. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 125 points, is one point behind fifth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads seventh-ranked Kyle Busch by five points.
POCONO RECORD: 27 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in spring 2003. Finished 23rd in this race last year and was 25th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is likely dreading a return to Pocono, one of his worst-performing tracks. His last top-five finish was in spring 2006. Since then, he's managed just four top-10 finishes, and nothing higher than seventh. But looking at the big picture, Kenseth needs at least another win or two - he already has four this season (tied with points leader Jimmie Johnson) - if he hopes to get the No. 1 seed in the Chase. Given his past performance at Pocono, including his 25th place showing in spring, it's unlikely he'll get No. 5 there on Sunday. But stranger things have happened there, and Kenseth could be the beneficiary of some odd turn of events.
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth continued his run of great finishes and strong competitiveness at Indianapolis, finishing fifth, the highest of any Toyota driver. Here's his thoughts on that race: "None of them are easy, but today was difficult. We had really, really great pit stops from my Dollar General crew and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) made a great call to get us some track position. That's really what got us our top-five. We didn't have a car that good today. We were just off all weekend. We never hit it exactly right. Great adjustments for today. Great adjustments during the race -- with strategy and pit stops -- got us a good finish out of the day."
ETC.: Even though his overall record is less than stellar, Kenseth has completed an outstanding 99.0 percent (5,056) of the 5,107 total laps contested in 27 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 18.0 and average finish is 14.7. He has zero DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch dropped one spot in the standings, from a tie for sixth to sole possession of seventh after Indianapolis. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 130 points (up from 120 prior to Indy), is five points behind sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads eighth-ranked Greg Biffle by 45 points (up from 30 prior to Indy).
POCONO RECORD: 17 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in spring 2010 and summer 2011. Finished 33rd in this race last year and was sixth in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he has two runner-up finishes at Pocono, the track has continued to befuddle Busch over the years. But he remains hopeful that he can finally earn that elusive first win there, perhaps even this Sunday: "Pocono used to be a place I didn't look forward to going to but, lately, I've been looking forward to it because of Dave Rogers (crew chief). I struggled there and Dave does a really good job of working with our teammates. With Denny (Hamlin) being so good there, we used some of the baseline stuff from his 11 car and tweaked it more to my liking. Denny is still way better than I am there, but Dave, along with everyone on the M&M's team and JGR, have done a good job of giving me solid racecars and it's given me more confidence there."
LOOKING BACK: While there was no controversy between Busch and Ryan Newman after Indianapolis like there was the race before at New Hampshire, Newman obviously got the better of Busch this time, winning the race compared to Busch's 10th-place finish.
ETC.: To illustrate his struggles over the years there, Busch has completed just 91.5 percent (2,865) of the 3,132 total laps contested in 17 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 14.5, while his average finish is 18.4. He has four DNFs there, very uncharacteristic for him.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle remained in eighth place for the third consecutive week after Indianapolis. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 175 points, up from 151 points prior to Indy. Biffle is 45 points behind seventh-ranked Kyle Busch (up from 31 points last week) and leads ninth-ranked Kasey Kahne by one point.
POCONO RECORD: 21 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in summer 2010. Finished 15th in this race last year and was runner-up in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he has a win at Pocono in the past, Biffle has struggled for the most part there over the years. Still, he has optimism coming into Sunday's race, having finished runner-up there last month in the early June race. While he has one win thus far this season, Biffle needs to pick up his performance in the next six races leading to the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Ranked eighth, he's just six points ahead of 10th and has the worst overall record of the current top 10 drivers, with one win, just three top-five and only seven top-10 finishes.
LOOKING BACK: Biffle started out strong at Indianapolis but it was all downhill from there. He battled an ill-handling car much of the day and ultimately finished 24th, just ahead of Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
ETC.: Even though his overall finishes have been lacking, Biffle has completed an outstanding 99.8 percent (3,923) of the 3,932 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 17.8 and average finish is 16.7. He has two DNFs there.
5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing two spots to 10th in the points standings after New Hampshire, Kasey Kahne moved up another spot to ninth after Indianapolis. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 176 points, is one point behind eight-ranked Greg Biffle and leads 10th-ranked Jeff Gordon by five points.
