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Keeping Pace

Tony Stewart Brings Historic Point Lead To Pocono Raceway

Tony Stewart is the first owner-driver in the series to lead the series championship standings in 17 years. The last time an owner-driver led the series points was on November 15, 1992, when Alan Kulwicki won the series championship over Bill Elliott.


Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet) and his Stewart-Haas Racing team arrive at Pocono Raceway this Sunday with a history-making NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point lead.

Stewart is the first owner-driver in the series to lead the series championship standings in 17 years. The last time an owner-driver led the series points was on November 15, 1992, when Alan Kulwicki won the series championship over Bill Elliott.

“Everybody respected Alan because he was an owner-driver and what he was able to accomplish,” Stewart said. “It was a little bit before I was really a die-hard NASCAR guy.”

Stewart was a 21-year-old focused on his USAC Sprint Car and Midget career when Kulwicki won the 1992 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

“You know, you go through a time and you’re able to go back and look at how the history of the sport has evolved and what milestones and moments shaped the sport to what it is,” Stewart said. “So it’s a pretty cool moment to have your organization mentioned with his organization.”

Stewart is excited about the progress of his team, and teammate Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet).

“I’m proud of our organization … I’m proud of (Director of Competition) Bobby Hutchens, I’m proud of (crew chief) Darian Grubb, I’m proud of our teammate Ryan Newman, and (Newman’s crew chief) Tony Gibson and our entire organization,” Stewart said in sharing the credit for the team’s successful launch.

Newman arrives at Pocono fifth in series points riding five consecutive top-10 finishes and seven top 10s through the first 13 events of 2009. Newman also won the first pole for Stewart-Haas Racing for last month’s Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway where he finished second.

Both drivers have enjoyed success at Pocono, both in 2003. Stewart won the spring Pocono 500, while Newman won the summer Pennsylvania 500 from the pole. Newman also won a Pocono pole in 2007, while Stewart won a pole at Pocono in 2000.

No. 48 Team Supplies Friendly Reminder Of Recent Dominance

With their second win of the season in the rear-view mirror and a pick-up of two positions in the series championship standings, Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet are ready for the Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway this Sunday.

The three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions arrive at Pocono third in series standings and amid some serious momentum building, as they mount a charge at what would be an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship in NASCAR’s premier series.

Johnson swept both Pocono Raceway events in the 2004 season. He also has two pole awards at Pocono, including the 2008 Pennsylvania 500.

In the 2008 Pocono 500, Johnson started second and finished sixth.

Mattiolis Make Pocono Raceway A Unique, Friendly Speedway From The Top

Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania’s scenic Pocono resort area is unique to NASCAR in many ways. It is the only track of its shape – the “Tricky Triangle” they call it.

At Pocono’s helm is Dr. Joseph R. “Doc” Mattioli, who along with his wife, Dr. Rose C. Mattioli, built, struggled and ultimately flourished at the 2.5 mile triangularly shaped oval. Doc Mattioli is a congenial, energetic man, proud of Pocono’s long path to success, and even more proud of his family.

Pocono Raceway has a special feel to it for more than just competitive racing. Three generations of the Mattioli family are involved with operating the track, and a fourth generation is coming up from the cradle. The Mattiolis strive to make their facility fan friendly and family friendly while seeing to the comfort of those who participate in racing there as well.

“Pocono is special in NASCAR history because of the family that owns and operates it… the Mattiolis, Doc and Rose,” said NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter. “They invested everything they owned to make their unique track successful”.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes to the track for the 63rd time in the June 7 Pocono 500, continuing a relationship that dates back to the first race in 1974.

Pocono Raceway had a difficult time in its early years. The Pocono NASCAR race was one of the first ventures outside its traditional southeastern base. USAC Indy Car racing had been Pocono’s marquee event when the track opened in 1971. By the mid-1970s, however, Mattioli’s race track was suffering financially due to ongoing repairs of original construction and he began contemplating its sale.

