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Down-Sized Pocono Races A Hit With Cup Drivers

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2012

Kevin Harvick heads to track for practice at Pocono on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Calls for the shortening of Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway have been answered as this year’s events will be 400 miles in length rather than 500. Voices emanating from the garages at Pocono Friday, were very thankful for the change.

“Four hundred miles is still a really long time,” driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “This is a track that is very long and just lends itself to feeling like it takes forever to get around it. The race itself is going to still feel like a full event to me. I don’t think it is going to feel like a short event in no way to me personally.

“I think the race is actually probably going to play out the same way. We have a really good surface and a really good strong, durable tire that doesn’t slow down. Once you can get inside the fuel window you probably won’t come back to pit road. We are going to have what you guys would call a fuel mileage race.

“Where guys will pit right on the bubble or really push their luck and pit a lap early hoping for a caution or something to get them inside the window. A couple of guys at the end of the race will probably be coming to the checkered with questions about whether they can actually make it on fuel or not. That is just because the tire is so good. 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. That is probably what you will see a lot of.”

Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, agreed less is better when running at a track like the 2.5-mile triangle at Pocono.

“It’s going to be nice to be less than 500 miles,” Gordon said. “Especially this weekend because the RPM that we are turning the amount of shifting that we are doing, the pace that we are running it would be hard to pull 500 miles out of it this weekend at that kind of speed. I think 400 miles is going to make for a little bit more entertaining race as well as hopefully more of us to the finish.”

Martin Truex Jr., who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing, said he thinks better racing could be in the offing during Sunday’s race.

“I would like to think it would,” Truex said. “That’s kind of the reason they did it was to try and make it better. One thing is for sure, it will be different. The strategy will be different. I’m not sure how the fuel mileage deal plays out with how many pit stops and what our windows are right now, but I’m sure it will definitely be different. Obviously with the track being changed, that’s really probably a bigger change than a 100 mile less race. I think still the focus is on how the racing will be on the new pavement more so than how it will be with 400 miles instead of 500.”

Greg Biffle has been the Sprint Cup Series points leader since he finished third at Las Vegas in the third week of the season. But your points leader he has been and that, he says, is a good thing.

Reminded Friday at Pocono Raceway that he is just a single, solitary point ahead of Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, Biffle said: Cool.

“I guess it’s more than Tony (Stewart) won the championship by last year,” Biffle said, referring to the fact that last year’s big prize was decided by a tie-breaker. “He won it by zero.”

But its more than just the points lead – thin as it is – that is making life good for Biffle this season. It’s the fact that he’s had fast cars during a time when a whole lot of teams have fast cars.

“We’ve been pretty good everywhere we’ve been and it’s no different here,” Biffle said. “We’re pretty good here and there’s a lot of confidence in that. The tides have turned. There are a lot of different cars that have run good this season and one of them is back there, I see him standing back here who is up next (Martin Truex Jr.). They’re one of the cars that continues to be good every week, and I think it says a lot about the teams and how hard they’re working, and what we’re figuring out is kind of catching up to the competition, if you will.”

Tony Stewart, last year’s Cup champion and the winner of two of the first five races this year, is struggling as he prepares for Pocono.

He is coming off of back-to-back 25th-places finishes – at Charlotte and Dover respectively.

Stewart was asked Friday if any sense of urgency has set in.

“Well, you feel better knowing you have two wins,” Stewart said. “But the thing is you don’t really think from that standpoint. You always go in there every weekend with the intention that you’re going to win the race. So you’re focusing on what you’ve got to do to keep your program good so when you get in the Chase and you get four or five weeks closer you start paying more attention to it. But for right now it’s just kind of the same thing we always talk about every year at this time.

“We’re taking it one week at a time and you’re just trying to make sure that every track that you’re going to you’re getting the 100 percent out of what your package is. You just keep working toward that and think about that until you get four or five races to the Chase.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2012
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