POCONO RECORD: 19 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-fives, 6 top-10s and 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2008. Finished runner-up in this race last year and was 36th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he finished second at Pocono in this race last year, he's struggled otherwise for the most part recently, with finishes of 28th, 29th and 36th to go along with that second-place showing in his last four starts there. He's looking for a strong finish Sunday to help his chances to make the Chase. Kahne has certainly fit in well at Hendrick Motorsports since joining the organization in 2012. Here's his thoughts on HMS: "I think it starts with just how Mr. Hendrick treats people. From the top, every single person at Hendrick Motorsports, the management people, all the competition side, everybody that I work with treats everybody with respect, and that starts from Mr. H, and you don't have that everywhere you go. He actually cares about every single person at Hendrick Motorsports. When he's not around for a week and he's doing other things, it's still run the exact same way, and that's all from him and what he puts into it and his passion he has for racing and for winning."
LOOKING BACK: Kahne had an outstanding day at Indianapolis. While he didn't quite have the car to overtake winner Ryan Newman and runnerup Jimmie Johnson, finishing third was still a lofty achievement.
ETC.: Kahne has completed 98.7 percent (3,486) of the 3,532 total laps contested in 19 starts at Pocono. His average start is an outstanding 8.6, but his average finish is a more mediocre 17.8. He has two DNFs there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon climbed back into the top-10 to 10th place after Indianapolis. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 181 points, is five points behind ninth-ranked Kasey Kahne and leads 11th-ranked Tony Stewart by one point.
POCONO RECORD: 41 career starts, 6 wins, 18 top-fives, 28 top-10s and 2 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 1996, spring 1997, summer 1998, spring 2007, spring 2011 and summer 2012. Won this race last year and was 12th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is the defending champion of Sunday's race. Not only is that incentive, he also turns 42 that day. It'd be a great birthday present to himself to earn his seventh career win at Pocono. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race as well as his hopes to still make the Chase: "This is a very challenging track, but I love racing here. In June, we had a fast race car but we struggled early in the run. We need to find some more speed early in the run while also having a fast car over the long runs. I love the fight in this team, Last year, we battled hard all day long and got into a position to battle for the win. We got a little bit of a 'gift' at the end to win (rain-shortened event), but we worked hard to put ourselves in a position to take advantage of any miscue. (As for the Chase) we've had some fast race cars, but we just need to string together some strong finishes. It seems like every time we get some decent finishes, something happens to halt that momentum. We have six races left before the Chase, and we need to make the most of them so we can earn a spot. If you earn a spot, the points reset puts you right back in the title hunt."
LOOKING BACK: Gordon hung around the top-10 most of the day at Indianapolis and was rewarded with a seventh-place finish, with all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finishing in the top-seven (Johnson second, Kahne third, Earnhardt sixth and Gordon seventh).
ETC.: Gordon has completed 96.1 percent (7,597) of the 7,907 total laps contested in 41 career starts at Pocono. His average start is 11.4, while his average finish there is 10.2. He has five DNFs there.
14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only one point out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. Stands first in the wild card standings with one win.
POCONO RECORD: Stewart finished fourth in the June race for his third straight top-five finish. Has two wins and 21 top-10 finishes including 12 top-five's in 29 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart spent Monday literally flying through the air after flipping five times in a sprint car race at the Ohsweken Speedway dirt track in Ontario, Canada. He was battling for the lead when he got too high and his car suddenly began tumbling down the track. Stewart escaped unhurt and declared himself ready to return to Sprint Cup racing at Pocono. "The good thing is that it's lost enough grip to where it's making it easier to lay rubber on the race track and a lot easier to see it," said Stewart. "That should make for better racing."
LOOKING BACK: Stewart was all smiles after finishing fourth at Indy. "We had top-five car all day and we had really good power all day long, and there were a couple of scenarios in particular where I noticed how good it was," said Stewart. "We were good, but not good enough to challenge Jimmie (Johnson) and Ryan (Newman, his teammate). I couldn't be happier to see Ryan in victory lane. This is just a great day for Stewart-Haas and Ryan and Matt Borland (Newman's crew chief) in particular."
