News & Media

Qualifying, race setups not equal for Pocono

June 09, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service,

LONG POND, Pa. -- At no other race track are qualifying and race setups more radically different than they are at Pocono Raceway.

Why? Because the 2.5-mile triangular track has three vastly different corners. For qualifying, crew chiefs have to reach a compromise that works for all three turns, but in race trim, it's advantageous to nail Turn 3 at the expense of the others.

"You have to be fast through all the turns. If you give up half a second in one of them, you're not going to gain it back in the other two. "


"Getting ready to qualify, you can't give up any [of the corners]," Martin Truex Jr. said. "You have to be fast through all the turns. If you give up half a second in one of them, you're not going to gain it back in the other two. You really have to do a good job compromising. . . .

"In the race, I still feel like getting off Turn 3 is probably the most important. That's the corner that leads onto the longest straightaway, where you can do the most passing -- or lose the most spots by getting passed. So that's probably the most important for the race. But to be fast for [qualifying], you have to be fast in all three."

In Saturday's qualifying lap, Truex lost momentum off Turn 1 and will start 23rd in the Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR.

Tire misnomers

Drivers routinely refer to tires as "hard" and "soft," -- hard tires supposedly being the norm for a newly repaved race track such as Pocono.

In reality, that's an oversimplification, because when Goodyear chooses a tire for a resurfaced race track, the primary concern is heat tolerance, not a "hardness" factor. Simply, on a smooth, repaved track, tires retain heat because they don't wear, and because speeds don't fall off significantly.

Rick Campbell, Goodyear's project director of tire development for NASCAR racing, explained the distinction.

"There's very little wear, and one of our most efficient ways of dissipating heat is through wear," Campbell said. "Repaves are not abrasive, so we don't get much wear. So we have to make sure we have enough heat resistance built into the tire to be able to tolerate a very low wear rate.

"Obviously, grip is a consideration, but heat resistance and the ability to run under those conditions is first and foremost."

Accordingly, Goodyear made both construction and compound changes to the tires selected for Pocono after an April test on the new surface. The right-side tires Cup drivers are running this weekend are the same used successfully on new pavement at Phoenix International Raceway in February.

"The other thing that repaves present that's different from most tracks is that there's very little fall-off in grip over a fuel run," Campbell said. "So lap times and the doom cycle a tire has to deal with are constant. There's no relief over a fuel run. They're not slowing down."

What that means for Sunday's race is that drivers are likely to pit just inside their fuel windows for the final run -- or gamble and pit just outside the window -- and remain on the track for the balance of the race.

With so little fall-off in the tires, sacrificing track position for new rubber typically won't be a smart move.

In fact, it's a gas

Higher speeds at Pocono will increase fuel consumption in Sunday's race and shorten the pit intervals for most teams. So don't be surprised to see the first stop come much earlier than usual (probably well before the 30-lap mark), given that crew chiefs will be inclined to play it safe.

"The track is fast, incredibly fast, approaching 12 miles per hour faster than it was last year," said Howard Comstock of SRT Motorsports Engineering, which supports the Penske Racing Dodge teams of Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger. "That's a big deal, and it makes a big difference. . . .

"We all know that this is a very important place for fuel economy. You can't risk running out on the backstretch on a flat track, or you'll never get back to the pits. So the speed is great, but how bad does that hurt fuel economy? We're in the throttle so long around the track now that it's using fuel to get the kind of speeds that we're seeing."

Accordingly, crew chiefs and race engineers will have to be particularly vigilant in keeping track of fuel mileage.

"I think teams are going to have to be very careful about fuel economy," Comstock said. "They're going to have to be conservative for at least the first stop, and I think they're going to have to watch it all day."

There will also be intense pressure on the fuelers to make sure the cell is filled.