This weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway will be a fast one, if two days of testing on the 2.5-mile tri-oval's new pavement is any indication.
Drivers had the opportunity to evaluate the repaving job on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the start of practice later today. To Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, the test was a success.
“It’s been really smooth,” Pemberton said. ”All in all it’s been really positive in the garage area. [The track is] definitely faster but with the amount of grip that’s here, you’ll see the grooves widen out. With the 400 mile race and the outstanding job Goodyear did with these tires, I think we’re in for an exceptional weekend.”
Kasey Kahne set the standard for lap times on Thursday afternoon at 179.490-mph around the 2.5-mile Pocono track, moving AJ Allmendinger back to second with his morning speed of 177.190 mph, both of them well ahead of the top lap turned by Mark Martin on Wednesday--175.380 mph. The three drivers in question drive Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota Sprint Cup cars, respectively.
The first Pocono race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been shortened from 500 to 400 miles and the drivers believe it will make the event more exciting.
"The race track is very fun in the sense of how they graded it and smoothed it out in different places," said Denny Hamlin, who has won four times on this track. "It's still Pocono, but it drives very different than it used to. You're going to see massive dive bombs going into the corner (as drivers are) trying to get position. My estimation is you're going to see a lot of excitement. Anyone who takes time trials on Friday is going to break the track record [set by Kahne in June of 2004 at 172.533 mph]. All the cars should break the track record easily. Really, you drive it totally different than what you used to."
There was a Goodyear tire test in April on the Pocono surface, but far fewer cars participated than the 36 testing Wednesday and 41 on Thursday. "When we were here at the tire test, there was only seven of us, it was really cold and not a lot of rubber was getting put down on the race track," Allmendinger explained after the sunny warm test days were completed. "With  cars out there, there's a lot of rubber. More than anything, you're just learning how the track changes and what your car does with that rubber on the race track."
"It feels like a new race track to me," added Carl Edwards, a two-time Pocono winner. "Took me a minute to get used to just the different visual cues, 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 rally aggressive on the brakes," he confirmed. "It's a new day."
When practice starts later today, it could present opportunities for drivers with somewhat rocky Pocono results, but this version is likely just going to be a little bit different than the previous Tricky Triangle.