Posted: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 11, 2013
By Jordan Bianchi
Yeah, Pocono may not have been the NASCAR party everyone was hoping for with Jimmie Johnson overwhelming the field and winning with relative ease. But regardless, there are still plenty of things to dissect in this week's edition of winners and losers.
When Greg Biffle talked last week about the "systemic problem" within Roush Fenway Racing you would have thought the sky was falling for the three-car team. Although the performance level is not where Biffle or anyone at Roush wants it to be, it's not nearly as dire as he made it seem.
For proof look no further than Biffle's runner-up finish at Pocono that moved him to 10th in points heading into this week's race at Michigan, which happens to be one of his better tracks on the circuit.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There was a time when the summer months usually weren't kind to Dale Earnhardt Jr., who like clockwork every year struggled when the calendar flipped to June. That trend, however, has seemingly disappeared.
Earnhardt was a consistent presence up front at Pocono, avoided the slip-ups which had soured numerous solid runs in recent weeks and posted his best result (third) in over two months. Even better, he heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan, the site of his previous two Cup wins and where he should find himself in contention once again.
It was a tumultuous week for Toyota as the manufacturer was besieged by questions concerning its leadership and whether it could build a motor that wouldn't erupt into a plume of smoke. But the decision to detune the amount of horsepower produced paid off, as for the first time in three weeks, and on a track notorious for inciting mechanical issues, every Toyota motor lasted the entire distance.
The conservative approach may have paid off but there was a downside effect. For the first time all season Toyota failed to lead a single lap Sunday and had none of its drivers finish in the top five. Perhaps it was a mere coincidence, but the early returns show that the call for less horsepower may have cost Toyota its edge over the competition.
For just about any driver finishing eighth and moving up two spots in the standings would be considered a good thing. Not so for Denny Hamlin, who actually left Pocono two points further out of 20th-place, further making his bid to get into the Chase all the more precarious.
Heading into Darlington, Aric Almirola was in the midst of a career-best four-race stretch where he finished no worse than 10th and was sitting eighth in points. However, since Mother's Day weekend the clock has apparently struck midnight for this underdog driver. In the subsequent four races he has finished 20th, 33rd, 18th and 21st and fallen to 14th overall. And in a year that features many a big name in the wildcard fight, the odds are increasingly minute that he can secure the first Chase berth for Richard Petty Motorsports.