ETC.: Stewart, who has won two Brickyard 400s, said Newman's win at Indy "is like a dream come true. I've been waiting for the day we could get Ryan in victory lane at a big one like this. Man, it's just awesome. Ryan did an awesome job getting on the pole and an awesome job all day today. He and Matt Borland (crew chief) and everyone on the Quicken Loans team executed perfectly. Just an awesome day for everyone at Stewart-Haas."
56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only five points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. Stands second in the wild card standings to determine the final two spots in the Chase.
POCONO RECORD: Finished third in the August race a year ago. Overall has five top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Truex said the team is taking "a brand new NAPA Toyota to Pocono. We struggled last time and I believe this race is going to dictate whether we make the Chase or not. We're approaching this race a lot differently from last time because what we struggled with at Pocono is very similar to what we struggled with last weekend at Indy. I am optimistic that all of the great people we have working back at the MWR shop have given us a better chance with this new Toyota."
LOOKING BACK: After starting 38th at Indy, Truex spent the entire afternoon trying to battle his way back to a top-10 finish. He came up just short as he finished 11th. "It was a hell of a battle out there all day," said Truex. "We had our hands full all day long - that's for sure. Just kept fighting hard - kept fighting, fighting, fighting. We didn't get a lot of cautions so we had to do it when the field when the field was strong and that made it tough. The guys were really good on pit road and we got a couple there. Just dug deep and did what we had to do for the Chase deal. For sure we made something out of a day that could have been really bad."
ETC.: Truex helped American Idol host Ryan Seacrest open Seacrest Studios at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, NC on Monday. "I think partnering up with his Seacrest Studios project will really help evaluate my foundation to another level so we can help more people and get the word out about what we are doing," said Truex. "It's important for us to do what we can to make these kids feel at home and have a better time when they are getting treatment at the hospital. They are going through a tough time so it's important to give them fun things to do."
2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, only six points out of the top 10. Lost four spots to fall out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Has one win and a fourth-place finish in the last two August races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski admits "this new car has proven to be quite a bit different than the old car. Tracks where we think we would be good we've struggled and vice versa. We've still had speed, but it seems like different strategies and execution don't seem to work with this car. But any time you go back to a place where you've won before you definitely feel a bit better about what you can do."
LOOKING BACK: Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe hoped their off-sequence pit strategy would result in a top-10 finish at Indy. But Keselowski struggled at the beginning of each run and this problem would prove quite costly as he ended the day in 21st place. "That was definitely not the day we wanted," said Keselowski. "It was an up and down day, and the way the cycles ended it was down on the finish. I don't think that was indicative of how we ran. This has been the story of the year. We weren't a 21st-place car; it is just the way things worked out."
ETC.: Keselowski won five races and the championship a year ago. He is still looking for his first win of 2013 and even he admits he is concerned about making the Chase for the Championship this year. "If you don't have concerns then your heart isn't in it," said Keselowski. "We have had some success this year (six top-five's and nine top-10's), but we haven't had the wins and consistency to remove all of those concerns. But I believe in the people I am around and we are going to get this right. It is just a matter of when."
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 13 points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Finished seventh in the June race for his third top-seven finish in the last four events. Has two wins and 13 top-10's including nine top-five's in 24 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "Pocono is fun, you just get up on the wheel there because all three corners are different and they change throughout the race. I think we did really well the last time at Pocono. To break through (and get a win), we have to be a little better in turn three. We were loose in and tight off in June. We know what we did wrong and now it's a matter of what would be the best approach this time around. We need a strong run this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: After being the fastest in Happy Hour, Busch had high hopes for the weekend. But despite running in the top 10 for most of the day, Busch ended the day in 14th place. "We were strong in practice but had trouble in the race running in traffic," said Busch. "The car was loose and didn't have the grip at the end that was needed on this track. We couldn't close the deal today and that is very disappointing. The 14th-place finish is unacceptable."
ETC.: Busch spent Monday and Tuesday testing at Watkins Glen. "I always like to test at tracks I'm not exceptionally good on and polish on what might be a weak spot," said Busch. "We chose to come and test there because we're putting a heavy emphasis and pushing all of our eggs into the basket of trying to get into the Chase. We're trying to use this test to be even better. It's just as easy for us to make it in (the Chase) on our overall consistency as it is for us to make it on a win."
