Weather figures to play a significant role - at least in terms of storylines - in today's Sprint Cup race at the Pocono Raceway. Here are some other stories to watch in today's Good Sam RV Insurance 500.
How does Denny Hamlin perform? Few cars will have as many eyes on them as Hamlin's black No. 11 Toyota. From his first start at the Pocono Raceway, he has consistently been the driver to beat. He finished a disappointing 19th in June, but that was the result of fading brakes at the end of a race that saw him lead 76 laps.
Does one of NASCAR's winless stars get their first victory of 2011? Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle are just four of the number of NASCAR stars who are winless in 2011. Three of the last four winners of this race - Kurt Busch in 2007, Hamlin in 2009, and Biffle last year - broke season-long dry spells in going to victory lane. Adding in the track's June race, Pocono has been the site of a driver's first win of the year in all but one season since 2000.
Does 40-year-old Jeff Gordon give himself a belated birthday present? For longtime NASCAR fans it is hard to believe Gordon, once the fresh-faced new kid on the block with a mullet, turned 40 on Thursday. Gordon won here in June and was dominant last week, which could bode well in his bid for his 85th Sprint Cup victory.
Can Brad Keselowski go all 500 miles on a broken ankle? Keselowski broke his ankle in a hard testing crash at Road Atlanta earlier this week, but he plans to try to run all 500 miles today. Sam Hornish Jr. will be on stand-by in case Keselowski can not run the full distance.
How does Paul Menard fare as a Sprint Cup winner? Menard starts seventh today, but he has never had much success at Pocono. His best finish is a 13th in this race a year ago. In fact, as a whole, Brickyard 400 winners have traditionally not found success at Pocono. Only two drivers - Bill Elliott in 2002 and Jeff Gordon in 1998 - have won at both tracks in the same year.
Does strategy come into play? Between the weather and potential fuel-mileage issues, strategy is likely to play a factor in who wins or at least records a good finish today. The track's length makes it one of only four tracks - the others being Indianapolis and the two road courses - where a driver can pit under green and stand a good chance of remaining on the lead lap. If a caution falls in short order, a driver can gain serious track position. With the threat of rain - 50% throughout the day - could also play a role.