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Five things to watch in Sunday’s Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway


It has been the same thing the past five races at Pocono Raceway: a Hendrick Motorsports car has won.

Jeff Gordon started the streak in Aug. 2012. Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne won there in 2013, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. swept last year’s two races.

The last non-Hendrick driver to win? Joey Logano.

‘I didn’t even know that,’’ the Daytona 500 winner said. “This is one of those racetracks where aero and horsepower come into play a lot and we’ve seen Hendrick be very good in those departments - not that Penske isn’t - I feel like we’ve had some fast race cars here in the past.’’

Just not fast enough.

Hendrick drivers have combined to lead 411 of the 738 laps (55.7 percent) run in the last five races at Pocono.

“There are a lot of different competitors that can win right now,’’ said Gordon, who seeks his first victory of the season. “We’ve seen how strong Martin Truex, Jr. has been lately. So, I’m certainly hoping that we continue our Hendrick dominance and streak here and maybe this is our opportunity to get ourselves locked-into the Chase.’’

Kevin Harvick could be one to end the reign of Hendrick drivers Sunday at Pocono. Harvick has been fast all weekend, leading all three practices (and qualified fifth). His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, starts on the pole. Of course, both teams get engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports.

The Hendrick dominance is just one of several storylines at Pocono.

Is this the week Martin Truex Jr. finally wins? He’s led the most laps in each of the past three points races but has yet to win this season, pushing his winless drought to 69 races.

Truex starts third with a chassis making its debut after having run the same chassis at Kansas, Charlotte and Dover.

Might this be the race that ends his drought?

“I’m looking forward to Sunday,’’ he said.

It’s not about who is the fastest but who has the best strategy. While Earnhardt had a fast car at Pocono last year, aggressive strategy by former crew chief Steve Letarte helped Earnhardt win both races.

How crew chiefs decide when to pit and how many tires to take could play a key role in the outcome of this race, just as it did last year. Since a car can pit under green without losing a lap at Pocono, short-pitting could play a key role where teams come in early to force others to follow.

No more mulligans. Kyle Busch ran toward the front much of last weekend’s race at Dover before he was involved in an accident with a lapped car and finished 36th, leading crew chief Adam Stevens to say that the team could not afford another such poor finish if it hopes to make the Chase.

Busch has failed to finish three of the last six Pocono races.

Things that go bump - in the day. Pocono’s tunnel turn (Turn 2) already was considered among the most challenging on the circuit but the severe bumps make the corner more difficult.

“The bumps, it’s amazing how they’ve changed over the course of the year,’’ Denny Hamlin said. “When you’re around other cars, it’s going to be tough for the guys that are two-wide in that corner. I think that it could provide actually some passing opportunities, possibly, if guys get to mixing it up over that bumps.”

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