1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 22 points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 21 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray is "looking forward to heading to Pocono this weekend. We had a pretty decent run there in June and I feel like we have made some gains on our cars since. We are getting down to crunch time to try and make the Chase so our guys are extremely focused on the task at hand."
LOOKING BACK: McMurray battled an ill-handling race car for most of the day as it would swing between being "too tight" and "too loose." As a result, he finished 15th. "Our car was pretty difficult to adjust on today," said McMurray. "We made a lot of changes and our guys worked hard to hit the right balance. Track position was critical today and we just were never able to catch a lucky break to make up more positions on the race track for our Cessna Chevy."
ETC.: While McMurray is pleased with how well the season has gone so far, he knows he needs to start finishing in the top 10 on a regular basis if he wants to make the Chase. "Most of the guys right in front of us have more top-10's than we do," said McMurray. "So if we are going to gain points on them, we have to start finishing ahead of them and to do that we need to put together a run of top-10's."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 25 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. Stands third in the wild card standings after his win at Indianapolis.
POCONO RECORD: Finished fifth in the June race for his second straight top-six finish. Has finished ninth or better in four of the last five races. Has one win and 11 top-10 finishes including eight top-five's
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman calls Pocono "one of my favorite tracks just because it is so difficult. Each corner is different - different banking, different bumps. Each straightaway is a different length. It just seems like it's a driver's race track. We look forward to going to Pocono each and every time. We have high hopes after our good run there in June and how well we ran at Indy."
LOOKING BACK: After winning the 50th pole position of his career on Saturday, Newman ran in the top two spots for most of the race before crew chief Matt Borland gambled on a two-tire pit stop late in the 400. This decision vaulted Newman to the lead and he never looked back as he raced to one of his biggest wins ever. "It's a dream come true," said Indiana native Newman. "The Quicken Loans Chevrolet was amazing today - the best car I have probably even driven in my career. It (the win) is awesome because it's here at Indy. It's awesome because it's my home state. I've raced go-karts at pretty much every go-kart track around here, been kicked out of half of them. Those are things that makes it special. I think about those things more than I carry the emotions on my cheeks. Just an awesome day."
ETC.: A little more than two weeks ago Newman learned that he would not have a ride at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. And to compound things, he had a horrible race at New Hampshire, getting caught up in a wreck and then getting into a battle of words with Kyle Busch. "But this team rallied behind me," said Newman. "To come back here (Indy), win the pole, win the race - it's all because of hard work. It's all because they haven't given up. They want to win just as bad as I do. It's days like this that make up for the rough start we got to this year. There's a lot questions to be answered (about his future), but right now this team is concentrating on trying to win more races and get into the Chase. They want to win the championship."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 30 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
POCONO RECORD: His best finish in three starts is 18th.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola feels "we were pretty good at Pocono the last race (in June). Our car handled decent in the top-15, but once we fell back (after being involved in two accidents); it was really difficult to drive in 'dirty air'. I think last week's test will really help us with that. We'll work hard this weekend to get a good starting spot and to stay up front."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 17th at Indy. "I'm just really disappointed," said Almirola. "We are still in the thick of the Chase and every race, every spot counts. We're not only fighting the guys ahead of us in the points, but we're fighting guys who aren't in the hunt, which can be very frustrating. Unfortunately, an incident on the last lap cost us two finishing positions. With the importance of every point, it was a disappointing day."
ETC.: Almirola believes "we're still in hunt for the Chase, but we are going to need some top-five finishes or even a win to get there (the top 10). I think our team can do it. We're going to work really hard in the next six races to make something happen and make up some ground in the points."
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 35 points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Finished 10th in the June race. Won the pole and the race in June of 2012.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano is quite optimistic about this weekend. "We have run really well all year long," said Logano. "If you look at our races, there are only three or four where we can say that we missed it. And the two weeks before Indy, we had really fast cars and just fell victim to tire problems each week that really put us in a hole. If we continue to do that (run well), we will make up the points we lost and maybe even get a win or two before the Chase starts."
