Pit strategy, pit strategy and more pit strategy; in what became a 500-mile parade with little passing, Pocono’s race became won or lost by the men behind the wall. For those who made the right calls at the right times, a final restart on lap 181 put them in perfect position to succeed; for others, faulty fuel stops left them agonizing deep in the back of the pack.
Through it all, Kasey Kahne stayed above the fray – simply because that No. 9 car was in a league of its own. Building a lead of almost 10 seconds over its nearest competitors, the Budweiser Dodge cruised home to victory over Brian Vickers, scoring its second win in the last three races as Kahne solidified his hold on a spot in the Chase. Who else is on track to follow in his footsteps – and which guys find any chance at the playoffs slipping from their grasp? Read this week’s version of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not to find out.
Jeff Burton – OK, so Burton’s streak of completing every lap of every race this season is over. Who freaking cares? Despite falling one lap short of that goal, Burton’s been focused on a far more important end of year trophy: the points championship. And with no finishes lower than 13th all season long, he’s well on his way towards making a serious run. Pocono (fifth) was his first top-five finish since Martinsville in March, and if the No. 31 can survive this not-so-great two-race stretch for them (Michigan and Infineon) they’ll wind up on top of their game when it really counts this summer: July, August and September.
Kahne – Where in the heck did he come from? Since the Fan Vote pushed him over the top and into the All-Star Race, the No. 9 car has acted like it’s been shot out of a cannon. Three wins in the last four weeks have this team working to displace Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards for title of “hottest car” on the circuit; and with Michigan up ahead, it’s important for Kahne to use his past success on intermediate tracks to continue to build up his Chase cushion with victories.
Greg Biffle – The Biff has been red hot lately, with his third-place finish bumping him all the way to fifth in points after Dover – a perfect situation for him to sign a contract extension with Roush. But this weekend at Pocono, the pit road police caught up at the most inappropriate of times, as a speeding penalty sent the No. 16 to the back of the longest line and out of contention for the victory. The 15th-place finish was still good enough to keep him seventh in the season standings, though.
Jamie McMurray – Another driver immersed in public news about his contract with Roush – for all the wrong reasons – is putting together a weak but consistent attempt at trying to remain in the fold. Seven top-20 finishes in the last nine races have the driver of the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford up to 22nd in points. But he’s still 246 away from a bid in the Chase, a feather he’ll likely have to put in his cap in order to remain at Roush for one more year.
Kevin Harvick – After a solid start to the 2008 season, Harvick appears the most vulnerable of the 12 guys currently in the Chase field. After a 13th-place finish at Pocono, it’s now been four races since the driver of the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet scored a top-10 finish in Cup. What’s even worse is his top-five streak – it’s been nine races (Bristol) since that happened.
Clint Bowyer – RCR’s third driver on the totem pole is joining Harvick in the “lost his touch” category as of late. Bowyer simply lost it at Pocono, spinning off turn 3 and collecting Juan Pablo Montoya in an incident that sent the No. 42 bursting into flames. Bowyer’s car wasn’t ready for battle after that, winding up the night 39th; more importantly, he’s now gone four races without a top-10 finish, the longest stretch of the season to date where he’s done that.
Patrick Carpentier – Carpentier may be doing a great thing by making all these Cup races on speed; but just because you make the starting grid doesn’t mean you know how to pace yourself after 500 miles. 11 races into his 2008 season, the No. 10 car has yet to score a top-25 finish.
JJ Yeley – Yeley’s performance has been mentioned all over the place this week, so I won’t go into it in great detail. I’ll merely say this much: when you’re the only driver who fails to qualify on a race weekend – driving for a team with Joe Gibbs Racing support, no less – it’s gotta be a huge blow to your confidence. Hall of Fame Racing has Brad Coleman waiting in the wings; but with his struggles in the Nationwide Series, he’s not quite ready for primetime as of yet. So, the No. 96 is stuck in this hole for the foreseeable future; and there’s no telling how many DNQs they’ll rack up before they get out of it.