Craven's Corner: Ballad of JJ
Rickey Craven breaks down the company Jimmie Johnson joins after winning his 68th Sprint Cup race.
Hamlin rolls to Pocono pole
LONG POND, Pa. -- Denny Hamlin is a four-time winner at Pocono Raceway. Now he's a three-time pole winner at the track affectionately known as the "Tricky Triangle." He set the track record with 49.610-second lap and a speed of 181.415 mph.
But it's been a long time since he swept the two Pocono races his rookie season in 2006 -- he also swept the poles that year -- and his last win here came in 2010. And a repave two years ago makes it practically a new track, Hamlin said.
"The racetrack is just so different, you might as well just rename the racetrack -- it's just not the same as it used to be," he said. "Really the setups are completely different, the way you drive it, the technique is similar, it's just you use so much more throttle than you used to. It's good to get a track record and have that No. 1 pit stall -- that will pay dividends on Sunday.
"I have the best pit crew on pit road. Hopefully this lends itself to a great win on Sunday."
Kurt Busch qualified second with a speed of 181.408, but wasn't too disappointed to miss out on the pole after his first top-5 qualifying run of the season.
"The outside pole is great and it's good for all day long on your starting position, your race sequence and your pit box selection," he said. "Our crew chief will get a nice pit box selection and that will help us with ease and congestion on pit road. And then as the race progresses, we just have to make the right changes to the car. I'm glad we were able to apply something new to the car this weekend and to see a good result right away.
"It's not a big victory or a small victory. It's just nice to confirm a change on the car and see it go the right direction."
It's hot out there, and in there
With talk of the overheated AT&T Center for Thursday night's NBA Finals opener still fresh on many minds -- at least among media -- drivers at Pocono Raceway were asked about their hottest experiences in cars over the years.
And no, it was not taken as an opportunity to pile on the Miami Heat's LeBron James, who left the game because of cramps.
Jimmie Johnson may know what it feels like for James after one particularly debilitating -- and ultimately humorous -- tale.
"My worst experience by far was in a Grand-Am car," he said. "I can't remember the year exactly, but I did the six-hour event in July with Beau Riley, and Marc Goossens was my teammate. We were in the No. 91 car. I think I qualified the car; we had practice, qualified, then Cup practice and a whole bunch going on, then a six-hour race.
"I got behind on hydration and didn't keep up while I was in the car. I had an electrical problem that took out the drink system in the car. I had to pit maybe 10 minutes before it was time because I couldn't push the brake pedal hard enough to get it stopped. I missed the chicane on the backstretch. I came to pit road. I got out of the car. Of course tried to get cooled down and have some fluids.
"But about an hour later I started cramping and I actually went into a full-body cramp and was stranded inside my motorhome lying on the floor. I wish I had a picture of what I looked like. I mean I'm telling you every muscle in my body locked up.
"I could barely get to my phone, which was on the table. I knocked it off and then I don't know if you have ever had a cramp, but try dialing a phone with everything like it is.
"[Jeff] Gordon was next door in his motorhome and I called him and he didn't answer. When he didn't answer I didn't know what I was going to do. Then shortly thereafter he called back. I just started yelling at him to get over here. As he came in my bus it took him about two or three minutes to stop laughing at me. Then he got me to the Care Center, and three IV bags later I felt like myself again.
"That was a very tough experience for me. I didn't cramp in the car itself; but after, it got me bad. That was a tough one. That was Daytona, July."
Matt Kenseth remembers what it was like when he was first starting out in what is now the Nationwide Series. He said the cars have come a long way as far as insulation and cooling are concerned, but once you get burned you won't forget it.
"My first Nationwide race it was really hot, burned my heel the size of a 50-cent piece and that never really heals after that, so that's not a lot of fun," he said. "It's like getting bad frostbite, your heel's always messed up since that first one. I remember the first couple years getting the big blisters on your heels it would be so hot."
Carl Edwards said it can get bad now, so he can't even imagine what it used to be like.
