LONG POND, Pa. Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson got their front-row starting positions with speed and power. They might have to slow down to win Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Newman and Johnson are poster boys for the latest generation of NASCAR drivers, a gathering of cerebral twentysomethings who recognize that success in Winston Cup racing is no longer achieved by simply pushing the gas pedal to the floor.
''You don't always see the fastest car winning,'' said Newman, the pole-sitter for the Pennsylvania 500. ''You've got to have the total package.''
By that he means a top-notch car owner, crew chief and driver. Then it's all about aerodynamics, chassis, engine and strategy. Newman leads the circuit in poles with five and is tied for the top spot with three victories.
He's the fastest driver. But his most recent win came two weeks at Chicagoland Speedway, when he saved gas.
''At Chicago, we had the total package,'' Newman said. ''At Loudon, Jimmie had the total package. It's all about that.''
Johnson won last Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway, using the same formula that carried Newman to victory a week earlier.
''I think everywhere we go, every weekend, that's going to be a factor,'' he said, referring to fuel mileage. ''The only thing that changes that is the long cautions.''
Saving gas is especially critical at Pocono, a flat, 2 1/2-mile triangle where running out at the wrong spot on the track means the driver won't make it back to pit road.
The other major of piece of the puzzle is track position in an era where the cars are so even that passing is extremely difficult. Johnson's strategy is to go to the front and try not to use up the car before the next pit stop.
Johnson hopes that approach will pay off with his third victory this year.
''Fuel mileage, track position, all those things are going be that much more important here,'' he explained. ''The biggest gaps between the teams right now are fuel consumption and pit stops.
''On the track, everything else is closed up. There's only tenths to be gained out there, and there's still a lap or a second to be found in the pits. That's why there's so much emphasis on what is happening, aside from the typical racing on the race track.''
Newman agrees and notes that keeping a clean car is important.
''It didn't matter as much five or 10 years ago if you dinged the fender in a little bit,'' he said. ''The cars are really sensitive and you don't want to take that extra risk of running side by side or hitting the fender or cutting a tire. Things like that can end your day.''
Even when a driver falls back, keeping the nose clean can help carry him forward even if bad track position has dramatically decreased his chance for victory.
Newman will apply that strategy Sunday.
''It's the same Dodge we had here in June,'' he said. ''We didn't dent it in last race and we had a pretty fast car.''
He started second in the Pocono 500 and finished fifth to race winner Tony Stewart. Johnson had the pole last month and wound up 12th.
Stewart starts 33rd after a terrible qualifying effort Friday. Series points leader Matt Kenseth goes from the ninth spot on the grid, two positions ahead of defending race champion Bill Elliott, the king of Pocono with five career victories.
Wimmer wins Busch 250 at Pikes Peak
FOUNTAIN, Colo. Scott Wimmer won the NASCAR Busch 250 at Pikes Peak International Raceway in a race Saturday that saw a track record 15 lead changes.
Wimmer led for 70 laps and took the lead for good on the 227th lap by overtaking Jason Keller, who finished 1.045 seconds behind.
''Fortunately, I just got my fender up on his right rear quarter (panel) and he didn't run me into the wall,'' Wimmer said. ''He let me stay up there and I was able to get past.''
Wimmer collected $91,920 for his first win of the season. He has won five times in the series.
A track temperature of 139 degrees at the start of the race made for a slick road surface, allowing for the lead changes. Ron Hornaday Jr., who finished seventh, led the most laps with 80.
The racers averaged 108.19 mph, and there were three caution flags for 23 laps.
Bobby Hamilton Jr., who started in the pole position, led for 31 laps but spun out in the 63rd lap when he was tapped in the rear by Mike Bliss.
Tracy knocks Junqueira off Vancouver pole
VANCOUVER, British Columbia Paul Tracy answered his critics the best way he could, winning the pole Saturday for the Vancouver Molson Indy.
The Champ Car points leader lost the provisional pole and the championship point that goes with it to Bruno Junqueira on Friday when CART penalized Tracy for blocking other drivers late in the qualifying session.
''It's very satisfying,'' an unsmiling Tracy said after Saturday's qualifying session for the race on Sunday. ''Yesterday, I felt we were wrongly stripped of our position and point. They were given to the wrong person. He didn't earn it.''
Scheckter wants win at MIS without drama
BROOKLYN, Mich. Tomas Scheckter wants to duplicate last year's victory at Michigan International Speedway without the off-track drama.
Scheckter earned his second straight pole at the Indy Racing League event Saturday, putting himself in good position to win his second Firestone Indy 400.
Scheckter turned a fast lap of 222.458 mph for his second pole of the season and fifth of his career.
A repeat victory at MIS on Sunday would make Scheckter the third driver in track history to win two straight Indy-style races along with Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser.
Scheckter's first IRL victory came last season at MIS during a week in which he verbally sparred with team owner Eddie Cheever of Red Bull Cheever Racing.
Just before last year's race, Cheever added a third driver, Buddy Rice, and gave his new driver the crew that was working with Scheckter.
Scheckter lashed out at Cheever last year and did so again earlier this season.
Now a member of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, Scheckter refused to be drawn into controversy Saturday.
''I have to apologize to the press that this year's press conference is not as exciting as last year's,'' Scheckter said, smiling. ''I'm a lot happier this year and it's great to have a teammate like Scott (Dixon) and a great team like I do.
''It's great to have all the tools to do the best job you can do and to know that every time I go out there that everybody does everything within their power to make sure Scott and I are in front.''
Dixon's streak of three straight pole starts was snapped by his teammate. He'll start second in the 21-car field.
''It is good for the team,'' Dixon said. ''It doesn't really bother me.''
Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves will start from the second row with Sam Hornish Jr., who got a boost from his new Gen IV Chevy Indy V-8.
Hornish, who won a record five races in 2002, is winless this year. In fact, none of the drivers using a Chevrolet engine have won. Hornish's average starting point has been 13.6 in nine races.
The IRL said last week that Hornish would be able to use the new engine, a move intended to help the competitive balance between drivers with Chevy engines and those with Toyota and Honda engines.
The next Chevy driver in the points standings will be able to race with the new engine Aug. 10 at St. Louis, before all teams are able to use the new engine Aug. 17 at Kentucky.
While Dixon called the rule change ''shady,'' Hornish said it was fair.
''We had some good laps (Friday) and a lot of people were upset about that, thinking we had something that had a lot more horsepower,'' Hornish said. ''I think this puts us to even as far as horsepower goes.
A lot of people were complaining about it. I would rather be fast and have them be unhappy than be in the back and have the rest of the pack happy.''
Points leader Tony Kanaan will start 15th.
''I'm not really satisfied with that run, but it is only qualifying,'' Kanaan said. ''It is a long race. The race is going to be decided in the last lap anyway.''
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.