LONG POND — Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick see the success their current teammates have had at Pocono Raceway and wonder why they haven’t had the same.
The answer — who knows?
The duo had a combined 24 years and 51 victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entering this year. Harvick has added two more wins this season, pushing his total to 25. Busch has won once and now has 29 career victories.
But Pocono? It’s been a wasteland for both for the most part. Busch has a pair of runner-up finishes among his 18 starts at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Harvick has finished fourth four times in 26 starts.
But there is glimmer of hope today as Busch and Harvick take to the track for practice and qualifying for Sunday’s Pocono 400.
“Pocono used to be a place I didn’t look forward to going to,” Busch said, “but lately I’ve been looking forward to it because of (crew chief) Dave Rogers. I struggled there and Dave does a really good job of working with our teammates, with Denny (Hamlin) being so good there, we used some of the baseline stuff from (Hamlin’s) car and tweaked it more to my liking.”
Hamlin has won at Pocono four times, second most only to Jeff Gordon (six) among active drivers. He ruined Busch’s chances to win at Pocono in June 2010. Busch won the pole and led with 29 laps left in the then 200-lap race, only to see his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate take the lead for good on lap 188.
Busch had to settle for a second-place finish in that race and again in August 2011 when he was out front on lap 173 before Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag.
“Denny is still way better than I am there, but Dave, along with everyone on the M&M’s Peanut Butter team and JGR, have done a good job of giving me solid race cars and it’s given me more confidence,” said Busch, who drives the No. 18 Toyota. “I think the repave set us back a bit, even Denny, but we had two top-10s there last year and would like to turn those into top-fives, and maybe have a shot at a win there.”
So would Harvick, who has had a tough stretch at Pocono since a pair of fourth-place finishes in 2010. He has finished 14th or worse in his last five Pocono races. He did win the 2011 truck race, but so far Pocono is one of seven Cup tracks he has failed to post a victory.
Still, Harvick is looked forward to this weekend and his first race at Pocono with Stewart-Haas Racing. He spent his previous 13 Cup seasons driving for Richard Childress Racing. Teammates Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart have two Pocono wins each.
“I think seeing the success that the team has had there in the past and seeing the success that Hendrick Motorsports has had, I think Pocono has probably been one of the places on the schedule that I’m looking forward to going to the most this year,” said Harvick, who drives the No. 4 Chevrolet. “I haven’t had a lot of success there, but between the two teams that we have access to information from, I think Pocono should be a lot of fun when we go back this time.”
We’ll see if the fun starts today for either of them.
DOUBLE DUTY: Cup rookie Kyle Larson will be running the ARCA race on Saturday. While Cup drivers rarely run in ARCA, it’s been done before at Pocono as newcomers to the track get more time to get acquainted to the unique layout.
The last Cup regular to run ARCA at Pocono was Joey Logano in 2009. He dominated the June race that year, leading 52 of 80 laps to post a victory. Logano was in his first season in the Cup series.
DON’T LEAVE: Based on the preliminary entry list, nobody will be packing up the hauler after qualifying today. There are 43 drivers entered for 43 spots.