June 10, 2012
By Kim Roberson
Things are apparently going to be a little more tricky than usual at the Pocono raceway this afternoon.
The track, nicknamed “The Tricky Triangle” has a new surface, which is making drivers re-think their approach to racing there.
NASCAR allowed teams to come to the track mid-week to get a feel for the new surface, and to say it was fast would apparently be an understatement. Unofficially, almost all of the drivers who took time on the track during the testing sessions were faster at some point than Kasey Kahne’s official qualifying record of 172.533 set eight years ago, and during official practice Friday, 11 drivers topped the track record.
At one point, AJ Allmendinger was clocked doing 211 mph down a straightaway, a scary prospect considering how relatively sharp the turns are at this unusually shaped track. And the pole for today’s race was, no surprise, a new track record, set by Joey Logano, with Carl Edwards sitting on the outside pole.
“You’re going to see massive dive bombs going into the corner trying to get position,” noted Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota. Hamlin has had a lot of success on this track, with four wins, including a season sweep, but he says it a whole different ball game with the new pavement. “Really, you drive it totally different than what you used to.”
"You're not going to be able to look at any notes from previous years and try to predict a race winner for this thing,” he added. “You are pretty much starting over from scratch.”
Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, has won at the track twice, but says it was an all-new learning experience getting out there this week. “Took me a minute to get used to just the different visual cues, and braking points and transitions into the corners. The way you drive into Turn 1, you can be much more aggressive on the throttle, you can be really aggressive on the breaks. It will be an opportunity to really shake things up here. I think the guys that normally run really well here won’t have an advantage any more. It’s a new day.”
Last weekend’s winner at Dover, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet, took advantage of his iPhone’s video capability and set the phone up to shoot two small movies of what it is like to drive around the track -- one from the windshield looking back at the driver and the track behind him, and the other from the side where you can see him steering and shifting as he goes around the track (you can watch the videos here.
One of the big differences from recent trips is the shifting. At one point not so long ago, there was no need to shift at all as the drivers made their way around the triangle.
In the video, you watch as Johnson pulls out of his garage stall and drives through the garage area. He stops at the end of pit road, checks his steering wheel, and then he is off. There is a lot of bright sunshine outside, so you can’t really get a feel for where he is at any given time, other than it is obvious when he is in a corner, and when he is on a straightaway. Johnson lifts off the gas and shifts down as he turns left in each corner, and then upshifts again once back on the straightaway. In all, Jimmie shifted a total of 19 times in the three minutes 40 seconds it takes him to run four laps around the track.
“Even though we’re going so much faster, the comfort is there in the cars and that’s why we are able to lay down these (fast) laps,” Johnsons explained on Friday. “You know you’re in the gas a long time. I’d say the corner that is most apparent for that is turn three. You’re in the throttle well before you see any part of the straightaway. We certainly are getting in the corners deeper and roll in the center fast, but the thing that stands out to me the most is how soon you are wide-open. Then really if you are shifting, how quickly you need to grab fourth (gear). It’s a considerable (change) from last year when we were shifting.”
“(The track is) still challenging. It’s got a lot of grip right now” added Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet. “But the thing I was probably most impressed with wasn’t necessarily the track, but Goodyear brought a tire that is stable right off the bat. That’s something we normally fight when we go to a track that’s been repaved. It has a lot of grip, but you also get a lot of instability and I think the tire they’ve brought here has made everybody pretty comfortable right off the bat.”
So we have a combination of high speed, new tires, and a new surface heading into today’s race, which pretty much levels the playing between the usual success stories at Pocono (like Denny Hamlin) and everyone else. And next weekend we head to yet another track with a fresh coat of asphalt on it, Michigan -- the first time that two tracks with new surfaces have been run back to back in a very long time (if ever). It could be shaping up to be an interesting couple of weeks if what we have already seen here in Pocono is any example.
By the way, a friendly reminder that coverage of today’s Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR begins at noon ET on TNT. TNT will be covering the next six races before passing the TV baton to ESPN and ABC at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis next month.
Follow Kim on Twitter: @ksrgatorfn
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.