LOOKING BACK: Crew chief Todd Gordon played a different pit strategy game, and it helped Logano finish eighth on a day Logano admits "we just weren't quite as fast as we needed to be." Logano also admitted he was "confused" about the team's strategy. "I didn't know what was going on but Todd did a good job making the calls today. I feel like he gave us the opportunity to gain the track position we needed. I am glad we got a decent finish again and hopefully we can get back on a top-10 streak and make up the points we've lost the last two weeks."
ETC.: Logano feels he is real close to getting that first win of 2013. "I think we are right there," said Logano. "We just need to have a week where everything falls into place. I think if we can start the race off a little better and have a solid day in the pits, we can do it at any of the remaining tracks on the schedule. I know we can go out there and win."
27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 39 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
POCONO RECORD: Only two top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "I enjoy going to Pocono Raceway. It is a challenging and distinctive track. We are used to having four corners almost every weekend and only having three at Pocono changes things up. All the corners are very unique, so you have to approach each one differently. Pocono also had very long straightaways, so we carry a lot of speed into the corners. It is just a challenging place."
LOOKING BACK: Menard finished 12th at Indy. "We battled handling issues throughout the majority of the race, but the guys never gave up," said Menard. "The 27 Duracell/Menards crew worked hard all day and we made a bunch of different adjustments. Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) did a great job on the box with pit strategy. It wasn't an easy race to call. The whole team fought hard all day and we were able to come home with a 12th-place finish."
ETC.: Menard hopes his luck is a lot better this time around at Pocono. "We have a decent Menards Chevrolet there earlier in the year, but had some bad luck with a tire going down on the last lap," said Menard, who ended up 30th after running in the top 10 for most of the event. "We tested at Pocono earlier in the season and learned a lot. We'll use some of that data and hopefully have a good handling car on Sunday."
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 60 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week.
POCONO RECORD: 17 top-10 finishes in 39 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton is looking forward to returning to Pocono. "We ran well there in June, but didn't finish as high as we should have," said Burton. "I feel like we can build on that. We can also apply some stuff we learned last weekend at Indianapolis. You have to be aggressive there and drive really hard."
LOOKING BACK: A broken transmission left Burton in 43rd and last place at Indy as his hopes for making the Chase took a severe beating. "It was a tough day for the 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team," admitted Burton. "We were hanging around the top 20 when something in the transmission broke and sent us to the garage. We just need to stay positive and know our Chase hopes are still very much alive."
ETC.: Burton realizes that most people believe his chances of making the Chase ended at Indy, but he is not ready to give up on "surprising a lot of folks. Yes, we need a win and six straight good runs," adds Burton. "But we can do it. We still have what it takes to make the Chase."
17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 64 points out of the top 10, only four points out of the top 20.
POCONO RECORD: Finished 26th in his Sprint Cup debut in June.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse is elated that "we are starting to go back to some tracks that we have already raced at this season. That is a plus for us. In June (at Pocono), track position was crucial because it was so hard to pass and make up ground. We struggled with turn three in the spring, but learned a lot so will take those notes and get our Zest Ford dialed in this weekend. I feel confident we can have a strong run this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 25th at Indy. "Track position was crucial today," said Stenhouse. "It was really hard to pass especially in traffic. We have been unlucky this year as far as pitting under the green and then a caution comes out a couple of laps later forcing us a lap down. I had higher hopes coming into Indy just because of the rich history of the Brickyard but we will take our 25th-place finish and go on to Pocono next week."
ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves feels "qualifying will be important on Friday because track position is essential. Pocono is a challenging race track with three different corners and a very long straightaway. With the experience Ricky gained in the last race, I feel strongly that we will have a solid showing this weekend."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 91 points out of the top 10, 31 points out of the top 20.
POCONO RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "I feel that we had a really good test there (Pocono) last week, and I think that will improve our chances this weekend. We tested early last week and then went to Indianapolis and showed a lot of speed in practice and qualifying. I think we learned a lot and will now take that information into Pocono this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Ambrose had to make an unscheduled pit stop with 31 laps to go to get his grill cleaned. He spent the rest of the race fighting his way back to 16th place. "We had a fast DeWalt Ford Fusion in qualifying, and we weren't that bad in the race," said Ambrose, who started 10th. "We just had that last pit stop, the temperatures were getting pretty high, and we had to come in early. Everyone did a nice job all weekend, and we were really close to getting a top-10 finish if things had gone a little bit different today."
