Posted 08/03/2012 at 06:14 PM
Dale Earnhardt Jr. laid down the fastest lap during the final practice session Friday in preparation for Sundayís Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. Earnhardtís fast lap of 177.441 mph came in the last moments of the 90-miunte session while in a mock-qualifying set-up.
In the final two minutes of practice, the top speed was set and topped by three different drivers in a mad frenzy to get their cars set ideally for Saturdayís qualifying. Kyle Busch had the fastest lap (176.564) for the bulk of the session, but was bested late by Greg Biffle (176.724), Matt Kenseth (176.974) and eventually Earnhardt. Busch ran only five laps in the session, all in qualifying trim.
The story of the day, other than Junior topping the charts, was the speed of all three Roush-Fenway Fords. In addition to Kenseth and Biffle finding lots of speed, Carl Edwards had the fifth fastest lap putting all the Roush drivers in the top-5 of practice for the second straight session. In the first practice session, it was Edwards, Kenseth and Biffle, 3-4-5.
The speeds have to give Edwards a little bit of confidence considering they havenít been fast in practice too often this season. Perhaps new crew chief Chad Norris has made an immediate impact, but it looks more like being a collective Roush triumph. With no wins on the season, Edwards is outside looking in at the Chase and has six chances left to go all out for wins.
When looking at the Pocono practices from June, the Roush drivers were fast as well with Edwards topping the group with the second fastest speeds. On race day, Edwards finished 11th, Kenseth finished seventh and Biffle 24th.
Jeff Gordon is in the same desperate situation as Edwards, only a little worse. He ran the most laps of the session (30) and finished with the eighth fastest lap.
Only four drivers ran 10-consecutive laps or more led by Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, who was fastest in the earlier practice session, also had the fastest overall average speeds (15 laps run or more) while running 21 laps. He had the 10th fastest individual lap of the session.
All three Michael Waltrip cars looked strong led by Martin Truex who was seventh fastest. Mark Martin was runner-up in the June race and finished the session with the 11th-fastest lap. Martin started the session with fireworks as he lost control of his car coming off turn three and, miraculously, was able to save the car with only minimal damage to the right rear.
The winner of the June race was Joey Logano, but he had a little trouble finding speed with the 29th fastest lap. Logano is using the same chassis from the June race. He reported difficulty in shifting from third to fourth gear, so the team changed the transmission just to be safe.
Junior should be in a good situation to get his first Pocono win this week. Not only is he showing speed in practice, but he also has had excellent runs at Pocono and Indy this year, two tracks I like to group together for handicapping purposes. He finished eighth at Pocono in June and fourth at Indy last week.