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Race Day: Shifting Is Back For An Encore

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 7 2011

The Sprint Cup teams and drivers are geared up to take on the Pocono Raceway triangle this afternoon. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Shifting gears will make an encore performance at Pocono Raceway today. How wildly that encore is applauded in the garages depends on which driver you talk to.

Here is what a couple of drivers had to say about shifting for the turns at the 2.5-mile Pocono superspeedway.

Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “It made the competition better and makes it to where you can get a pass going on a guy. These engines are pretty temperamental. They like to run in more of a bandwidth or RPM and it was difficult when the engine was so low RPM to get a pass started.”

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “I think Pocono has a bunch of challenges. Adding shifting to the mix is a whole other challenge. As a driver, you have to shift correctly. The guys who build the gear boxes and the engines have to realize that they’re gonna have a ton more wear and tear. I mean, I think Tony Stewart was a great example of a guy that was blistering fast and just ended up having trouble. He was shifting in all three corners from what I could see, so who knows? When you go there do you shift and do what Tony did and say, ‘Hey, I’m going for it. We’re gonna go as fast as we can,’ or do you save your car for the end. There are some tough decisions to be made in the race car

Jeff Gordon is going for the rare Pocono sweep today. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

that could have huge outcomes on the season, so I think it’s gonna be an interesting race. It’s a test of patience and endurance for the car and the driver.”

Fast facts

What: Good Sam RV Insurance 500

Where: Pocono Raceway; Long Pond, Pa.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET


Radio: MRN-Sirius/XM Satellite Ch. 90

Track layout: 2.5-mile triangle

Race distance: 200 laps/500 miles

2010 winner: Greg Biffle

2010 polesitter: Tony Stewart

Today’s polesitter: Joey Logano

Points standings: 1. Carl Edwards, 682; 2. Jimmie Johnson, 671; 3. Kevin Harvick, 670; 4. Kyle Busch, 666; 5. Matt Kenseth, 666; 6. Kurt Busch, 664; 7. Jeff Gordon, 630; 8. Ryan Newman, 618; 9. Tony Stewart 609, 505; 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 606.

Three better than four

Several drivers were asked which of the three turns at Pocono is their favorite earlier in the weekend. They said:

Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: “Probably turn three because I think it’s probably more passing off of three then there is off of (turn) one. It’s about the same. It’s not really one, its one and three is my answer to that question. They’re both where you can pass. If you’re passing in the tunnel turn it’s because somebody messed up big time. So one and three are definitely the important corners.”

Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “I don’t think there’s a worst.  They all present their challenges.  I’d say, to me, the easiest turn used to be turn one and that, to me, is one of the more challenging turns now because it’s so rough.  There’s really only one

Fans line up for autographs at Pocono. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

groove through there that’s very smooth at all and with the high speeds down there and down-shifting it’s really hard to hit that same groove every time and hit that corner perfect, so I think that, for me, is one of the more challenging turns.”

Toss the keys

Howard Comstock of Dodge Motosports Engineering gives the keys to today’s race:

Fuel Economy:  “It’s Pocono; you have to figure fuel economy is a key.  In recent years, we’ve seen fuel economy play a big part in the strategy and the outcome of the race.  (The fuel window for Sunday’s race – approximately 30 laps)

Driveline Durability:  “We saw some driveline failures during the June race by some of the top teams.  That’s put everyone on alert that going back to shifting this year at Pocono has made a big difference on the driveline and also on the driver.

Driver Fatigue:  “When we raced here without shifting, the long straights provided the driver time to relax a little, catch his breath, and get through the corner and onto the next straightaway.  Now, with up-shifting and down-shifting, it has added another element.  When the drivers got out of their cars after this race in June, they were worn out.   Driver conditioning, the temperature of the day, there’s lots of factors that are going to play into whether you are successful or not.

Tires:  “We haven’t seen an issue with tires here in a long time.  That ends up pushing the fuel economy to the forefront.  With tires not an issue, teams stretch the run until they need fuel.  That’s when you run into trouble at this place, two-and-a-half-miles, you can’t run out (of fuel), you just can’t run out.”

Trivia time

Only one driver has been in the top 10 in points all 20 races this year. Who is it?

Passing on waving

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevy, was asked this weekend

Clint Bowyer is into waving. Sometimes. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

if he thinks the wave-around rule should be dumped.

Nice try, Bowyer told the person who asked the question.

“I’m not on-board with that. You are on your own with that,” he said. “There are so many things they (NASCAR) has done good to get the product better on the race track. I feel like the wave around rule if you need it, it is very handy. But if you don’t need it, it costs you points. If you are points racing, if you are trying to catch up, it makes it difficult because somebody can have a bad day and at the end of the race how these cautions come out sometimes can put them right back on the lead lap and get a decent finish when they would have had a really bad finish and you could have gained a lot of points there.

“But, I’m telling you on a day when you need it, it makes it pretty handy. It just depends on what side of the fence you are on. As far as the fans, there are two ways of looking at it. Obviously it makes a difference on the points side of it if your favorite driver doesn’t. But if your favorite driver gets that wave around and gets back and in the race and is able to run up front, there is a lot of different ways of looking at that. I think that as far as that goes I am satisfied with what we have right now because even if you get it, you still have to race hard to get back up through the traffic even if you are on the lead lap. You are in a bad predicament right there in trying to dig yourself out still.”

Bristling with excitement

Jeff Gordon will be looking to sweep Pocono this weekend as he won the race there earlier in the summer

Won’t be easy. The last driver to do it was Denny Hamlin in 2006. The only other active drivers to do it were Jimmie Johnson in 2004 and Bobby Labonte in 1999. Why so tough to do it?

“Well, the conditions,” Gordon said. “Even though it’s a short period of time that goes by (between the two Pocono race dates), it just seems like the track conditions are quite a bit different when we come here the second time. The first time usually it’s a little cooler and I

Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin at Pocono earlier in the season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

don’t know what it is, but the track just seems to have a little more grip. When we come the second time we just really struggle to get the grip in the car.  We’ll find out. So far, it hasn’t been really super-hot here today or anything. So far, it seems like the conditions are fairly similar to what we had the last time.”

Mum on Danica

Rumors have surfaced about Danica Patrick driving a car for Stewart Haas Racing in the future.


”I know, I’ve heard all kinds of stuff,” Sewart said.

Can you say if you are dealing with her?

“Nope, nope.”

You are not working on something or can’t say anything?

“Can’t say anything.”

Trivia answer

Kurt Busch is the only driver to be listed in the top 10 in driver points every week this season.

Up next

The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen. Juan Pablo Montoya won last year’s race at the 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course in Upstate New York. Carl Edwards started the race from the pole.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 7 2011
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