ETC.: Ambrose knows the odds of his making the Chase are not very good because of his spot in the standings. But "we are not counting ourselves out, and we're just going to keep working hard," said Ambrose. "We still have the opportunity to get into the Chase and have some opportunities to make that happen this month with some good tracks. We looked at the test at Pocono as giving a good chance to get a win there. Watkins Glen is coming up (Ambrose has won the last two races at the road course), and then we also have run well at Michigan."
42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet
Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 99 points out of the top 10, 39 points out of the top 20.
POCONO RECORD: Four top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said, "It's hard to believe we're getting ready to head back to Pocono already. I'm hoping the Target team can have a better result than the last time we were there (14th). We felt like we have a better car than the result. We'd like to keep the momentum going from last week at Indy."
LOOKING BACK: Montoya finished ninth at Indy for only his fourth top-10 finish of the season. "We had a pretty competitive car at the beginning of the race, but we just couldn't seem to be able to keep up with the race car," said Montoya. "No matter what I did, it still wouldn't turn at all at the end. And our car wasn't that good on the straight today. I don't know why. We will have to look at it. Even when I got a good run, it kind of bogged down. And we really struggled with balance at the end. But all in all, we still got a top-10 out of it."
ETC.: Montoya knows he probably is going to need to win two races between now and Richmond to have any chance of making the Chase. "We've got some good tracks coming up including Watkins Glen (a road course where he excels)," said Montoya. "We need to be in the top 20 to have any shot and to get there we need to run and finish well every week for the next six weeks. And we need to win at least one race and probably two."
11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 171 points out of the top 10, 111 points out of the top 20.
POCONO RECORD: Finished eighth in the June race. Has four wins and 10 top-10 finishes including eighth top-five's in 15 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin believes this may be the weekend he finally challenges for his first win of the season. "Pocono has been one of our best tracks," said Hamlin. "We weren't as good as we would have liked in the June race, but we feel we learned what this new car needs to run like we used to with the old car. We have high hopes for this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: After qualifying fourth, Hamlin was quite optimistic about the Indy race. But he almost immediately began losing spots as he told crew chief Darian Grubbs the car is "extremely loose after just a few laps into a run." Hamlin would battle this problem throughout the race as he finished 18th. "That was a very disappointing day," said Hamlin. "We thought we would run much better than that."
ETC.: Things certainly haven't gone well for Hamlin in his bid to get back to victory lane. After a hot start after returning from his back problems that sidelined him for four weeks, Hamlin's 18th-place finish at Indy has been his best finish in the last six races. As a result, any hopes of making the Chase are gone. "But we haven't given up on winning a race or two before the year is over," said Hamlin.
55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 29th, 224 points out of the top 10.
POCONO RECORD: Ranks first in top-five's with 20 and top-10's with 34 in 53 starts. Has finished second seven times.
LOOKING AHEAD: After a very disappointing performance at Indy, Martin and the 55 team are anxious to get to Pocono to show that race was a fluke. "Mark always run well at Pocono," said crew chief Rodney Chiders. "What he's got - like seven second-place finishes there. So we feel good about this weekend. We want to put last week behind us and put ourselves in another position to win." Brian Vickers drove the 55 car to victory at New Hampshire two weeks before Indy.
LOOKING BACK: It was a long, long day for Martin as he finished 23rd at Indy to severely damage the team's hopes of making the top 10 and the Chase on the car owner's side of things. "We were pretty crippled with an ill race car," said Martin. "We weren't able to make any real significant improvements on it. The team did a good job of battling. Rodney had great pit strategy. He did a great job of executing with what we had."
ETC.: The team hopes to "shake things up" by being part of this year's Chase for the Championship with their trio of drivers - Martin, Vickers and car owner Michael Waltrip. To accomplish this mission, they need to be in the top 10 in the car owner point standings after the Richmond race on Sept. 7. At the moment, the 55 car stands 15th in the car owner standings, but only 18 points out of the top 10.