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Race Day: Shifty Characters On Track At Pocono

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 12 2011

Kurt Busch wrecked his car on Friday but won the pole for today's race at Pocono Raceway on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Add to shift or not to shift to the list of decisions teams and drivers competing in today’s 5-Hour Energy 500 Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway will be facing.

That’s because the gearing which NASCAR has selected for the race will facilitate shifting gears.

There are positives to changing gears at the 2.5-mile triangle, and also some drawbacks.

Here is what a select group of drivers said about shifting at Pocono:

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “I’m glad it’s back. To me, I wasn’t a fan of when they (NASCAR) took it away. I feel like I have an opportunity to grab that third gear to get a little bit better launch up off the corner. I think it challenges you in a way as a driver and the team, to work on the car to be able to do that. And so I think that just kind of adds another set of skills in there that I think are important, especially here at Pocono, as well as more opportunity to pass. I think it gives you more opportunity there. And I think that’s important because we’ve seen how track position is so important and getting your car to be able to turn down underneath somebody and

Dale Earnhardt Jr. not feeling shifty. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

then grab that gear to be able to try to make a pass I think is important.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “I’m going to try to find out. I haven’t shift here in a while. I think it’s unnecessary but they think the brakes are going to be better but it ain’t going to be no better.”

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford:   “We have some different ratios for third gear. I tried shifting there in practice and I went the same speed shifting and not shifting. I think that will be something you can use maybe on restarts when the cars are bunched up. Right now with my limited race trim practice I don’t see myself shifting very much. There are a lot of cycles on the engines here and a lot of up and down on the RPM. Three times per lap and then if you add another shift in there it makes a lot of opportunity for mistakes. To me, I am going to do the best I can to not shift and have the car set up for that.”

Fast facts

Race: 5-Hour Energy 500

Place: Pocono Raceway

Layout: 2.5-mile triangle

Distance: 500 miles (200 laps)

Banking in turns: 14 degrees in Turn 1, 8 degrees in Turn 2, 6 degrees in Turn 3

Last year’s winner: Denny Hamlin

Kyle Busch rolls through the garages at Pocono. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Last year’s polesitter: Kyle Busch

This year’s polesitter: Kurt Busch

First Cup race: 1974, Purolator 500

First race winner: Richard Petty

First race polesitter: Buddy Baker

Trivia time

Only one driver with five or more starts at Pocono has not had a DNF at Pocono. Who is it?

Tony’s time

It was mentioned to Tony Stewart that about half of his victories in Cup have come during the summer months of June, July and August. He was then asked why that is.

Stewart, who has 39 career wins, said, “I just think that’s gets into the time of the season when the tracks get really slippery and for some reason I think we’ve always been a guy when they do get slick it seems like that’s our specialty I guess more so than anything. I like when the tracks get greasy and loose grip and you have to slide around a little bit. That’s the only thing we can think of.”

Track tidbits

Number of races: 66

Youngest winner: Jeff Gordon, 24 years, 10 months, 12 days

Oldest winner: Harry Gant, 50 years, 5 months, 7 days

Most wins: 5, by Bill Eilliott

Most poles: 5, by Bill Elliott

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson talk racing in garages at Pocono on Saturday. Johnson has two wins at Pocono. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Most top-fives: 19, by Mark Martin

Most top-10s: 33, by Mark Martin

Most laps led: 918, by Jeff Gordon

Narrowest margin of victory: .126 seconds (2000)

The Keys

From Travis Geisler, competition director for Penske Racing.

Strategy:  “I don’t think there’s really one key.  This place is so unique, it takes a few different things to put it together.  Obviously you have to have good strategy.  Track position is so hard to get here.  Once everybody spreads out, you spread out so far it’s hard to pass a bunch.  I think doing the right things on pit road is important, having good stops. It’s like a road course as far as fuel mileage goes.  It’s balancing how aggressive we want to be with shifting; we haven’t done that for a while here at Pocono.”

Shifting:  “The new rule package with third gear, I think we can be aggressive and get some speed out of the car, but we have to be careful with how much heat we’re generating,  The reason that’s kind of an issue, fourth (gear) is a straight-through drive in these transmissions.  In third, you have a lot more moving pieces and generate a lot more heat.”

Engine:  “You have to have an engine tough enough to handle 500 miles here at a really high RPM range.”

Restarts:  “Restarts are going to be tough, especially with the third-gear change.  Third

Brad Keselowski and his team owner, Roger Penske, celebrate their victory at Kansas Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

used to be a 128, so when you went to it, you had some gear left.  Now it’s a 114, you’ve lost a lot of torque.  Drivers will have to figure out how to get that jump.  If you can get a good restart and get that pull coming down, there’s a long way after that start-finish line to get some work done.”

Tires:  Obviously, we’d like to get some rubber down on the track.  In general, this tire has been good.  It’s the same tire we’ve had here for three years.”

Play The Race Backwards:  “Teams start playing the race backwards as early as halfway.  You start calculating when do you want to make that last stop, look at your mileages from earlier in the day, how hard can I push it in that fuel window, how many cautions do I think we’ll have in the last cycle.  Just as it’s been in most of the races this year, pit strategy is important.”

Earncon today

Conditions for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win at Pocono sits at 3 on the scale of 1 to 5 for the 5-Hour Energy 500. Earnhardt  has no wins there, five-top fives and an average finish of 18th. He does come with some momentum after finishing second at Kansas last week.

Interested spectator

Fights and threats have dominated the racing news in NASCAR this past week. Driver Matt Kenseth was asked if he likes all that kind of stuff.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I like watching it as long as I am not involved in it. I never like being involved in that stuff, but it is a lot of fun to watch it.”

Trivia answer

Only Matt Kenseth has not had a DNF at Pocono among drivers with at least five starts.

Coming up

Four hundred miles at Michigan International Speedway. Denny Hamlin won last year’s race and Kurt Busch won the pole.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 12 2011
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