10 June 2013
Johnson in total control at Pocono
Behind Biffle, Johnson's Hendrick team mate Earnhardt Jr. locked up third place ahead of Tony Stewart, who just pipped his own team mate Ryan Newman whose mid-race off-sync gambit had paid off with a strong fifth place finish.
"Strategy worked out to our benefit with the yellows there at the end," said Newman after the chequered flag. "Just a good rebound day for us. That is something we definitely needed as a team."
Newman had to hold off the Busch brothers in that final green flag stint, Kyle Busch leading home his older brother Kurt in sixth and seventh positions respectively. Just behind them came Kyle's Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Denny Hamlin, who had popped up near the front after a flawless final pit stop by the team.
However, Hamlin was still troubled by the fact that the team's Toyota engines has been 'depowered' this weekend, a response by Toyota Racing Development (TRD) to a troubling number of unit blow-ups over the past year. Hamlin wasn't in favour of this and indicated he'd prefer to risk blowing up so long as he was in with a chance of winning races.
“It's a tough compromise, because in my opinion, I'm a racer. I'd rather blow up leading than run 15th all day,” Hamlin said. “That's just my mentality. We'd rather know we have a chance to win. Today, that was out of the question.”
Asked if the reduced horsepower had been a factor in why the JGR stable hadn't been able to seriously challenge Johnson all afternoon, Hamlin concurred: "Had we had all the horsepower back today, I maybe could have given them a run," he said.
"It definitely cost us spots today, but it didn't cost me a win, I don't think," he continued. "Any horsepower change is going to be a difficult thing to overcome, especially this week and next week, our two horsepower race tracks," he said, referring to next weekend's race at Michigan.
"I wouldn't be opposed to say that other guys probably stepped up coming to this race track, and we took a step back," he added. "It's kind of a double whammy, but it's something TRD's going to work through."
Hamlin's view on the issue is coloured by his urgent need to make up points in the NASCAR championship standings, after missing four full races due to a broken vertebra in his lower back suffered in a last-lap crash at Fontana just before Easter. He's still languishing in 25th place in the standings 14 races into the 26-race regular season: it's highly unlikely that he'll make it back into the top ten in the remaining dozen races before the Chase cut-off at Richmond in September. Instead he needs wins, plain and simple, to try and make it in to the championship play-offs via a most-wins wildcard.
Such concerns don't impinge on Jimmie Johnson at the moment, but he has his own reasons for hustling at this stage of the season and locking up a Chase place as soon as is humanely possible. Currently his lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is a massive 51 points - more than the maximum haul for winning a race, which is just the sort of big advantage Johnson is gunning for.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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