"I'm really excited about what Pocono's been able to do, my hat's off to them," gushed Sprint Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle, who has had issues with track safety here in the past.
"They did a phenomenal job on the repaving. To be glass-smooth [and running] at 200 m.p.h. just amazes me."
To ensure that the track and Goodyear's new tire combination would be able to handle increased speeds on the tricky triangular-shaped raceway, NASCAR invited teams to spend an additional 9½ hours of testing Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, when cars normally take their first laps of the weekend, 44 cars logged nearly three more hours of practice.
Qualifying is set for Saturday at 11:10 a.m., and everyone in a firesuit is predicting a mass assault on the track record book. All but two cars in Friday's final practice bettered Kasey Kahne's all-time fastest lap around Pocono - a 172.533 m.p.h. pole-winning run in 2004.
The track's new unofficial king of speed is Joey Logano, who ended his 18-lap final practice session in the No. 20 Toyota at a blistering 179.501 m.p.h.
Denny Hamlin, a four-time winner here, said, "All the cars should break the track record easily."
Although he joined the chorus in singing the praises of the new asphalt-and-tire combination, Hamlin also can't bank on his previous dominant runs in the No. 11 Toyota.
"The success we had here is gone," he said. "The race track is very fun in the sense of how they graded it and smoothed it out in different places. It drives different than it used to and, in my estimation, you're going to see massive dive-bombs going into the corner to try to get position."
Hamlin estimated that the speed in the corners has picked up nearly 6 m.p.h. Biffle, after a Friday-morning practice run at 176.246 m.p.h. that was only 20th-best on the speed chart, agreed that navigating Turn One will be key.
"My best guess is that we'll be drafting at 210 m.p.h. going down the front stretch, and I'm sure we'll be going into the first corner four- and five-wide at some point," Biffle said.
With almost everyone taking a similar line along the bottom of the track, there is some concern that much of Sunday's race could be run in a single groove.
The best hope, they said, is that the drivers in Saturday's Pocono ARCA 200 will put down enough rubber to widen the racing area. Brennan Poole, who shattered Kyle Busch's nine-year-old ARCA Series track record (170.849 m.p.h.) to take the pole at 173.554 m.p.h., plans to do his part.
"It was a lot faster than I thought it was going to be, but it was a lot of fun," Poole said. "I was holding my breath going sideways through the tunnel [second] turn. It was a blast."
Tribute to Doc. This is Pocono Raceway's first race weekend since track founder Joseph "Doc" Mattioli died in January, and it will be filled with tributes to the man credited with turning a spinach patch into a 2.5-mile speedway.
A painting of Mattioli by renowned artist Sam Bass graces the race program cover, which is filled with pages of photos from over the decades since the track hosted its first NASCAR race in 1974.
A triangular decal honoring Mattioli will adorn all the Sprint Cup and ARCA race cars, and a replica decal/pin set will be sold at the track. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Mattioli Foundation, which, according to track vice president Nick Igdalsky, has donated more than $6 million to local hospitals and charities.
Rose Mattioli, Doc's wife of 63 years, spoke briefly about the family's approach to the weekend.
"The emotions are very, very mixed," she said. "We're going to miss him dreadfully, but we're going to do what he would want us to do, to continue to make everything happen as if he were here."