Bill France Sr. didn’t want Mattioli to throw in the towel.

“My son Joe and I flew to New York to meet Bill to talk about it,” Mattioli said. “We argued about it, but he was a dear friend, too. He took out one of his business cards and wrote this on the back of it: ‘On the plains of hesitation lie the bleached bones of millions who when within grasp of victory sat and waited and waiting died.’ He wanted us to stay the course, and he convinced us to stay with it, and I still carry that card with me. Bill and his wife Anne B. came to Pocono and helped us the first few years. I still think of them every time I look at our grandstands on race day.”

At NASCAR’s request, Pocono added a second NASCAR race in 1982. The Indy Car race lasted through 1989.

“When Ontario Motor Speedway closed after their 1980 race, Bill wanted us to take a second race because NASCAR needed the races,” Mattioli said. “We had our NASCAR race in June and our CART Indy Car race in July. For August, I didn’t think three 500-mile races in three months would work for us. We argued about it but we ended up adding the August race in 1982. It worked out great.”

Grandsons Brandon and Nick Igdalsky serve as the track’s President and Senor Vice President. Granddaughter Ashley Igdalsky is a Vice President and is in charge of construction. Grandson Chase Mattioli is a Vice President. He and Nick are sharing a road racing ride in the KONI Sports Car Challenge Series. Chase also competed in the NASCAR Camping World Series East in 2008 and in ARCA in 2009, while Nick helps operate the Mattioli-owned South Boston (Va.) Motor Speedway, a NASCAR Whelen All American Series track where he has also raced.

Pocono Raceway has been in almost a constant state of evolution since 1990, with millions of dollars of improvements and renovations made each year. 

Reflecting on his 84th birthday in April, Mattioli recalls being raised in a house with no electricity or plumbing, going to a two-room schoolhouse and growing or raising all the food the family ate; of serving in the Marine Corps in World War II; benefiting from the G.I. Bill to be educated to become a dentist; running away with wife Rose to be married more than 60 years ago; to being founder and CEO of Pocono Raceway What in his lifetime makes him most proud?

“My family,” he says in an instant. “We have a wonderful relationship, we all live here and everybody is involved with the track. When you have a family like that, you appreciate them.”

Pocono, Etc. …

  • Richard Petty won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono on August 4, 1974.
  • Bill Elliott has the most Pocono victories all-time with five.
  • Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet) has the most top fives (19) and the most top 10s (31).
  • The Mattiolis have presented the Bill France Award of Excellence in the NASCAR community annually since 1977. The 2009 award winner is Chris Economaki of National Speed Sport News.
  • The Mattiolis’ South Boston (Va.) Speedway, a .400-mile NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track, is helping bring the next generation of drivers along. Jeb Burton, son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, is competing in the Limited Sportsman Division at South Boston, where Ward and brother Jeff each launched their NASCAR careers.

Pocono 500 Good News For Hendrick, Gibbs And Penske Teams

Holding top-12 positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points upon arrival at Pocono Raceway this week should be reason for optimism for several top teams.

Pocono has been the site of success for Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing. The teams account for six of the top-seeded drivers in the standings, and 23 Pocono victories.

Hendrick Motorsports is Pocono’s all-time leading win producer with 11. Hendrick drivers Jeff Gordon (4), the late Tim Richmond (3), Jimmie Johnson (2), Geoffrey Bodine (1) and Terry Labonte (1) have contributed to the Pocono win total. Veteran Mark Martin, Hendrick’s newest driver, has not yet been to Pocono’s Victory Lane, nor has second year team driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet).

Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing have six Pocono victories each.

Bobby Labonte (No. 96 ASK.com Ford) swept both Pocono events for Gibbs in 1999, and added another win in 2001. Tony Stewart took one Pocono win in 2003. Current Gibbs driver Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) dominated Pocono in 2006 sweeping both event pole awards and races. Gibbs’ rookie driver Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) will be making his first Pocono start this weekend, while teammate Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) is still looking for his first Pocono win.

