Chris Gardner/US Presswire
Start Your EnginesHere's hoping the last person out of Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past weekend remembered to take the tires. No, not the mangled right-side Goodyears that turned the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard into a glorified heat race, but the Pocono tires. Those were actually at the Brickyard on Sunday, trucked in overnight and nearly called into action, as the shoes designated for Indy turned out to be a perfectly awful match with the new car and the abrasive IMS track. By now, they're certainly in the Keystone State for the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 (Sunday 2 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN360.com), for a race at Pocono that might get a little respect for once. Pocono, host of two races in a two-month span, catches plenty of flak for scheduling, perhaps dated facilities and on-track action that won't be confused with Daytona anytime soon. But after this past weekend, a nice long green-flag run on a 2.5-mile track can't be a bad thing. Maybe the drivers will even enjoy the big triangle. "As a race car driver, I like the corners. That's where you make or lose a lot of time, but it's still a fun racetrack," said Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer, the man in the Chase crosshairs this week at 12th in points. "Pocono is obviously very, very unique. There's no perfect setup at Pocono. You have to give up a little in one corner to be good in the others, and it takes awhile to figure out where to be in that situation. You kind of have to play it by ear and see how the car reacts and make adjustments from there." Kasey Kahne and his No. 9 Gillett Evernham Dodge had it figured out in June, leading a race-high 69 laps and pulling away to a 3.7-second win. Not surprisingly, that same Charger will return. "Yes, we saved the same car," said Kahne, who is ninth in points. "The car was brand-new for the first Pocono race, and it's been waiting to go back. As fast as it was in June during qualifying and the race, I think it should be strong, a car that can run in the top 10 if we make the right adjustments. I don't see why we can't have a shot at another win. As good as it was the first race, if we do the right things, we should have another shot." There weren't many surprises behind Kahne in the first Pocono race, as the next six finishers are all in Chase contention today. Brian Vickers, continuing to surprise in the Red Bull Toyota, finished second, and Denny Hamlin, a two-time winner and always a threat on the flat track, finished third. The biggest surprise? Kyle Busch finished last, crashing out before the halfway point. He finished 13th the following week at Michigan, the only stretch in three months in which he has had back-to-back races without a win. Leading the points by 253 over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., all Busch is doing with six races remaining before the Chase is going for more wins and their accompanying 10-point Chase bonuses. Well behind the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is a bigger battle. An even 100 points encircle seventh-place Greg Biffle, five other drivers and 13th-place Kevin Harvick. And behind Harvick sit David Ragan and Vickers, not out of the playoff picture yet. "You just race as hard as you can every week," said Harvick, who was 38th at the Brickyard. "We have had some really good cars since Sonoma but haven't been able to capitalize every weekend. We have had some bad weeks that have been out of our control. I am very confident in my team, and I think we will do everything we can do to make the Chase. I am planning on just going out there and racing as hard as I can. "I mean, you might not take a chance on fuel or a different pit strategy to win a race, but you really don't do much different." And at least this weekend shouldn't have much tire talk.
Rocket ManJimmie Johnson: On one hand, it's tough to judge Johnson against the other title contenders based on this past Sunday, as the Brickyard was such a train wreck of a race. On the other hand, it's auto racing. Odd things happen. The Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 gang seems to thrive on odd things happening. "One thing about this team I love the most is, whether it's Lowe's Motor Speedway where there's a tire issue, you have to do things as a team to try to manipulate the strategy and win a race, or here at Indy where we're having tire problems, whatever it may be, it seems our team really bites in deep, gets a hold of things and is successful," two-time defending champion crew chief Chad Knaus said. "I was really proud of it." John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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