In the Rearview: Making up points in Pocono

first_imgLabonte-less Michigan? No driver has swept the season’s races at Michigan, the next stop on the Sprint Cup circuit, since Bobby Labonte all the way back in 1995. After 702 consecutive starts — the second-longest active streak and third all-time in NASCAR history — Labonte will be replaced in JTG/Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 Toyota with AJ Allmendinger next Sunday at Michigan. CHASE WATCH …Johnson now holds the largest championship lead he’s had all season. Amazingly, his 51-point advantage means he could essentially sit out a race and still maintain the lead.As for other movers, Sunday’s third-place finisherDale Earnhardt Jr. and three-time race winner Matt Kenseth swapped places in the standings. Earnhardt is now ranked fourth and Kenseth is sixth.Last week’s winner, Tony Stewart, continued a blazing run up the standings. His fourth-place effort moved him up another three positions, and he is now ranked 13th, only 17 points out of a guaranteed Chase berth in the top-10. Two races ago, he was winless and ranked 20th, more than 40 points out of the top-10.Conversely, a tire problem on the very last lap Sunday dropped one of the season’s quiet achievers, Paul Menard, three positions in the standings — from a promising ninth place to 12th.THEY SAID IT. …“I’m not a dad, but I feel very much like a proud dad today.”— Tony Stewart on his Stewart-Haas Racing team’s first double top-5 finish of the season. Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman were fourth and fifth, and it comes on the heels of Stewart’s victory last week.“They are 43-wide going into Turn One.’’–TNT analyst and former racer Kyle Petty joking about a late-race restart during the television broadcast.“He was gone from the first practice yesterday. It was his race to lose all weekend.”— Matt Kenseth talking about winner Jimmie Johnson’s dominant win.COMING UP. …Next up, the first test of the Gen-6 car in race conditions during the Quicken Loans 400 at the super-fast, super-smooth Michigan International Speedway two-mile oval.Nine different drivers have won the last 11 races there. Defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2008 and 2012) and Denny Hamlin (2010 and 2011) are the only multiple winners in that span.Biffle has three wins at Michigan, most recently in August, the last time the series raced there. IN THE REARVIEW. …Greg Biffle’s runner-up effort Sunday in the No. 16 3M Ford was only his second top-five on the season and his first top-10 since April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway.The good news for Biffle, however, is that with all the movement among the Chase contenders this week, it put him right back into the thick of things — a three-position improvement to 10th in the championship standings, the final guaranteed spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.“We’re not quite there yet,’’ Biffle said. “Clearly we’re not celebrating that we finished second today quite yet. …but definitely, this is a step in the right direction.  We certainly ran better here than we have all season, and certainly that’s a positive for us going into next week, hopefully continue to build on that.”TEAR DOWN …Learning curve: There has been plenty of intrigue and expectation for this year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year class. Despite all of the credentials two-time Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and former open-wheel star Danica Patrick bring to the rookie competition — plus the added interest of the two being in a romantic relationship — it’s been a tough year as far as the actual on-track results.It was no Party in the Poconos for Stenhouse or Patrick. He had the toughest points day of them all — his 26th-place finish in the race dropped him five positions to 20th. It was his second worst finish of the year (he was 40th at Texas in April). After a 29th-place finish at Pocono, Patrick is ranked 28th with only one top-10.Stenhouse has been the top-finishing rookie in 11 of the 14 races, including Sunday’s 26th-place effort at Pocono, although Patrick made international headlines winning the Coors Light Pole Award and finishing eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500. The standings continue to fluctuate every week and Pocono was no exceptioncenter_img FULL SERIES COVERAGE• View all articles • View all videos • View all photos INSIDE THE NUMBERS. …1 — Number of cautions through the first 125 laps of the Party in the Poconos 400. 5 — Number of cautions in the final 28 laps.4 — Top-five finishes in the first four races of the season for Brad Keselowski. The reigning Sprint Cup champ has had only one (Dover) since. 11 — Drivers ranked in the top-12 after this Pocono race last year who qualified for the Chase.  128 — Laps Jimmie Johnson led Sunday, the most ever in his 23 Pocono starts.last_img