This Week in Auto Racing Aug. 2 - 3

By The Sports NetworkAug. 1, 2014 at 1:53 PM
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The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series are running at Pocono Raceway, while the Nationwide Series is competing at Iowa Speedway this weekend.


Sprint Cup Series 400 - Pocono Raceway - Long Pond, Pennsylvania

Upon his arrival to Pocono Raceway on Friday morning for this weekend's Sprint Cup Series race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted, "Landed in Pocono. Lookin for a broom."

Earnhardt, who has been voted as NASCAR's most popular driver for the past 11 years, is hoping for a season-sweep at Pocono. If Earnhardt takes the checkered flag for Sunday's 400-mile race, he would become the seventh different driver to win both Sprint Cup races here in the same season. Bobby Allison (1982), Bill Elliott (1985), Tim Richmond (1986), Bobby Labonte (1999), Jimmie Johnson (2004) and Denny Hamlin (2006) have accomplished that feat at this 2.5-mile triangular-shaped racetrack.

When the series most recently competed at Pocono in June, Earnhardt passed Brad Keselowski for the lead with five laps remaining and then held off Keselowski at the finish for the victory. It was the first time he had won here in 29 starts.

"We had a really competitive car but not the best car," Earnhardt said of his win at Pocono two months ago. "The best car doesn't always win, but it certainly helps to be the fastest guy out there. You can definitely have a different strategy.

"What we want to do is find a little bit more speed than we had here last time. We want to try to get a little bit better in practice, so we have more confidence."

Talladega Superspeedway is the only track where Earnhardt has won both races in the same season, doing so in 2002.

Earlier this week, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Greg Ives will serve as crew chief for Earnhardt's No. 88 team for the 2015 season. Steve Letarte has been Earnhardt's crew chief since 2011, but Letarte is leaving the team at the end of the year and joining NBC Sports for its coverage of NASCAR next season.

Ives is now the crew chief for Chase Elliott's No. 9 Nationwide Series team at JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Earnhardt, his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Rick Hendrick. Elliott, a rookie in Nationwide this season, is the current points leader and winner of three races. Prior to his stint at JRM, Ives served as a mechanic and engineer with Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team at Hendrick.

Earnhardt has been in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship each year since he was paired with Letarte. The two kicked off the 2014 season by winning the Feb. 23 Daytona 500.

"Every race gets a little bit harder knowing this is Steve's last year," Earnhardt said. "I know winding down into the Chase is going to be pretty emotional for both of us. But the one thing that I was probably most relieved about was to be able to make a decision [on a crew chief for next year] and get it done.

"I didn't want to be in the middle of choosing that guy. I just wanted to sit back and watch Steve [Letarte] and Chad [Knaus, crew chief for Johnson's team] to really make that decision. Those guys know the company so well and know the position so well. I trust them to make the better decision that I could have made."

Earnhardt is presently second in the point standings. He trails leader and Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon by 24 points. Earnhardt is one of six drivers who has clinched a spot in this year's 16-member Chase field. Gordon, Johnson, Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano are the others. There six races to go before the playoffs begin Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway.

This year, Earnhardt is on pace to post a career-best average finish in Sprint Cup. He's currently averaging a finish of 10.2. His season-long best is 10.9 in 2012. Earnhardt has finished in the top-10 in seven of the last eight races.

"Once we started competing better and better, the confidence started building," he said. "I think the confidence has been there for some time now, maybe a year or two. We're just now starting to realize our full potential."

A driver from Hendrick has won the past four races at Pocono: Gordon (August 2012), Johnson (June 2013), Kasey Kahne (August 2013) and Earnhardt (June 2014). Kahne has not been to victory lane in Sprint Cup since one year ago here.

Forty-three drivers are on the entry list for the 400.

Camping World Truck Series

Pocono Mountains 150 - Pocono Raceway - Long Pond, Pennsylvania

After running at a half-mile dirt track last week, the Camping World Truck Series is back on asphalt at a much bigger venue this weekend -- Pocono Raceway.

Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Darrell Wallace Jr. claimed his second win of the season and the third of his Truck Series career on July 23 at Eldora Speedway. With the victory, Wallace moved up to sixth in the point standings. He is now 28 points behind leader Ryan Blaney.

Of the 10 truck races this season, KBM has won eight of them. Toyota has 12 consecutive victories in the series, a record streak that dates back to November 2013 at Phoenix. Kyle Busch has won all five of the truck events he has competed in this year. Erik Jones, driving KBM's No. 51 Toyota in a partial schedule this season, took the checkered flag at Iowa on July 11.

Jones is scheduled to drive the No. 51 in Saturday's race at Pocono. It will be the first time he competes at this 2.5-mile triangular-shaped track. Wallace finished seventh here during his rookie season last year.

"We definitely have momentum on our side this weekend, as we go to the 'Tricky Triangle' [Pocono]," Wallace said. "We had a fast Toyota Tundra last year at Pocono, but I made a rookie mistake early in the race, and we had to battle back from that in what is our shortest race of the season.

"I know [crew chief] Jerry [Baxter] and the guys have prepared a great Tundra for us this weekend, and now I need to do my part. Pocono is known as the 'Tricky Triangle' for a reason, but hopefully we can figure it out and keep Toyota's streak alive in the Truck Series."

This will be the fifth time the series competes at Pocono. A Chevrolet driver won the first three races here -- 2010 (Elliott Sadler), 2011 (Kevin Harvick) and 2012 (Joey Coulter). Blaney drove his Ford to victory lane at this track last year.

"Pocono has been really good to us," Blaney said. "We had a good truck last year, and it worked out to our favor where we ended up winning the race. It's always nice going back to tracks where you've won at before. It just gives you and your team a little extra confidence. You always think you can go back there and win that same race again."

This year's truck race at Pocono has been increased in distance from 125 miles (50 laps) to 150 miles (60 laps).

Thirty-two teams are on the entry list for the Pocono Mountains 150.

Nationwide Series

U.S. Cellular 250 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, Iowa

The final round in this year's four-race Nationwide Series "Dash 4 Cash" bonus program takes place this weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Last Saturday at Indianapolis, rookie Ty Dillon won a Nationwide race for the first time in his career. Dillon also collected the $100,000 bonus from series title sponsor Nationwide Insurance since he was the highest finisher of the four eligible drivers at Indy. Trevor Bayne, Chase Elliott and Brian Scott were qualified for the cash award there as well.

Dillon, Scott, Bayne and Regan Smith are eligible for the bonus in Saturday night's 250-lap race at Iowa.

"Iowa has always been one of my favorite racetracks," said Dillon, who has competed in one Nationwide race and four Camping World Truck Series events here. "I learned a few driving styles and grooves that you can run on the track. I really think it fits my driving style because it's fast but a shorter track. It's important that we qualify well and stay smart. We've got all the momentum in the world right now."

The Dash 4 Cash event at Iowa also includes a fan element. The following four sweepstakes winners are entered to win the $100,000 award: Kathy Coffman (Gonzales, Louisiana); Patricia Martens (Danville, California); James Dennis (Henry, Illinois) and Patricia Cochran (Houston, Texas).

Each sweepstakes winner will be paired with a driver randomly on Saturday morning. They will also be an honorary team member during the race. If their driver wins the Dash 4 Cash, they win the same amount of money as well.

Smith won the first round in the Dash 4 Cash on July 12 at New Hampshire. One week later, Brian Scott, who is Dillon's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, collected the bonus at Chicagoland.

Heading into this race, Elliott holds a four-point lead over Smith, his teammate at JR Motorsports. Elliott Sadler is 11 points behind, while Dillon trails by 15. Scott is fifth in the standings (-42).

Forty teams are on the entry list for the U.S. Cellular 250. Brad Keselowski is the only Sprint Cup Series regular scheduled to compete in this race. Sprint Cup is running at Pocono this weekend. Keselowski won the Nationwide event at Iowa one year ago.


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