The Frontstretch: Martin Leads Friday Practice At Pocono - Pavement Praised By Drivers by Thomas Bowles -- Friday June 8, 2012

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The more things change, the more they stay the same. Two days after leading the first all-day test at Pocono Raceway, Mark Martin and the No. 55 Toyota continued to put up impressive numbers on the charts Friday afternoon during Cup practice. Posting a fast time of 50.173 seconds, or 179.379 miles an hour he paced the field as all 44 cars entered for the Cup Series race took at least one lap around the 2.5-mile, triangular-shaped track.

How much have the speeds picked up? Martin’s best lap on the first day of testing was nearly 1.2 seconds slower, a time of 51.317 seconds and 175.380 miles an hour. Clearly, teams and drivers are “finding their groove” although the problem for all teams involved remains the same: a one-groove racetrack. Overall, though reaction from both drivers and crew chiefs remains positive that Pocono not only made the right changes, they produced an A+ paving job compared to recent renovations at other tracks.

“A groove hasn’t opened up a lot yet,” admitted Jimmie Johnson Friday morning. “I hope that it does. It usually takes us a little while to find a second or third lane, but I have to comment on the comfort of the cars around here at these higher speeds. Charlotte, Phoenix, we go to some of these places with the new asphalt aggregate and we can’t get a tire to stick to it. [At Pocono], I don’t think it could have gone much better.”

Jamie McMurray, second-fastest in Friday practice has been a bit of a surprise; he’s never finished better than ninth in eighteen career Pocono starts. However, a feel-good feeling from April appears to have carried over as participation in a Goodyear tire test on the new asphalt appears to have left him with a bit of an edge.

“I’m looking forward to the race,” he said, driving for an Earnhardt Ganassi outfit that has yet to score a top-5 finish all season. “I [used to hate] this place. It was my least favorite track to come to. I don’t know why, I just never really cared for Pocono.”

A few drivers still have that feeling; Tony Stewart, who was eighth in first practice said curtly: “We’ll all be a lot happier” when asked when shortening the race distance from 500 to 400 miles will affect the competition. But for the most part, the buzz in the garage Friday has teams happy not only with the asphalt but Goodyear’s effort in making sure the first race after the repave would result in a strong, solid compound they could rely on.

“The tire is so good,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “You don’t need to come for tires. You’ve just got to get the thing full of fuel somewhere close to making the rest of the race.”

Jimmie Johnson was fourth in the first Friday practice, followed by AJ Allmendinger, who also participated in April’s tire test here. Among those drivers struggling were Carl Edwards (24th), Joey Logano (27th), and Jeff Burton (32nd), who ran slower than five teams expected to start-and-park. Logano was the only car to run ten consecutive laps, posting an average speed of 174.172 miles an hour in race trim. That’s still faster than the track qualifying record (172.055 MPH) despite his struggles.

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