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The Future Of DEI — And Why Mark Martin Is The Answer

Last season, two-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart predicted that Dale Earnhardt, Inc. would become "a museum" without their star driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. As we approach one year after Junior's official announcement he'd signed with Hendrick Motorsports, it's a prophecy that looks like it may be coming to fruition. A look at the driver standings would certainly, at least at first glance, confirm that DEI drivers Paul Menard, Regan Smith, and Martin Truex, Jr. are not among the elite of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Far from it; of the three, only Truex, Jr. -- currently 16th in points -- is even within the Top 20 in the rankings. In fact, Menard at 27th and Smith at 31st are achieving genuine "also ran" status in their equipment as of late, with Smith's team even rumored to shut down due to lack of financial support. As for Truex, Jr. -- the organization's lone Chase qualifier from 2007 -- he has seen the No. 1 team's performances languish to this point, remaining winless through 14 races this season to date. More than anything else, his struggles might be the best argument that DEI is on a downward spiral to non-competitiveness. But there's one piece to this puzzle that just doesn't fit.

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Polish Power: Brad Keselowski and Robert Kubica Notch First Wins

This weekend saw a changing of the guard of sorts in professional motorsports, as two young drivers finally broke through to score their first career victories in their respective series of competition. Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tennessee, 24-year-old Brad Keselowski began his own Cedar Revolution of sorts, able to finally escape trouble and notch his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory under the light in the No. 88 U.S. Navy Chevrolet -- beautifully clad in its dress-whites paint scheme. And only 12 hours later, just north of the border at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, 23-year-old Robert Kubica of Poland recorded his first win in Formula 1 competition, taking the checkers in his BMW-powered Sauber machine. Yes, this first week of June in professional motorsports was highlighted by Polish Power, with two drivers finally shaking off some poor racing luck while becoming the recipients of some rather good breaks of their own. After several close calls, each found that magic combination of near-perfect circumstances which allowed them to, in effect, break on through to the other side of racing success.

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Talking NASCAR TV: TNT return is dyn-o-mite!

A new segment of the NASCAR broadcasting season began this past Sunday, as TNT hosted the first of six races that it will cover this season. Many anticipated the weekend’s race at Pocono to lack the excitement and the drama that both NASCAR and TNT pride themselves upon. Fortunately for both, Sunday’s race delivered and TNT had a huge hand in conveying that excitement to the viewers at home. As correctly anticipated by Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds early in the broadcast’s pre-race show, the Pocono 500 boiled down to fuel and pit stop strategy. This correct prediction by these veteran’s further goes to show the worth in paying top dollar for seasoned participants in the sport. Throughout the race, Bill Weber, Wally Dallenbach, and Kyle Petty toiled and debated about the outcomes of different pit strategies for teams. They smoothly and constantly referred to Larry McReynolds, who had a “smoking” calculator from his using it so much during the race.

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Baby Steps for Sam Hornish, Jr…. In More Ways Than One

Right about the time Sam Hornish, Jr. might have been starting to feel comfortable in a stock car this June, he got what Bill Weber described as "the full Pocono experience." The veteran commentator was referring to the series of scrapes Hornish endured across the weekend, none of which appeared to validate his choice to leave open-wheel racing -- and showed that while the driver's taking baby steps forward in his progression as a Sprint Cup rookie, he's still got a long ways to go in order to make his transition complete. It all started when Hornish had to race in a backup car following a practice incident. Qualifying next to last with a lap that was half a second slower than the then-nearest driver was next on the agenda. The conventional wisdom is that a 40-something qualifying spot at Pocono is not going to get it done — track position is key on this 2.5-mile oval -- and that was right on the money.

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Running Their Mouth: 2008 Pocono 500 at Pocono

_Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members, and the car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway:_ "It was a great afternoon. The Budweiser Dodge ran so well. There was nothing close when we were out front. Everybody has stepped up and I feel like I have also. It seemed like the hottest race of the year." _Race Winner Kasey Kahne_

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Who’s Hot/Who’s Not In Sprint Cup: 2008 Pocono 500 at Pocono Edition

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 ten 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.

