LONG POND, Pa. - Jeff Burton looked positively unbeatable during Saturday's final Sprint Cup Series practice at Pocono Raceway, topping the scoring pylon at 166.085 m.p.h.
No doubt the performance of his No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was a welcome change for Burton, who has never won in 32 starts here, and will carry a 54-race winless streak into Sunday's Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500.
All the ingredients were there for fast laps: a cool, overcast day that made for ideal track conditions, and a brisk breeze blowing down the front stretch that provided a favorable tailwind.
But the veteran NASCAR driver knows he'll need more than speed to visit Victory Lane.
"Typical Pocono," Burton said with a shrug. "We were able to smoke Turn 1 early, so we worked on getting better through Turn 3 - and that messed up our setup for 1."
With an eye on Sunday's cooler forecast, Burton pointed out that "the more temperature that comes out of the track, the easier it is to turn. But we still need to get better at both ends of the front stretch."
Jimmie Johnson continued his strong two-day run, posting the second-quickest lap (165.035 m.p.h.), before heading to Watkins Glen, N.Y., to compete in a Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series six-hour endurance race Saturday afternoon.
Kyle Busch, Sunday's pole-sitter, slid to 14th on the speed chart at 163.857 m.p.h., and points leader Kevin Harvick - who will start 22d - climbed to fifth (164.681 m.p.h.) in the final practice.
Kasey Kahne, seventh-fastest at 164.492 m.p.h. in the No. 9 Fusion, might represent the best chance at taking the checkered flag for Ford Racing, which has gone 16 races without a win.
ARCA Racing Series. In a duel between dominating Toyotas, Woodbury native Craig Goess outran pole-sitter Mikey Kile over the final nine laps to win the Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200, the series' 50th event at Pocono Raceway.
It was the first ARCA victory for Goess, 29, who moved to North Carolina 18 years ago. Goess ran up front for 13 laps and combined with Kile (67) to lead all 80 laps. Only four racers in the 36-car field finished on the lead lap.
"This is the coolest place that we come to, and being here with the NASCAR guys makes it a real honor to win here," Goess said of his third start on the 2.5-mile, triangle-shaped track.
Other local finishers included Bobby Gerhart (ninth) and Kyle Martel (13th) of Lebanon, Pa.; Nick Igdalsky (17th) and Chase Mattioli (29th) of Long Pond, Pa.; Tom Hessert (19th) of Cherry Hill; Steve Fox (22d) of Hazleton; Curt Tori (27th) of Wilmington; and Kory Rabenold (35th) of Slatington, Pa.
The Track: Pocono Raceway is on Route 115 in Long Pond, Pa. Take the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-476) to Exit 95. Take I-80 east toward Hazleton/Mount Pocono to Exit 284. Head south on Route 115 for 3 miles.
Today's on-track events: Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Sprint Cup Series race, 1 p.m.
TV: NASCAR Now (ESPN2, 9 a.m.); NASCAR RaceDay (Speed, 10 a.m.); Countdown to Green (TNT, noon); Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 Sprint Cup Series race (TNT, 1 p.m.); NASCAR Victory Lane (Speed,
Tickets: Call 1-800-722-3929 or check the track's website at www.poconoraceway.com.
- Pete Schnatz