With the summer break over, NASCAR returns this weekend to Pocono Raceway. Jeremy Mayfield won here five weeks ago, waiting until the final turn of the last lap to rattle Dale Earnhardt's cage and slip by for the win.
The big question for the race this weekend is... Will it be a repeat by Mayfield, or retribution by Earnhardt?
Mayfield has two of his three career victories at Pocono Raceway, but to win another he is going to have to get by a determined Dale Earnhardt to do it. Earnhardt has won the Pennsylvania 500 twice before, with his last victory at Pocono coming in 1993.
"I've heard a lot about the finish there in June," said Mayfield. "You have to admit, it was a pretty exciting finish. NASCAR racing was pretty well made on last-lap passes and hard racing, and I think Dale (Earnhardt) and this Mobil 1 bunch were able to give the fans just that. A lot of people have said a lot of different things, but it really was just hard-nosed racing there at the end. I haven't seen any tapes and I still can't tell you for sure whether we touched or whether I took the air off of him or what. There are a lot of different opinions, but I'm not sure what happened. When you're running these cars almost a football field a second, things tend to happen in a big hurry."
If a racing deal happens, then who else should be near the front?
Both cars from Joe Gibb's stable should be near the front at the checkered. Bobby LaBonte won both races here in 1999 and had a top 5 in 1998. But after a 13th place finish in June, Bobby is looking for Victory Lane.
"To say we were unhappy with the way we ran in June is a big understatement," said Labonte. "We had problems with the handling on the car all weekend, but then to have the cracked tail-pipe right after the start of the event was just a sign of how the weekend had gone for us. We have a brand new car up here for this event that I tested recently and I was very excited at how it responded to the changes we threw at it."
Tony Stewart finished in 6th place here in June and backs it up with a top 5 from last year. Considering the fact that Tony has only raced here three times in Winston Cup, he has to be considered a favorite this Sunday. Finishing in the top 10 in every race since Charlotte, Tony is keeping a keen focus on the championship.
"I think we've got a good shot, but so do a lot of other guys. The racing's been tight every race week, so you expect the points to be the same way as competitive as the series is right now. It wouldn't surprise me to see the top three spots come back to fourth and fifth, or all the way back to seventh and eighth. And it wouldn't surprise me to see some guys like Jeff Gordon kind of close that gap in the other direction, too. I think it's going to be an interesting point race this year."
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