LONG POND, PA - AUGUST 07: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway on August 7, 2011 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
NASCAR visits the Pocono Raceway for the second time in 2012. Joey Logano won there in June, while Brad Keselowski is the defending champion of the Pennsylvania 400.
The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup tour returns to the Pocono Raceway for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400. After Daytona earlier this month, it is the second return trip to a venue this season. Joey Logano of course took the Home Depot-sponsored Toyota to victory lane in June, following a move around Mark Martin that left many fans - including yours truly - fuming.
With only an announcement remaining to cement Matt Kenseth as the new driver of the orange Joe Gibbs Racing-owned Camry, Logano needs a repeat performance as he auditions for both potential sponsors to keep him at Gibbs in a fourth car and with team owners who could put him in their seat if he is pushed out at the only NASCAR team he's ever really known. Though he made a handful of starts for Hall of Fame Racing in late 2008, it was a Gibbs-affiliated team. He also made his lone Camping World Truck Series start for the defunct Harris Trucking team at Talladega that year.
To win again Sunday, Logano's chief competition could be his soon-to-be-former teammates. Denny Hamlin's record at Pocono can speak for itself. Few drivers have taken to any track as quickly as the Virginian did with the 2.5-mile triangle. His first two Sprint Cup triumphs came in his first two visits to the track in 2006. In 13 starts, Hamlin has nine top-10s - all of sixth or better - and four total victories.
Kyle Busch, meanwhile, struggled mightily to get the handle on Pocono early in his career. A fourth in his 2005 debut and an eighth in June 2007's rain-shortened event were his only top-10 results in his first 10 trips there. In his 11th, he finished second in June 2010 to Hamlin. In June 2011, he chased Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch to the line, and in this race last year, he ran second to Brad Keselowski. Busch finished 30th in June thanks to a blown motor - one of three engine failures he experienced in a row - but he has certainly turned into a contender at Pocono.
Of course, one of the themes of the week is whether or not Gordon will get the victory he needs to get him into position to race for his fifth championship. His win last year was his fifth at Pocono, tying him with Georgia's Bill Elliott for the track record. With only five races remaining after Sunday, it would be helpful to Gordon and company if they won at Pocono and only needed to win once in those last five races rather than needing to claim two checkered flags.
One driver to watch for will be the new Sprint Cup point leader, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He led 36 laps in June and had one of the best cars all race before being shuffled to eighth in the late stages. Earnhardt has never won at Pocono, coming closest in 2001 when a stirring duel with Bobby Labonte ended with the Cup champion making an outside pass with two laps remaining to score the win.