Penske Racing also has six Pocono wins, including four scored by retired driver Rusty Wallace in 1991, 1994, 1996 and 2000. Former team driver Ryan Newman got a Pocono win in 2003 while current driver Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) won there in 2007. Busch’s new teammate David Stremme (No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge) is looking for his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.

Solo winners Stewart and Newman are now teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing.

In addition, Roush Fenway Racing has posted three Pocono wins with Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) in 2005 and last year’s Pennsylvania 500, and with Kurt Busch in 2005.

Richard Childress Racing has a pair of Pocono wins, both with the Dale Earnhardt in 1987 and 1993.

Unique Pocono A Challenge

Defending Pocono 500 winner Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) has been on the move in recent weeks with a seventh in the Coca-Cola 600 and a sixth at Dover. A repeat Pocono win would help Kahne rise from his current 14th place in the standings toward a place in the top 12.

Kahne’s 2008 Pocono win was his first at a track where crew chiefs and drivers have to make compromises for speed’s sake.

Pocono’s irregularly shaped triangle also features three turns of varying degrees, forcing teams to pick their turn for the best set-up, knowing in return they’ll not have their cars as good as they would like elsewhere on the track.

While Pocono features the longest front straightaway on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, the variable turns have produced the most Pocono wins for drivers who excel on road courses.

Nine-time road-course winner Jeff Gordon has four Pocono wins as does the late Tim Richmond who had five road course wins. Four time Pocono winner Rusty Wallace had six road course wins. Five time Pocono winner Bill Elliott’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came on the Riverside (Calif.) road course in 1983.

“Guys who do good on road courses do good at Pocono because they can combine speed with car control,” said team owner Rick Hendrick.

  • Darin Nestlerode (Jersey Shores) - No. 31 car chief)
  • Greg Erwin (Hatboro) - No. 16 crew chief
  • Pat Tryson (Malvern) - No. 2 crew chief
  • Bob Osborne (Chester) - No. 99 crew chief
  • Travis Geisler (Cranberry Township) - No. 77 crew chief
  • Frank Kerr (Bensalem) - No. 47 crew chief
  • Kevin Buskirk (Nazareth) - No. 17 crew chief
  • Ben Beshore (York) - No. 16 engineer
  • Stephen Ritchie (Jonestown) - No. 19 engine tuner
  • Clark Rupp (Hawthorn) - No. 1 mechanic
  • Lance Munksgard (Warren) - No. 83 pit crew coach
  • Scott Munksgard (Warren) - No. 83 shock specialist
  • Jerry Wittig (Redding) - No. 31 shock specialist
  • Jason Seitzinger (Shartesville) - No. 24 shock specialist
  • Brad Little (New Kensington) - No. 9 sign man
  • Toby Mellott (Needmore) - No. 19 tire specialist
  • Mike Harold (York) - No. 43 tire specialist
  • Wesley Lape (Sinking Spring) - No. 26 tire specialist
  • Ray Erwin (Willow Grove) - No. 8 transporter driver
  • Mark Miller (New Wilmington) - No. 13 transporter driver
  • Ben Holm (West Chester) - No. 26 catch can man

Hamlin, Pocono A Perfect Statistical Match — But Watch Out For Kurt Busch, Stewart

The last trip the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series took to Pocono must have felt like a complete nightmare for Denny Hamlin.

He finished 23rd, a respectable enough result – if it weren’t Hamlin at Pocono.

Hamlin has owned Pocono in his short three-year career. Ever since his first trip around the quirky and unique tri-oval, Hamlin was a natural.

In his first Pocono trip in 2006, he won the pole – then the race. In his second trip, he did the exact same thing.

Hamlin’s first five Pocono races all resulted in top-10 finishes, and four of the five were top-three finishes.

Only in last August’s Pennsylvania 500 did Hamlin struggle, and the statistics suggest that his run was much better than his result.

