This weekend, the Camping World Truck Series rolls into the hills of Pennsylvania for the series debut at Pocono Raceway. As one of the few family-owned tracks left in NASCAR, the “Tricky Triangle” features three turns, each with a different degree of banking. Add in a special qualifying session (more on that below) and the Pocono Mountains 125 is sure to deliver excitement for everyone this weekend.
The preliminary entry list started out with only 35 trucks, but has grown throughout the week to 38. Included on that entry list are Sprint Cup Series regulars Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler, along with debuting drivers Chase Mattioli and Jerick Johnson.
Kahne hasn’t made a start in the series since 2004, but he holds a perfect record in the Truck Series. With just two starts to his name, both with the now-defunct Ultra Motorsports, the 30-year-old driver visited victory lane at Darlington and Homestead-Miami. He looks to make it three for three this weekend behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. In 13 starts at Pocono in the Cup Series, Kahne has one win and five top-10 finishes.
Sadler returns to pilot the No. 2 Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Incorporated for the fifth time this season. He has two top-10 finishes in four starts, including his most recent finish of ninth at Michigan International Speedway in June. Sadler has 23 Cup Series starts at the 2.5-mile tri-oval with just two top-10 finishes.
Joining Kahne and Sadler is Hamlin. He has a handful of starts with Billy Ballew Motorsports over the past three years and will make his first start of 2010 behind the wheel of the No. 15 Digital Qpons Toyota. Hamlin’s Pocono stats blow Sadler and Kahne out of the water with four wins, including the last two races, and seven top-10 finishes in just nine starts at the track. The 29-year-old is definitely one to watch coming into this weekend.
That brings us to the first of two debuting drivers this weekend – Mattioli. The 20-year-old is the son of Pocono Raceway owners Joe and Rose Mattioli and has been working at the track since the age of seven, doing things like picking up garbage, cleaning the bathrooms and painting buildings around the track property. As someone who has grown up around the unique track, the Long Pond, Pa. native looks forward to this weekend.
“It’s a dream come true to have the opportunity to make my debut in Pocono’s inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race as a member of Stacy Compton’s Turn One Racing Team,” Mattioli said. “This weekend is going to be a great learning experience for me, and I plan to use this opportunity to learn as much as I can from the veterans like Stacy [Compton], all while running a smart, clean race.”
“I am not old enough to go to our casinos yet, so I will do my betting on the track.”
The young Mattioli first cut his racing teeth at the Lehigh Valley Quarter Midget Track located just inside Pocono’s turn 3. He’s also raced in the Sports Car Club of America, the KONI Grand AM Challenge Series and currently competes full-time in the ARCA Racing Series. In eight starts this season, he holds a best finish of 12th at Toledo in May.
Along with Mattioli, Johnson will make his Truck Series debut behind the wheel of the No. 00 KOMA UNWIND Chillaxation Drink Chevrolet for Daisy Ramirez Motorsports. He has two track championships (2001 and 2002) at Mizzou Speedway and drove as the stunt driver for Dare to Dream, The Alan Kulwicki Story in 2004. Johnson has seven Nationwide Series started from 2006-2008 but only completed 163 laps of a total 1,458 possible. Most recently, he was crowned the 2009 ASA Late Model Challenge Series rookie of the year, finishing ninth in the overall points standings for the season.
Aside from the Truck Series race, Johnson is also scheduled to run the Weis Markets 125 ARCA race following the conclusion of the truck race in his No. 76 American Legion/David Law First Chevrolet. In eight ARCA starts this season, the 30-year-old has just one top-10 finish, a ninth at Toledo in May.
I’m having a hard time pinpointing what one thing I’m looking forward to most this weekend. Instead, it’s more of a combination of things we’ll get to enjoy in stages. When the 2010 Truck Series schedule first came out late last season, I was pleased to see Fontana removed (sorry Cali fans!) and replaced with Pocono.
