NASCAR Sprint Cup Teams Take On “Tricky” Pocono from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman
There’s something about Pocono that I’ve never really understood. I guess it’s the way it is interpreted by many and the fact I interpret it differently. When people talk about other racetracks – other than a road course – they usually are looking at two straight-aways and four corners and they call them by the names front straight – turns one and two – the back straight and turns three and four. When it comes to Pocono, there are three straights and you would think that would mean six turns but it doesn’t. It seems everyone prefers to use the terms turn one, turn two and turn three and it is even supported by a statement on the wall in what is considered turn three – “what turn four.” From this fan’s view that is just one of the things about Pocono that makes it “Tricky.” In fact, you will often hear people refer to the turns as corners. I don’t know about you but that has always been a question for me as a former racer and, presently, avid NASCAR fan.

There are other reasons they call this track “The Tricky Triangle.” Just one of them is that there are three distinct corners and all of them have their own personality. To perform well on race day at this track the drivers have to compromise. If they want to be comfortable in all three turns it is likely they won’t be sitting comfortably in Victory Lane when it is over. The driver that has a fast race car and is most comfortable with the three different turns and the compromises made for the differences between them will most likely be the one, or at least one of the ones, contending for the checkered flag when it drops.

From this fan’s view, the driver’s ability to not be too picky about how each turns handles and concentrate on the strengths the compromises give in the overall performance of a lap is going to be a plus when it comes down to crunch time at the end of the day. It isn’t uncommon for a driver to complain a lot about how bad his car is in one turn over the others and it is not uncommon to hear the crew chief come back with a, “You’re faster than all the others so don’t sweat it.” In other words, he is likely saying in a nicer way, “Just shut up… Suck it up and drive.”

Another reason Pocono is called “tricky” is because they have to shift to get through all the turns and that extra long front straight if they want maximum performance in their lap times. Shifting isn’t new to them but, other than being on a road course, they don’t do it very often. Of course we all know they have to go through the gears when they have pit stops, starts and restarts but generally speaking it is not something they do throughout a race on a regular weekend on an oval track as opposed to one “Tricky Triangle.”

Once again this weekend the weather has had an influence on the competition for the Axalta, “We Paint Winners 400” race at Pocono. Even though a few did get in a few short laps during the first practice, it was cut short because of rain and even the qualifying looked a bit “iffy” for a while. They did manage to get it in and, not too surprisingly (at least to this fan), the Penske Fords ended up on the front row to start Sunday afternoon’s race. It looked like Joey Logano was going to be the pole-sitter right up until the last minute or so and that’s when his teammate, Brad Keselowski, outran Logano’s time and put himself on the pole. It kind of reminded of the way the Penske teams showed their muscle last season and did the same thing several times.

I don’t put much stock in the qualifying times for this weekend in particular. Because of the weather delays I much prefer to look at the performance during the final practice on Saturday. Even though it may not mean much to the way the race ends up, from this fan’s view, the Saturday practice is probably a much better representation of how the Cup teams will perform during the race. I’m not saying the Penske Fords won’t be at or near the front when the race is done but I am also not saying they will be out front either. Even though Logano had a good qualifying time last weekend, it didn’t help him get ahead of Martin Truex, Jr. as Truex Jr. dominated the entire race. Winning last weekend didn’t help Truex all that much this weekend either and he qualified seventeenth. A quick look at the practice time for Saturday show’s Truex Jr. fourth fastest while the Penske cars ran seventh and eighth.

I have to admit I am anxious to see how the Hendrick Chevys perform this weekend. Lately, they just haven’t looked like the Hendrick teams of past years. I wish we could blame it on Jeff Gordon’s retirement but we all know that has had nothing to do with it. They were struggling at the end of last year, too, and although they are looking better they haven’t shown that much muscle so far when it comes down to where they finish. I expect that to change before we reach the Chase but know it won’t come too soon for them when it does.

I’ve been trying not to make predictions of which of the drivers will win this season but I do have my opinion of those to watch. This one is not easy to call for this fan but I can tell you the ones I definitely don’t want to see win. Once again, (and I think I’m becoming quite predictable at this), I would really rather not see Joey Logano or Denny Hamlin doing the Victory Lane thing. It’s funny that I don’t care if others end up there multiple times but for those two I just don’t relish the thought. It would be interesting to see Kyle Larson, Chase Elliot or some of the other often mentioned but non-winners for this year end the day in Victory Lane; anybody but those two I just mentioned. Shucks, I don’t even have a good reason for not wanting them to win… I just don’t want them to.

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 4, 2016 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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