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Getting to Victory Lane
1. As Greg Biffle neared the checkered flag and was moments away from ending a 64-race winless streak, "This one's for Jack!" was his declaration over the radio. Car owner Jack Roush suffered critical, but non-life threatening injuries when his private plane crashed on Tuesday evening. While the Roush Fenway equipment has been improving in recent weeks, rallying around the longtime hands-on owner appeared to have provided a big emotional spark. Biffle experimented with a two-tire stop early in the race to lead a couple of laps and the team would use two tires again on the final pit stop. Biffle would blow past Sam Hornish, Jr., who stayed out on no tires, to open up an advantage that grew as large as five seconds. Biffle led 28 laps and his Average Running Position of ninth was tied for eighth best of the day. Last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Biffle finished third and led 38 laps. He would likely own a streak of three straight Top Fives if it were not for an engine failure at Chicagoland Speedway.
The driver leading the Roush revival is clearly the Biff.
2. Tony Stewart won the pole but only led two laps with an ARP of sixth, although he was one of only three drivers to spend the entire race running in the Top 15. He has yet to challenge for a win, but Stewart has five Top Fives and eight Top 10s over the last 10 races. The Sprint Cup circuit heads to the road course at Watkins Glen International where Stewart has five wins in 11 career starts and has finished no worse than second in six straight. Smoke is definitely rising and needs to be active in all formats at The Glen.
3. Carl Edwards overcame a 25th-place starting position to finish third. He now owns four straight finishes of seventh or better, including to two Top Fives. Another beneficiary of the improvements made in the Roush camp, Edwards has led a lap in three consecutive races. Edwards held an ARP of 11th and spent 87.0 percent of the race running in the Top 15, both stats that were the worst among any driver that finished eighth or better. A two-tire call during the final pit stop helped, but those numbers are skewed primarily by the bad qualifying run. Edwards is just a step behind Biffle, but both offer terrific values based on current ownership levels.
From the spotter's tower
The comparisons between Indianapolis and Pocono are a bit overstated, just ask Hendrick Motorsports. After finishing 11th, 22nd, 23rd and 27th at Indy, the organization had three of its cars in the Top 10. Jeff Gordon and Mark Marin finished sixth and seventh, respectively, and were two of three drivers to run all 200 laps in the Top 15.
Gordon's ARP of third was the best of the day, but taking four tires during the final restart cost him track position. He also led the second-most laps, 39. Gordon has come oh-so-close to wins this season and this was yet another example. He'll continue to press for a victory in order to improve his place in the standings after the Chase field is reseeded.
Martin is quietly showing signs of turning his season around. His seventh-place result was his best finish since late May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Martin now has three straight Top 15s for the first time since April. He's not out of the woods yet, but perhaps the pressure to keep his seat at Hendrick for next season is providing the extra motivation.
Jimmie Johnson finished 10th and clinched the most laps lead by Lap 119. His ARP of fifth tied Denny Hamlin for the second-best ARP of the day. A slow pit stop on Lap 146 cost Johnson a lot of track position and likely cost him a Top Five.
On the same lap, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took two tires on a poorly handling race car to restart in second place. He immediately began to fall through the field and would bring out a caution by spinning out on Lap 158. Since recording four straight finishes of 11th or better, Earnhardt has now finished 23rd or worse in three straight and needs to be avoided in all formats.
Over the last two years, Hornish has overachieved in all four races at Pocono thanks to late-race strategy. In six career starts at Pocono, Hornish has never held ARP better than 16th and has never spent more than 32.0 percent of his laps in the Top 15, yet he owns four straight finishes of 11th or better. It's hard to question the results, but don't be surprised if things are corrected next year.
Clint Bowyer finished 15th with an ARP of 17th and 50.5 percent of laps in the Top 15. That said, he deserved a better fate. After a poor qualifying run, Bowyer started 40th but quickly worked this way through the field to track down the Top 10 by Lap 135. Bowyer would need to pit on Lap 167 to fix damage after Kurt Busch made contact with him and as a result, he lost precious track position. Despite often running as well as his RCR teammates, bad luck has often found Bowyer in this type of late race situation.
The starting grid
Biffle (6.87 percent ownership) and Edwards (6.67) continue to sit in the basement of ownership in the A-List of the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game. They finished second and third, respectively, in performance and will offer a terrific value in the event those two continue to be overlooked.
It was a rough day for the B-List, but Martin Truex Jr. (14.13) and David Ragan (3.43) offered strong values with their Top 15 performances. Truex finished ninth with an ARP of 18th and 30.0 percent of laps running in the Top 15, by far the worst among the Top 10. But Truex started 28th and had to battle through traffic.
A.J. Allmendinger (45.52) continues to pace the C-List in ownership, but was just fourth in performance. Despite an ARP of 17th, Allmendinger finished 24th after suffering damage from hitting teammate Elliott Sadler, who pounded the inside wall head-on in a very scary wreck. This is the second straight Pocono race in which Allmendinger has wrecked a teammate, although this one wasn't his fault. The smoke from the cars that were trying to avoid Kurt Busch's wreck impaired Allmendinger's vision.
Paul Menard finished 13th with an ARP of 22nd and 15.5 percent of laps running in the Top 15.
Ragan finished 14th with an ARP of 20th and only 15.5 percent of laps running in the Top 15. His team gambled with fuel only during the final pit stop. Ragan restarted fifth on Lap 179, but nearly fell out of the Top 15 prior to taking the checkered flag.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 16th with an ARP of seventh, 95.5 percent of laps in the Top 15. He started from the outside pole, but lost track position due to an unexpected pit stop that put him a lap down on Lap 141. A caution came shortly afterwards and allowed Montoya to take the lead. During the final pit stop, Montoya was clearly upset over the team's call to take four tires, which put him in 12th for the restart. Perhaps JPM has not gotten over his defeat at Indy as quickly as he claims.
Kyle Busch finished 23rd with an ARP of 14th, 64.0 percent of laps in the Top 15. The runner-up in the June race had to pit due twice in an effort to repair a radiator pan that broke when the car bottomed out on the track. Rowdy has been a solid road racer and should be rebound at The Glen.
Due to the aforementioned wreck, Kurt Busch finished 33rd with an ARP of 14th, 74.5 percent of laps in the Top 15. You'll want to heavily consider the older Busch brother for the upcoming return trips to Michigan International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway before the start of the Chase. He had a dominating win at Atlanta earlier in the season and won the pole at MIS, finishing third.
Around the corner
The Glen is the second and final road course race of the season. It's a less technical track than Infineon Raceway and requires more speed.
*All stats up-to-date as of 8/2.
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