Any time there’s a race at a new speedway, there are certain expectations coming into the weekend. I’m hoping Pocono gets their money’s worth when it comes to hosting a Truck Series/Cup Series companion weekend in the form of decent attendance Saturday afternoon. But first on my mind will be the special qualifying session being held Saturday morning.
For the first time ever on an oval track, qualifying will see multiple trucks on the track at the same time. Using practice times from Friday, the field will be inverted to set the qualifying order, sending the slowest trucks out on the track first. Drivers will be released from pit road in 25-second increments, leading to multiple trucks on the track at one time.
Truck Series director Wayne Auton explained what led to the decision to allow multiple trucks on the track at one time when the news broke last week.
“The distance and uniqueness of Pocono afforded us the opportunity to implement this style of qualifying for this event,” Auton said. “SPEED is excited about the format and we believe the fans, drivers and viewing audience will embrace it too.”
Should rain wash out the practice session, a draw will be held to determine qualifying order, and as usual, a wash out of qualifying will see the field set by owner’s points. At press time, a check of the weather forecast for this weekend shows sunny skies and temps in the mid-70s for both Friday and Saturday, so rain should not be an issue.
Once qualifying is over, there will be little wait before the drivers take the track in what is sure to be an exciting day full of racing. No matter what your expectations are coming into the Truck Series debut at Pocono, I’m sure we can all agree with Aric Almirola‘s statements leading up to this race.
“This is going to be a special race for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Winning it would be a chance to really achieve something special.” Almirola continued, “Only one driver is going to be able to say they won the first-ever truck race at Pocono, so there’s going to be a lot on the line. It would be a unique honor in a series and at a track with such a rich history.”
That being said, if you happen to be in the area, it might be worth heading out to the track on Saturday, especially with tickets for only $25 at the gate, with children under 12 admitted free with a paid adult ticket. If it weren’t a nearly 1,500-mile trip, I can guarantee my husband and I would be planted in the stands for this inaugural race.
“From everything I’ve seen, Pocono is definitely a driver’s track. Each turn is unique and has to be treated differently. There’s no way to set up a truck to be perfect through all the turns, so the driver has to make up the difference. It seems like it’s going to be a really fast track, too. That has all the elements for a great race.” – Jennifer Jo Cobb
“I’m really excited to go to Pocono, and I’m fortunate that I’ve had so much experience at the track. You have to be really good exiting the corners so you can be good from a momentum standpoint down the straightaways. This is going to be a pretty short race, being only 50 laps, so it could get interesting.” – Elliott Sadler
“Pocono is very demanding on every aspect of the team. It’s a short race so you don’t have a lot of time to be patient or wait; you’re going to need to get to the front as fast as you can. even though things can spread out a little at a place like Pocono, I think the short race will have everyone racing really hard and you’ll see some action that you might not see in a Cup race.” – Johnny Sauter
“I remember when I started in the Truck Series in 1995; NASCAR had a 10-year plan of where they wanted to be. The series out grew that plan in the first year, and now we are going to the bigger tracks that the Cup Series has been racing on for years. I think adding Pocono is great for the series, and by making it a 50-lap race you are sure to see a lot of action. I know that going down into turn 1 you better have a good spot because we will probably be four- or five-wide.” – Ron Hornaday Jr.
“Pocono is going to be interesting. I don’t think anyone knows what to expect yet. We just don’t know what to prepare for. We have an idea based on our intermediate-track races what setup package we’re going to use, but until we get there and unload our Graceway Zyclara Tundra, we just don’t know what we’re in store for.” – Aric Almirola
“We are thrilled to have the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series coming to Pocono Raceway for the inaugural Pocono Mountains 125. Recently, Pocono Raceway has been the host to many first, and with the new qualifying format being introduced and the always exciting double-file restarts, the Truck Series’ first trip to Pocono is sure to be a memorable one.” – Brandon Igdalsky, President, Pocono Raceway