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NASCAR At Pocono: 5-Hour Energy 500 Lineup And Stories To Watch

The 14th race of the Sprint Cup season is within an hour of taking the green flag - if the weather cooperates - at the Pocono Raceway in the picturesque Pocono Mountains of Pnnsylvania.

Kurt Busch has the pole for today's race, with Paul Menard sharing the front row. Visit Jayski.com to see the entire lineup for today's race.

Here are some stories of potential interest on today's 5-Hour Energy 500.

Does Denny Hamlin break through? Ever since his humiliating loss in the November 2010 event at Phoenix International Raceway, Denny Hamlin has seemed a step or two behind his chief competitors. He lost the championship at Homestead and has struggled throughout this season. He seems to be slowly on the rebound, with four top-fives in his last five starts. Pocono has oflten been just what the Doctor ordered for Hamlin, as he got his first wins of the 2006 and 2009 seasons at the Tricky Triangle.

Can Jeff Gordon grab his second win of the season? Gordon has one win this year and is 13th in points, currently making him the only driver eligible for one of the newly-created wild card spots for the Chase. Gordon starts third and has four previous wins at Pocono. He last won the rain-shortened event in 2007 courtesy of some crafty strategy by then-crew chief Steve Letarte, which brings us to...

Is this Dale Earnhardt Jr's day? Earnhardt didn't have enough fuel to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, then he had enough to win at Knasas a week ago but Brad Keselowski also had enough and had more track position. Pocono, as a 2.5-mile track, lends itself to strategy, as current crew chief Steve LeTarte well knows. LeTarte, knowing Gordon didn't have the car to win that 2007 race, pitted him early so that, if the rain came when it was supposed to, the 24 car would be out front. It did, with Ryan Newman up to Gordon's door number. That was the end of the race, and Gordon and LeTarte had the victory. LeTarte isn't afraid to gamble, especially when it comes to ending the three-year winless streak of NASCAR's most popular driver.

Can Kurt Busch parlay the pole into a win? Busch, Carl Edwards, and Tony Stewart had the three best cars Sunday in Kansas, but all three had to pit. Busch's car stumbled leaving pit road, leaving him ninth at the finish. He's on the pole again this week after qualifying fastest with his backup car on Saturday. Busch is twice a winner at Pocono, leading a combined 306 of 400 laps in the July 2005 and August 2007 events he won.

Do we have another first-time winner? Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith each got their first-career wins earlier this season. Pocono was site of a first-time winner twice before, when Jeremy Mayfield won in 1998 and Denny Hamlin got his first ponts-paying win in 2006. Paul Menard starts second, while David Ragan rolls off 11th. Both have been termed as "wins waiting to happen," and today very well could be their day.

Do we get all 500 miles in today? The forecast for today's race has a 40% chance of rain. As a long, flat triangle, the track doesn't dry very quickly, As such, if rain does fall for an extended period, it could cut a significant chunk out of the final race distance. Rain hopefully will not play havoc with today's race, for as ungodly long as 500 miles at the Pocono Raceway seems to be, sitting through a rain-delayed race is even longer.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.