LONG POND — The Tricky Triangle — aka Pocono Raceway — might not be as tricky in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup 400.
Then again, the uniquely shaped track could hold some surprises in its infamous tunnel turn.
The tunnel turn, the second of three corners on the 2.5-mile speedway, was reconfigured slightly from last season. Gone is the inside curbing that had a habit of jolting cars into traffic if a driver drove into the corner too low. It’s been replaced by a 15-foot apron that allows more forgiveness and, perhaps, more passing.
“I think it’s a great change,” said Brad Keselowski, who will start third in the No.2 Ford, “because you have cars that get pushed down. When they get pushed down now you have somewhere to go.
“That corner before was kind of a race killer. If you hit it, you kind of damaged the splitter. The front splitter on these cars dictates a lot of the car’s performance. It could really end your day and it’s not necessarily your fault. So I think it’s a good thing.”
Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray were among several Cup drivers who tested at Pocono on May 27. Both gave their approval to the change. Bowyer also wondered back then if any driver would use the new space to pass. He wasn’t alone after practice and qualifying Friday and Saturday.
“I’m sure somebody is going to try it,” Keselowski said. “Clean air in these cars is so important. When we all go into turn two and are all stacked up I’m sure someone is going to use it and try to find clean air. We’ll be all watching how they get through there and how they make it. It looks really rough down there and I’m not so confident (the cars) stick there. But I’m sure someone will try it.”
Pole winner Denny Hamlin believes someone will as well. He didn’t say whether he will be among them.
“I have a handful of guys who would have an idea to try to do that, try to cut the race track,” Hamlin said. “It’s not going to be good for them. It’s a cool idea, but the new asphalt is like two inches higher than the old asphalt. It’s not a smooth transition, so you’re literally going to tear your whole front end off the car when you try to cut that corner.
“But somebody is going to get forced probably down there at some point.”
Both drivers were asked if turn two could be cut like the corners at Phoenix International Raceway, which like Pocono is a relatively flat track. They nixed the idea.
“You can’t use it like Phoenix because at Phoenix you’re running 120 mph,” Hamlin said. “Here I think you’re 190 going into that corner. And the new asphalt is two inches higher. Physics ain’t going to let that happen. It’s a cool thought, but it’s just not going to be usable.”
Taking a big risk isn’t the main way to win at Pocono. The key has been starting up front as the pole winner had won a Pocon0-high 15 times in 72 races there. The winner has started in the top 10 on 50 occasions.
That trend, though, has changed somewhat in recent years. Four of the last seven Pocono winners have started outside the top 10, including Kasey Kahne (18th) in August 2013 and Jeff Gordon (27th) in August 2012.
“Track position is critical,” Keselowski said, “but I think it’s important to note that qualifying really only sets track position for the start of the race. From there, it’s who can have the best restarts, where’s an opportunity where track position can be manipulated and so forth. And who can do the best on pit road with that strategy and pit stops themselves.”
Kevin Harvick jumped to the top of the speed chart in the final practice on Saturday with a speed of 175.606 mph. Hamlin, the pole winner, was 10th.
Jimmie Johnson struggled in qualifying and will start today 20th. However, he picked up things in practice and was fourth fastest. Kurt Busch, who was arguably the most consistent driver this weekend, was second in practice.