"Even now, I don't think of it much anymore, but at Dover during the race I was lifting my heels off the floor on the straightaway because it was burning my heels," he said. "Everybody does that all the time but the first few times you realize, 'Wow, I think my heel is burning.' You don't realize everything in the car is that hot.
"Those guys back in the day without the fans and ducts, those were some men. That is tough. It had to be really, really hot."
What they're tweeting ...
Carl Edwards says change is coming to Roush-Fenway Racing. No word on whether he will be part of that change. pic.twitter.com/Uv1swDdT20— ESPN_Motorsports (@ESPNMotorsports) June 6, 2014
Power Rankings: Pocono
Edwards' next step?
As rumors swirl about Carl Edwards' future at Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards addressed changes happening now at RFR, if not with him.
"Yeah, I feel like there have been a bunch of moves internally -- there definitely will be changes at Roush Fenway Racing," said Edwards, sporting a Ford Racing hat and not one for his team or sponsor. "[Former lead engineer] Chip Bolen moving on is a huge change and shows you the magnitude -- I guess we understand where we are at.
"We know we have to be faster and there are big changes trying to address that. [Crew chief] Robbie [Rieser], [adviser] Bob Osborne, [owner] Jack [Roush], everyone is working as hard as we can and we just have to hope that we work on the right things and are able to implement the findings and be better.
"We have everything there, we just need this much more speed and we would be really good."
Edwards is in his free-agent year with Roush Fenway, and owner Roush is a notoriously tough negotiator. Edwards' teammate Greg Biffle is also a free agent at the end of the year unless Roush locks him up before then.
Podcast: Marty & McGee
Marty Smith and Ryan McGee delve into the track falling apart last weekend at Dover and in honor of Pocono Raceway -- the "Tricky triangle" -- this weekend, give their top five cheatin' songs. Listen
Larson sticking it out
Kyle Larson said shifting gears is not his strong suit. How bad is it? He recounted how his team told him to get a car to drive around and learn how to be better at the necessary skill after recent tests at Pocono and Road Atlanta revealed he has room for improvement.
"It seems like I'm probably the worst shifter of all time in a stock car," Larson said. "It's kind of embarrassing missing a lot of shifts.
"That's my biggest worry going into this weekend, making sure I don't miss any shifts. My timing is just off. I think I try to rush things too quick, and I start missing shifts."
His car of choice is a Chevrolet Camaro SS, so that's not too bad a gig. And he did shift well enough Friday to earn the pole for Saturday's Pocono ARCA 200 race.
Larson's team, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, wanted him to run the ARCA race to get seat time at Pocono, a track he has never raced at.
"That's why we are here," he said. "The ARCA car is really smooth in all of the turns, really. I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow."
Little pink race cars
Watch out, world, there may be a new racing Johnson to contend with.
"Yeah, I'm definitely entertaining quarter-midgets and go-karts. Genevieve has a four-wheeler," said Jimmie Johnson when asked if he was ready to get his daughters into racing. "Lydia is a couple of years away from all that yet. But, in our race shop a lot of our crewmen have their kids in kid karts and driving at various places.
"So, I've considered it. I've been serving it up to [wife] Chani, and she's semi-OK with it. And Genevieve is all about it. So, hopefully this summer I'll get a chance to put her in a kart and just see how she goes. She's been very responsible on her four-wheeler. So, now if I can find a pink go-kart, I think she's in."
Genevieve Johnson turns 4 on July 7. Lydia turns 1 in September. But with a wave of babies born to NASCAR drivers in recent years, Johnson's not the only one with kids and racing on his mind.
Jeff Gordon related his experiences watching his 6-year-old daughter, Ella, drive a quarter-midget earlier this year.
"It terrified me," he said. "From a parent's standpoint, it's kind of tough to watch them go around there and not have any control of what's going on and know that it's all on them now. It's amazing the focus they can have at such a young age, to go on and do that, but at the same time you know all the things that can go wrong and that's kind of scary."