The Frontstretch: Race Trax: Pocono 500 by Amy Henderson -- Thursday June 8, 2006

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Race Trax: Pocono 500

Amy Henderson · Thursday June 8, 2006

 

On Track
The Pocono 500 is the fourteenth race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Schedule. The Cup Series will visit the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway twice in 2006; they’ll return in late July. Pocono has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 1974, with Richard Petty the first driver to win in Cup competition at the track. The track is triangular in shape, with three completely different corners, banking ranging from six to fourteen degrees, and the longest straightaway in NASCAR. Drivers will race 200 laps for the checkered flag. The entry list includes 2005 polesitter Michael Waltrip and 2005 race winner Carl Edwards.

48 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Pocono is 172.533 mph, set by Kasey Kahne in 2004.

The Nextel Cup Series points race is shaping up for 2006. Jimmie Johnson’s drive from 42nd to sixth at Dover last week saw him lose only 35 points to the race winner, second place Matt Kenseth, and Johnson retains a 74-point lead this week. Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Tony Stewart round out the top five. At this point in the season, ten drivers are currently eligible for the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Kyle Busch currently holds onto tenth spot by 80 over eleventh-place Denny Hamlin.

What To Expect
Pocono is a funny animal. Half road course and half oval, it’s all about setup – and it’s nearly impossible to get a race car perfect through all three unique corners. Teams will usually try to set up for turns two and three, two of the toughest corners anywhere on the Cup circuit.

There certainly can be long green flag runs at Pocono, so watch for teams to employ a pit strategy similar to the one they’ll use on road courses. Instead of hoping that the yellow doesn’t fly after a pit stop, teams hope that it does, because pitting under green at Pocono will not leave most teams a lap behind the leaders. Also, tires have been an issue in the past here. As with most any track, when a tire goes down in the wrong place, the resulting crash is very hard – but unlike at Dover last week, the track’s lack of banking should keep most incidents from becoming multi-car melees. 500 miles here is also usually the cause of several engine failures.

Who to Watch
Although struggling in points right now, Kurt Busch had two second place starts and a win at Pocono last year – and the car he beat was the car he’s now driving, so look for that team to make a run at a rebound. Carl Edwards won the June race in 2005 and should be a factor again this time around – as should all of his Roush Racing teammates, the flat track specialists. Roush driver Mark Martin leads all drivers at Pocono with 19 Top 5 and 27 Top 10 finishes. In fact, Martin’s last three Pocono runs have been Top 10s, the longest streak of any driver.

Also, look for Brian Vickers to be up front – Vickers has never started a race lower than eighth in his four starts at Pocono. His teammate, point leader Jimmie Johnson, has never finished lower than fifteenth at the track, and has two wins, both in 2004.

Did You Know:

  • That there were once 56 official lead changes in a 500-mile Cup race at Pocono? It happened in 1979. Cale Yarborough was the eventual winner.

  • That Pocono boasts the largest continuous restroom of any NASCAR track?
  • That Rick Hendrick leads active car owners with ten wins at Pocono? Hendrick’s very first Pocono victories came in 1986, when Tim Richmond completed a summer sweep.

You Don’t Say"¦
"You spend approximately two-thirds of your lap at Dover in the corners, where at Pocono you spend about 70 percent of your time on the straightaways. It’s got a lot of straightaways and three very short corners, so turning the wheel doesn’t take long.” driver Tony Stewart on why he should have an easier time going the distance at Pocono

"It’s way different. You just have to look at the track to know it’s something a little out of the ordinary for us. Turn One isn’t banked enough and it’s pretty tough. It’s a really flat turn and you head in there with a ton of speed. The Tunnel Turn is next and that’s tough too. It was tough without the bumps there, but now you have to work around that. The Tunnel Turn is almost like a little "˜kink’ before you get into the flat Turn Three. It’s a tough track to apply it all together. It’s a fast track and you’re really ‘haulin the mail’ going into Turn One. Then, you’ve got to brake hard because it’s so flat. The track just has its own characteristics to it. It’s a fun, but a real dynamic track." driver Bobby Labonte on Pocono

"I’ll have to lean on my teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick a lot. My crew chief Gil Martin has a ton of experience at Pocono too, so there’s definitely some cushion there for me. I need to use their knowledge to my advantage. I’ll probably take a rental car and ride around the track to try and get a feel for the place before practice starts." rookie driver Clint Bowyer on learning Pocono

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