Thursday, April 26, 2012

Drivers praise newly repaved Pocono Raceway

Aric Almirola tests the new Pocono Raceway surface in the No. 43 for Richard
Petty Motorsports. Credit: Karel Zubris/Skirts and Scuffs
The reviews are in: drivers are raving about Pocono Raceway’s new asphalt.

That includes Jamie McMurray, who admitted the 2.5-mile tri-oval was his least favorite track on the Sprint Cup schedule.

“I’m looking forward to the race. I hated this place,” McMurray said Wednesday after running laps on the repaved surface.

“After the few laps today with the speed and grip that it has, from my perspective, other than maybe Denny Hamlin who ran really well here every time, I think most guys will like this a lot more.”

McMurray joined a group of NASCAR drivers who participated in Goodyear’s two-day tire test Tuesday and Wednesday at the Long Pond, Pa., racetrack. Goodyear rolled out different tire combinations to find the right one for the track's June 10 Sprint Cup race.

Also logging laps were Sprint Cup drivers Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Joey Logano, and Camping World Truck Series driver Matt Crafton and reigning series champion Austin Dillon, who was testing the truck for his brother, Ty.

Pocono Raceway was last repaved in 1995. Since then, the triangular track had become notably bumpy and its grip had worn away.

Not anymore.

Allmendinger was the first driver on Pocono’s new surface Tuesday, after rain and flurries pushed back the start of the test to the afternoon.

“I was really surprised about how much grip level was on the racetrack from when we started,” Allmendinger said.

McMurray explained that because the track has more grip, he had to completely change his mindset about braking at Pocono.
Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray speak to the media after testing
the new track surface, both giving glowing reviews.
Credit: Karel Zubris/Skirts and Scuffs
“When you first go out on the track you’ve come to for some many years, you have marks picked out on the wall on where you brake and you kind of know when you get back to the gas. It’s really hard to make your brain, our foot, and butt want to drive in deeper and get back to the gas quicker and know the car will stick. It took me 10 laps to just kind of convince myself that you don’t have to brake at the same points you have for the past 10 years of racing here,” McMurray said.

The Long Pond superspeedway is one of several racetracks to be repaved recently, along with Phoenix and Michigan. The repaving process for Kansas started immediately after last week’s race, and yesterday it was announced Bristol would undergo modifications to its surface.

While drivers have been outspoken about the bevy of track changes, McMurray and Kahne agreed Pocono was long overdue for a resurfacing.

“This (place) was ridiculous with the amount of bumps and the waviness the way the track used to be. This was the track that was most overdue to be repaved,” McMurray said.

“It’s not the same Pocono. It’s so much different than what we had. Not just because of the bumps, but because there is not as much tire falloff,” he said.

Kahne said, “I think Pocono did a nice job repaving. They had to.”

Kahne, who has one win at Pocono, said although the track’s rough surface has been smoothed over, it still has the same transitions and characteristics that make Pocono unique.

“The track still feels the same, but there’s a lot more grip,” Kahne said.

With the track newly paved, drivers described running a narrow groove. But they expected that as the track rubbers up, the groove will widen and drivers will be able to search around more on the track.

“It’s definitely one groove right now, but I’m sure, as you get more racecars on the track, they’ll be running side-by-side, and it’ll be interesting to see,” said Crafton, who will be back at the track in August for its third annual Truck Series race. “Right now, everyone is running the bottom lane, which is the fastest.”

Kahne said, “The biggest thing is figuring out a tire with Goodyear. Now that Goodyear has given us a tire that we’ll be able to race on, we’ll be able to put rubber on the track and move around a little when we come back.”
Joey Logano and Austin Dillon answer questions
from the media. Credit: Karel Zubris/Skirts and Scuffs

Kahne set the track’s qualifying record - 172.533 mph, 52.164 seconds – in 2004. With the new surface, he predicts the track record will be broken when the Sprint Cup Series returns to Pocono in June. Kahne said he already topped the record with a lap time of 51.50 seconds Wednesday.

He wasn’t the only one.

“We shattered it already! When we get into qualifying, it is going to be stupid (fast),” said Logano, who won the pole last August. “The speeds are going to be up when as this place rubbers and it’ll just keep getting quicker.” 

Because of the repave, two additional days of Sprint Cup testing at Pocono have been scheduled for June 6 and 7. The extra time is being tacked onto the June 8-10 race weekend.

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