New surface has them flying
bob ford/times news Jimmy Johnson talks with a member of his pit crew during Friday's practice session at Pocono International Raceway.
This Sunday's Pocono 400 is blanketed with numerous story lines, but the subject that everyone still seems to be talking about is the newly repaved surface and what affect it will have on the race.
One thing that has already become evident from the new track surface is that the speeds will be much higher than in the past.
In Thursday's practice session Kasey Kahne, who was the previous track record holder with a speed of 172.533 mph back in the 2004 Pocono 500 qualifying session, shattered that mark with a speed of 179.490 mph. The slowest speed of the day was still better than Kahne's 2004 record, which came from Dave Blaney, who ran a time of 173.621 mph.
The speeds will be faster and a popular topic is what it will be like heading into turn one with the newly acquired grip of the racetrack.
"You're sailing it off in there at a pretty good clip," said Sprint Cup driver Clint Bowyer. "Turn one has some banking to it and within that the car takes some load and feels pressure. For me the concern is turn three, it's flat and you're carrying a lot of speed over there and the car can really step out from underneath you and there's no banking to hold you if it ever did slip."
Restarts will be a key come Sunday with the uknown factor of how wide the racing groove will actually be by the time the Pocono 400 rolls around, making turn one just as vital.
"I think it's a question of how much the groove widens out," said Sprint Cup driver Aric Almirola. "It's kind-of hard to tell right now with the way the tires feel when you go out there on brand new tires. A lot of cars are going to be moving around because the cars just feel like they're on top of the racetrack. When you put new tires on it feels a little bit hard. I think that's really where the challenge is going to come from."
With the repave some drivers who have used reference points on the track in the past may be at a disadvantage. Drivers like Carl Edwards, who needed to acclimate himself to the track during Friday's practice session.
"The track looks completely different," said Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards. "It took me a minute just to get used to the different visual cues and braking points and the transitions in the corner and stuff, but it looks great. It drives really well and it's fast."
Five-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson expressed that the son expressed that the repave really doesn't affect the way he drives at Pocono.
"I'm not the one that uses visual references we're on a road course," said Johnson. "I have a lot of young drivers that we work with and it always amazes me what they notice and see from from a fence pole, to a cone hanging from a fence, or some other reference outside of the racing surface. I've never been one to look at those things."
There has been nothing but positive feedback with the Pocono repave, but a a concern of some people around the sport is that there might not be a wide enough groove in time for Sunday. A narrow groove creates single file racing, which create a very boring race for fans.
"It's going to be hard to bump people out of the way because we're going so fast," said Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I think one of the ways you'll see the most passing is on a restart when somebody gets underneath somebody in turns one and two and the guy on the outside is able to race him through that corner and they sort of get bottled-up and slow off turn two, you're going to see a lot of guys taking advantage of people and making it three- wide, maybe four-wide heading into the tunnel turn."
Hopefully Jr.'s prediction is correct and the fans get to see side-by-side racing like they've never seen before at Pocono. The speeds are faster, the grip is better, and the stage is set for Sunday's Pocono 400. Pocono Raceway has done the necessary things to enhance the quality of entertainment and only time will tell if it will pay off.