By NASCAR Wire Service Saturday, August 04 2012 00:00
Six races remain before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup cutoff point, meaning time isn't the only thing running short for postseason hopefuls. With increasing urgency to lock in a playoff spot, driver patience is in short supply, too.
Joey Logano may be one of the first in line to claim a much-needed win when the series returns to Pocono Raceway for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN). After all, he was first in line when the checkered flag fell at the 2.5-mile track's most recent race in June.
Logano ranks 17th in Sprint Cup points, but a repeat Pocono victory would thrust the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into the heart of the wild-card conversation. Just two postseason berths are available to drivers in points positions 11-20 with the most wins. Kasey Kahne, a two-time winner this year, and Kyle Busch (one win) are currently 1-2 in the wild-card race. Logano and Ryan Newman are the only other drivers with a victory in spots 11-20.
"The points do matter to be up there, but also the win is more important right now than anything," Logano said. "So obviously points come with the win, so that would also help me move up. But if there's three people with two wins, which I think there's a good chance that could happen, you're going to have to be the guy that is up there with the points, too."
With time of the essence, Logano suggests playing it safe may not be an option.
"You've got to be aggressive with it," Logano said. "If you think about it too much, you're going to not be up front where you need to be. I think that's one thing I've done this year is be more aggressive than I've been in the past. I've made mistakes with that, but trying to limit that. At the same time, you've got to go for it. You've got to risk it to get the biscuit."
As much as the pressure might weigh on Logano, the burden is far greater for Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon, two drivers who were considered preseason Chase favorites but are still seeking a breakthrough win in 2012. Edwards, who ranks 12th in points, finished 11th in the June race at Pocono; Gordon (15th in points) was an unremarkable 19th in the series' last visit to the Keystone State.
Gordon finished fifth last weekend to gain two spots in the points, but Edwards continues to lose sight of the top 10 drivers, who automatically qualify for the Chase. Edwards struggled with mechanical gremlins in a 29th-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis, making victories must-haves over the home stretch of NASCAR's regular season.
"I think it will involve lots of pushing on the right pedal and turning left and going as fast as possible," Edwards said. "We have to take chances. We have to go race. We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins. I wouldn't bet against us. We can do it."
The race will be the second Cup event on Pocono's fresh pavement, which dramatically increased speeds at the sprawling triangular layout. Logano had no problem adjusting to the velocity, winning the pole position at a record 179.598 mph before claiming the main prize.
"Definitely the track's a lot different than what it used to be, but it seems like it's still Pocono," Logano said. "A lot of the things you did before to make your car go fast, or the things you look for in a car to go fast are still the same."
STENHOUSE TO STAY IN IOWA GROOVE?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has made Iowa Speedway's Victory Lane a familiar haunt over the last two seasons. That's why having the 7/8-mile track reappear this weekend on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule is a welcome sight.
Stenhouse aims to make it four Iowa wins in a row in Saturday night's U.S. Cellular 250 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The defending series champion swept Iowa's two races last season in come-from-behind fashion, then put on a dominating show by leading 209 of 250 laps of his victory last May.
Chalking up another Iowa win would go a long way toward helping Stenhouse regain the series lead. Stenhouse ranks third, 13 points behind Nationwide leader Elliott Sadler and 12 points behind Austin Dillon, Sadler's teammate at Richard Childress Racing.
"I always look forward to Iowa Speedway," Stenhouse said. "As soon you get to the track, you can feel the high energy of the fans. Iowa is a driver's racetrack. It's going to be tough to win four in a row but our No. 6 team is ready for the challenge."
Stenhouse fell into a three-race slump after his most recent Iowa victory, recording three straight finishes of 25th or worse, but the Roush Fenway Racing driver has rebounded. He carries a streak of five consecutive top-10 efforts into Saturday's race.
The additional incentive for Stenhouse comes in the form of the final race for the lucrative Dash 4 Cash program from Nationwide. Stenhouse joins Dillon, Sam Hornish Jr. and Michael Annett as drivers eligible for a $100,000 bonus to the highest finisher among that quartet at Iowa.
BUESCHER TRIED AND TRUE IN TRUCKS
Not many drivers can claim a better performance kick than James Buescher's most recent run in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He leads the series with three wins this year, including two of the last three races.
If not for a crash-related 30th-place night while leading at Iowa, Buescher might very well be riding a three-race win streak into Saturday's Pocono Mountains 125 (1 p.m. ET, SPEED) at Pocono Raceway. No other driver in the series has multiple wins this year, but it's Buescher's not-so-tight grasp on consistency that has placed him fourth in the points, 35 behind series leader Timothy Peters.
The other grasp Buescher and the rest of the field will need is on the new asphalt at Pocono, which will host the truck series for the first time since its repaving job.
"Pocono Raceway is a very unique track," Buescher said. "Each corner is very different, which makes it challenging for the drivers and crews. You have to give up a little at one end in order to really get your truck to turn on the other. We are bringing our best truck this weekend and are hoping to continue to build momentum as we continue to battle for the championship."
Peters, who capitalized on Buescher's misfortunate to win at Iowa, is one of just three drivers to complete all 1,674 laps in the series' 10 races this season. Not surprisingly, the other two rank right behind him in the standings -- rookie Ty Dillon is second, 23 points back, and Justin Lofton is third, 35 off the top spot.
Sprint Cup stars Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski will do double-duty at Pocono. Hamlin, who has four Cup victories at the 2.5-mile track, will drive the No. 18 entry for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Keselowski, the Cup winner at Pocono in August 2011, will drive his own truck in search of his first win in the series.
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