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Four Burning Questions in Pocono: Rising Rookies and the Threat of Rain

Four Burning Questions in Pocono: Rising Rookies and the Threat of Rain

The Sprint Cup Series is making its second trip of the year to Pocono Raceway today. The track colloquially known as the “Tricky Triangle” put on a rousing show here in June, as heavyweights Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fought tooth and nail for the win over the final 10 laps of the race with Earnhardt, Jr. coming out on top. The stakes are higher this time around, as winless drivers are growing ever more desperate to get a win and a Chase berth. Rain is also looming today as well, and as we have seen multiple times this year, the threat of rain can drastically impact the intensity of a race.

Throw in a rookie driver on the pole, and you have a recipe for a storyline filled day.

2014 Daytona Sprint Cup Rain Credit Phil Allaway

Rain could once again be a problem for today’s race. Credit: Phil Allaway

Will rain affect the outcome of today’s race?

For whatever reason, mother nature is not a NASCAR fan, and her vitriol for the sport seems to be at full strength in 2014. Multiple races have been affected by rain this season, including three of the biggest in the two Daytona races and Bristol. Unfortunately, rain is looking to be a factor again today.

The most optimistic forecasts at the moment are calling for a 50% chance of precipitation this afternoon. So, essentially, there is a 50-50 chance that NASCAR will get the race in today. Considering the fact that Pocono does not have lights, any rain that falls is a threat to getting the whole race in.

Even if the race does get started today, the very threat of rain could easily turn this race on its head. If you recall, the 2012 edition of this very event was called after halfway because of rain, and this race today could have a similar look to it. If rain is even close to Pocono Raceway at any time during the course of green flag racing today, expect to see strategy shuffles and a dramatic increase in the intensity of the on-track racing, especially if it is after lap 80. We could very well be racing to halfway today.

Will today be Kyle Larson’s day?

Kyle Larson has, for the most part, lived up to the incredible hype that preceded him heading into this season. Larson has been fast nearly every week and has been a true threat to win in multiple races in 2014. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Larson’s 2014 performance has been his versatility.

Given Larson’s past racing history, one would assume that he’d really only be strong on super-abrasive tracks and/or short tracks, but Larson has been fast just about everywhere this year, including Pocono. Larson earned a solid fifth-place finish here at Pocono in the June race and then backed up that performance by being the most impressive car throughout all of the preliminary sessions in the lead up to today’s race. Larson qualified on the pole (the first of his career) and was uber-fast in all of the practices on Friday and Saturday. There is really no reason to think that Larson won’t be a contender to win today. He could very well be the first rookie to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race since 2011.

Should Larson win, it would be a huge story for a variety of reasons. Not only would he lock up a Chase berth, he would be the first rookie since 2006 (!!!) to earn a spot in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.

Larson has already proved that he can hang in this series; winning today would simply serve as validation. Let’s see if he can pull it off.

Will Brad Keselowski avenge his loss in the June race?

Brad Keselowski truly should have won the June race here at Pocono. Keselowski had the fastest car all day long and was in control late in the event…until a rogue piece of trash derailed his race. As we all know, once the trash attached itself to Keselowski’s car, he was forced to make the ill-advised move to draft off of Danica Patrick’s slow-moving machine, which ultimately handed the win to Earnhardt, Jr.

Keselowski is the kind of guy who does not easily move past these sorts of let-downs. I am not a psychologist, but I’d wager any sum of money that Keselowski has been thinking about the end of that race all weekend long, and knowing how Keselowski is, it is likely only driving him to work harder towards getting a win today.

If nothing else, the time-sheets certainly seem to indicate that that previous sentence is factual. Keselowski qualified strong (P3) and won final practice. Keselowski appears to have what it takes to win here at Pocono once again.

All told, assuming rogue pieces of trash don’t block Keselowski’s grille again, he will be a serious contender for the win today.

What is up with Jimmie Johnson?

Earlier this summer, Jimmie Johnson looked to be regaining the unstoppable form that vaulted him to the 2013 series championship. But as we all know in the world of NASCAR, your luck can turn around in an instant.

Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team know all too well, as for the second year in a row, Johnson finds himself in the midst of a mid-summer slump. Johnson hasn’t posted a top-10 finish since Kentucky, and even that race was decidedly un-Johnson-esque: he ran around in the high teens for most of the night and came home a mediocre 10th.

Unfortunately for fans of the No. 48 team, the slump appears to be very much alive again this weekend. Johnson fought an ill-handling race car in all of the practices and nearly missed the cut in the first round of knockout qualifying. Johnson managed to muster up a 17th-place starting position, but that is not exactly an encouraging result.

Knowing how strong the #48 team is, I’m quite sure this lapse in performance is just an aberration. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch this team today if for no reason other than that they will be in the unfamiliar position of being something of an underdog.

Matt Stallknecht’s Pre-Race Predictions for the 2014 GoBowling.com 400

  1.  2-Brad Keselowski
  2. 42-Kyle Larson
  3. 24-Jeff Gordon
  4.  4-Kevin Harvick
  5. 14-Tony Stewart
  6. 22-Joey Logano
  7.  1-Jamie McMurray
  8. 18-Kyle Busch
  9. 88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
  10. 16-Greg Biffle

About Matt Stallknecht

Matt Stallknecht
Promoted to editor in 2014, Matt fights off rogue commas from our writing staff after rounding himself into a “young gun” racing expert. For the past two seasons, he’s penned the popular Four Burning Questions column (Weekends) highlighting the upcoming NASCAR race weekend. As an author for our open-wheel section, Matt also contributes to Open-Wheel Wednesdays and a substantial amount of race coverage and analysis. Matt, a native of Central New York also balances his duites with a full-time college course load. He’s a Senior at Le Moyne college this Fall.

4 comments

  1. I agree with Ken, this is the same stuff that we’ve seen from the 48 team since Knaus figured out how to best game the chase. They make sure they have enough wins to get a top seed and be locked into the “joke” (I like that a lot, Ken) then experiment for most of the season. It has become ho hum and I have no doubt they will be in perfect form once the joke begins in Chicago.

  2. Give me a break! I didn’t thick anyone would be dumb enough to think that Johnson and the 48 team are in any kind of a slump. They are solidly locked into the joke, I mean, the chase. So, what are they doing? They are experimenting. They are trying different things and doing it in a way so as not to show their hand. So stop right now with this “slump” garbage!

    And if I were Brad, Joey, and Team Penske, I would make sure that their cars were absolutely perfect by the rule book. If there is even a hint that they can challenge the almighty Felon Motorsports, NASCAR will be confiscating parts and cars, and whisking them away to their (NASCAR’s) secret inspection facility in Concorde, North Carolina, where the parts and/or cars will be given a more thorough “inspection” (the kind only NASCAR officials see). (Note: Same warning to JGR!)