As NASCAR teams take on the Tricky Triangle at Pocono, time is running out for those that hope to make the Chase for 2010. It is almost too late for some and for others… well… it’s all about trying to make it into thirteenth place by the end of the season. The countdown to the Chase is now six races and counting.
No matter what you’ve heard and no matter what driver you listen to, Pocono in the heat of summer is one of the toughest tracks NASCAR teams face. If you pay attention to how the conversations go during practice (and of course those constant interviews) you will hardly find a driver that is consistently happy with his car all the way around the track. This is a track where the driver has to sacrifice feel in one or more of the corners for consistently fast lap times. Some will say they like the way their cars handle and some won’t; (almost all of them say they don’t at some point during the weekend) and the one that can run the fastest consistently throughout a fuel and tire run will be out front on Sunday.
So, why is Pocono such a difficult track? Well, if you’re new to NASCAR, the three completely different turns is a good place to start. Another would be the age of the surface and the rough spots at different areas in the turns. Then you have to look at that front straight and the speed of entry into turn one (near 200 mph) and, of course, it’s hot.
In this fan’s unofficial, not-driving-in-the-race opinion, it is absolutely important to be fast coming out of three to set up for a good entry at the end of that long front straightaway into turn one. It will also help to be fast there if it is a trophy dash between two or more cars to the checkered flag at the end of the race.
So why is this race so important for those hoping to make the Chase? Because next week is Watkins Glen – a road course – and road courses are a place where several drivers just don’t perform well. With the way the points stand going into Pocono, those that are close to breaking into the top twelve need to finish as close to the front as they possibly can. (Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if those they are trying to get ahead of would finish near the back, too.) At least doing well at Pocono would help them stay close if they do have a bad race at Watkins Glen next week.
Pocono is a track that you need to qualify near the front if for no other reason than getting a good pit stall and then the qualifying times go out the window and we get back to normal – who can run the most laps faster than the rest.
It helps to have a good pit stall to help with the all important track position. However, there is one other thing a team will need to finish at, or near, the front and that is good fuel mileage. That’s because there is a good possibility this could become a fuel mileage race if we have those long green flag runs, especially near the end. Unfortunately, this is also a track that has a history of having cautions near the end of the race so the teams will have to be ready to make good calls for a short run near the end. If there is a caution near the end and no one has a strong speed advantage over the rest, look out! The possibility of the double file restart and the extra laps of up to three green-white-checkered finishes could be complete game changers.
When it comes to choosing the winner, I am really torn this week. Maybe that’s because there are those I would like to see win and those I hope don’t win. I won’t mention any names, but, rest assured, I do have favorites.
Once again, the Chevys are looking mighty strong. It doesn’t matter if you look at the Hendrick, Childress, or Earnhardt/Ganassi Chevys, they all looked fast in qualifying and practice. I’m not making this judgment based on fastest speed alone but on overall fast longer runs. That’s the group I think the winner will surface from, (unless we have a couple of restarts near the end…then, it’s anybody’s guess.)
There is always the possibility the winner could come from the Joe Gibb’s camp. Denny Hamlin has proven to be fast almost every time he has raced at Pocono. Kyle Bush usually shows up near the front at the end of a race, so, I guess I can’t count him out either.
When all is said and done I really think it will be a Chevy in victory lane. I wouldn’t put it past this being the place where Juan Pablo Montoya scores his first NASCAR victory on an oval track (if you can call this and oval track) and Jamie McMurray… well… he’s just gotta be considered, too.
Unless something really strange and unexpected happens, my choices come down to about three drivers. That would be Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton or Jeff Gordon, but I do have to throw in a long shot and say Mark Martin could win his first ever Pocono race. I mean, just how many times can you finish second without winning at least one?
See ya next time… Rusty
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 31, 2010 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com
(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com