Pocono 500 wrap
People of the Seattle area, I'm here to offer you hope. The local nine is not doing well, but there is a light that can bring you joy just a few channels down. Kasey Kahne, of Enumclaw, Wash., won his second race in three weeks (three of four if you count the All-Star race) and did so in dominating fashion.
The talk around the garage during the weekend was that the No. 9 was the car to beat, and early on, Kahne showed it as he took the lead from Jimmie Johnson in the early laps and quickly fashioned a large lead over the field until the first caution.
During an early round of pit stops, though, Kahne's team elected to take on four tires when most of the field took two or gas only. This placed Kahne in the middle of the pack. And he had to start picking his way through the field. He had moved up to the top 10 when a miscommunication amongst the team dropped Kahne back into the 31st position on Lap 56. Luckily, Kahne still had plenty of laps to work his way back up through the field. Through some pit strategy, but mostly due to his car's performance, Kahne managed to work his way back up the field, and in the second half of the race was in the top 10 and began to charge on the leaders.
His only competition throughout the day seemed to be from Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and possibly Jimmie Johnson or Greg Biffle. None of those drivers had much for him, though, as Kahne found the lead and, if not for a late caution, would have gone on to a double-digit second victory. After the race, Kahne noted that he had never had a car as dominant as the one Sunday. He led the most laps, and probably could have led them all with a little better luck.
The win marked Kahne's second on the season, and the young driver heads to Michigan on a real hot streak. His history at Michigan is pretty strong with a victory and four top-5s in eight tries. The No. 9 Dodge apparently used earlier races at Atlanta and Charlotte to figure out the new car, and that should bode well for Kahne going forward. He has always been strong at the "cookie cutter" tracks, so another top-10 next week is looking quite possible.
So, to all you Western Washingtoners (I proudly call myself one): Next Sunday, if you want to find a local team to root for and be excited about, ignore the Mariners as they battle the Nationals in a completely meaningless game. From right down the road, you have a local kid who could challenge for the title in his sport. Flip the channel and maybe even drink an adult beverage to cheer on Kahne.
• Greg Biffle was up front for most of the race after starting in the 31st position. While never truly having a car equal to Kahne's, Biffle had looked like a top-5 was going to be a real possibility. Unfortunately, a pit stop with 35 laps remaining to fix a potential flat tire and gas up the car would prove to be his undoing. The stop wasn't necessarily scheduled, though Biffle would have needed to stop anyway, but when leaving pit road, Biffle was nabbed for speeding and had to serve a pass-through penalty. The likely top-5 changed to hoping he could make it to the end and finish on the lead lap. Ultimately finishing 15th, Biffle seems to personify the idea of, "If he didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all." Still, he had a strong car and is currently in a stretch in which he's had one of the best cars on the track. He should have a great race at Michigan this week.
• Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon continued to show why crew chiefs make a huge difference on race day. Johnson had a strong car early, but was not on par with Kahne and faded a little bit. Gordon never had a great car and was consistently running midpack. Yet, when you look at the results, Johnson finished sixth and Gordon 14th. Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, and Gordon's chief, Steve Letarte, simply outsmarted the competition. Taking pit stops earlier than their competitors, the cars were both able to have respectable finishes. This might not be as important for Michigan which is a more straightforward track, but in two weeks, the Cup boys head off to Sonoma, Calif., and Infineon Raceway. Expect the two Hendrick boys to have cars that can win there.
• A.J. Allmendinger has to be given his due with the race he ran Sunday. He hung around the top 10 all race, never looking overmatched or out of place. He finished 12th, the best finish of his young career. He desperately needed this since he had already lost his ride once this season due to his inability to qualify for races. The No. 84 car is now 37th in owners' points and still has to qualify on time, but this could be a huge boost to Allmendinger and maybe get him headed the right direction. He still doesn't offer much to fantasy owners, but he's one to watch for the future.
Bobby Labonte finished 11th and was the biggest mover of the day. This is the fourth top-18 finish in the past five points races. He is a great second-tier option in fantasy. Sam Hornish Jr. had been running well after starting the year poorly. Unfortunately, Pocono hit him hard and he wrecked twice and finished 42nd. He should be better in Michigan, but I'll be interested to see how he handles Infineon. Other open-wheelers have been successful at road courses. My pick to win the race, Denny Hamlin, did lead a few laps and looked strong finishing third. This was a great bounce-back, and with his great history at Michigan, I like Hamlin to start a good streak.
Kevin Rounce is an editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.
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