In that race, Hamlin had a Driver Rating of 89.5 and an Average Running Position of 11th. So it’s no wonder that Hamlin has the top statistics at Pocono – by far.

In his six-race Pocono career, Hamlin has a series-best Average Running Position of 6.5, a series-best Driver Rating of 123.6 and a series-best Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 90.6%. He is also second in Fastest Laps Run with 201, eight behind leader Kurt Busch.

Busch, owner of two perfect Driver Ratings at Pocono (in his 2005 and 2007 victories), is Hamlin’s prime threat this weekend.

Always strong at Pocono, Busch should continue his “comeback” season. At Pocono, Busch has a Driver Rating of 106.8 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 10.1 (second) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 74.0% (fifth).

Also an intriguing choice this weekend is Tony Stewart, who needed only 13 races to reach one driver-owner milestone. This past weekend in Dover, he became the first driver-owner to lead the points since Alan Kulwicki on the last day of the 1992 season. Now he looks to be the first driver-owner to win a race since Ricky Rudd in 1998.

Pocono statistically fits Stewart’s style. He has a Driver Rating of 102.4 (third), an Average Running Position of 10.9 (fourth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 78.3% (second).

Up Next: LifeLock 400 At Michigan International Speedway

Michigan International Speedway opens its 40th anniversary season with the LifeLock 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event on June 14.

The track hosted it’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, the Motor State 400, in 1969. Cale Yarborough the race in a Wood Brothers Mercury, while Donnie Allison won the pole in a Banjo Matthews-owned Ford.

Next week’s LifeLock 400 is the 80th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the two-mile oval.

Ford has been the dominant manufacturer at Michigan. The Blue Oval bunch leads all brands with 31 victories. Chevrolet is second on the all-time win list with 17 wins, including its most recent with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in last year’s LifeLock 400 at MIS.

However, in the August Michigan 400, Carl Edwards quickly answered with Ford’s 31st win.

Ford was not always dominant at MIS. While David Pearson drove a Holman-Moody Ford to victory in the August 1969 event at Michigan, it was 14 years until Ford won again when Bill Elliott won the June 1984 event there.

Since then, Ford has won 28 of the last 46 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at Michigan.

Elliott has seven career wins at MIS, and is entered to drive the Wood Brothers No. 12 Motorcraft Ford in next week’s event. The Woods Bros. have contributed 11 of Ford’s Michigan wins.

In addition to Earnhardt, Hendrick Motorsports has been to the MIS Victory Lane three other times with Jeff Gordon in 1998 and 2001; and Ricky Rudd in 1993. Hendrick’s newest driver Mark Martin also has four MIS wins, all when he was driving the No. 6 Jack Roush prepared Fords.

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is the only current Hendrick driver who has yet to win at Michigan. His best finish there was third in 2007.

In Coor’s Light Pole Award qualifying, Ford and Chevrolet are tied with 22 poles each. In 2008, Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) brought Toyota it’s first MIS pole.

Fast Facts

The Race: Pocono 500

The Date: Sunday, June 7

The Track: Pocono Raceway; 2.5-mile triangle

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

The Distance: 200 laps/500 miles

TV: TNT, (12:30 p.m. ET)

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite (Local MRN affiliate WSJR 93.7 FM)

2008 Polesitter: Kasey Kahne

2008 Winner: Kasey Kahne

Schedule: (All times local ET) Friday—Practice, 12:00-1:30 p.m., Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 10-10:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-12:20 p.m.

 

2009 Top 12 Drivers

    Driver               Points
 1 Tony Stewart       1853
 2 Jeff Gordon          1807
 3 Jimmie Johnson   1789
 4 Kurt Busch          1762
 5 Ryan Newman      1680
 6 Kyle Busch          1634
 7 Denny Hamlin      1630
 8 Matt Kenseth       1625
 9 Greg Biffle            1618
10 Jeff Burton           1587
11 Carl Edwards       1582
12 Mark Martin         1567


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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