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Kasey Kahne Leads Charge, But Chase Hopefuls Brian Vickers, Kurt Busch Steal Headlines

This weekend at Pocono began with the Sprint Cup point leader front and center, as Kyle Busch attempted the vaunted “tripleheader” – three races, three cities, three days – with Sunday’s 500-miler the biggest crown jewel of them all. But by the end, it was Busch who was pushed to the back pages, his late Spring momentum all but stopped in its tracks after an in-race wreck left him stumbling down to 43rd by the finish. Busch left the track with his point lead all but evaporated; instead, it was the Chase’s bubble driver – Kasey Kahne – who stole the show. Welcome to the season’s second half. While the gap at the top of the standings shrunk, the storylines from Pocono ballooned around Kahne and four other potential Chasers who finished their weekends in the Top 11: Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Bobby Labonte. It’s all part of a shifting of focus from the best to the better: while drivers like Kyle Busch, Burton, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. begin fine-tuning towards a run at the championship, the attention diverts towards those looking to simply get a “playoff” invitation over these summer months.

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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2008 Pocono 500 at Pocono

*The Key Moment:* It took Kasey Kahne a few laps after the final restart to get around the 88 and 83 cars, but once he got back to the lead there was no catching him. *In a Nutshell:* Since passing was all but impossible on the track, crew chiefs had to engineer various strategies to get their boys to the front in the pits. *Dramatic Moment:* The two fastest cars, those of Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin did get to battle briefly for the lead. With passing so difficult, Kahne’s run from 38th to the lead after a pit road mishap was the highlight of the race. *What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week* *What in blazes (pun intended) were the safety crew members thinking as they ambled over to the burning 42 car* (with it’s driver still aboard) as if they were heading for a post-race clambake? Truthfully, the track crews at Pocono have rarely cloaked themselves in glory. Even back in the early 80s, Tim Richmond had to pull Dale Earnhardt from his overturned race car. OK, we were told that those two indifferent individuals were responsible for the driver, not the car, but the driver was still in the car as they stood there. What does their job entail? Giving the driver a hug and a kiss to make him feel better once he gets out of the car under his own power?

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Ten Points To Ponder… After the 2008 Pocono 500 at Pocono

*1. What Program?* - NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program has now entered its ninth year of existence as of this weekend. There are 13 Sprint Cup teams, eight Nationwide Teams, and four Craftsman Truck organizations participating in the program. But after nine years only one ethnic minority driver -- Aric Almirola -- has graduated to NASCAR’s top series through the program, and even then only on a part-time basis. No women or African-Americans have participated in the Sprint Cup series full-time… and none are expected to anytime in the future. Looks like NASCAR’s best diversity plan is to hope for more open-wheel defections. *2. Getting’ Down And Dirty For The Kids* – Tony Stewart’s Fourth Annual Prelude to the Dream was won by, well…Tony Stewart. 23,000 plus fans were packed into Eldora Speedway (with official seating for only approx. 18,000) last Wednesday evening to see some of NASCAR’s best wrestle Late Model Dirt stock cars on the high-banked ½-mile oval.

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Bubble Breakdown: Scott Riggs Races His Way In While Michael Waltrip Wrecks His Way Out

The competition to stay in the Top 35 in owner points has dissolved into a dogfight, with many more teams falling back towards the bubble as opposed to moving away from it. While a few select cars -- such as Bill Davis’ No. 22 Caterpillar entry and Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 44 UPS Toyota -- have been able to develop some semblance of consistency, many others have simply not developed any at all... or have just been consistently bad. And while those two teams have distanced themselves from the bubble fray, others -- like Chip Ganassi’s No. 41 Target Dodge and Robby Gordon’s No. 7 -- have struggled enough to come back towards the cut line. As it stands now, there’s less than 100 points separating 30th from 36th in owner points -- a number that has plenty of organizations just a little nervous. At least there's just one spot they've got to worry about, for now; a healthy gap of 128 points currently separates the 36th place team from 37th. Sunday’s Pocono 500 was a microcosm of the year for many of these cars looking to find some sort of rhythm. Five teams were able to post Top 12 qualifying efforts, and several ran well during the early portion of the race itself. But unfortunately for these teams, NASCAR doesn’t award any points until the checkered flag flies; and when it flew on Sunday, only one bubble team was to be found in the Top 20. To figure out what happened to the rest -- and which car was the one that broke through -- read on for your Bubble Breakdown from Sunday’s Pocono 500...

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