Drivers bracing for some 'Tricky' racing

MCT Brad Keselowski, during Sprint Cup practice at Daytona yesterday.
MCT Brad Keselowski, during Sprint Cup practice at Daytona yesterday.
Posted: July 05, 2013

LONG POND, Pa. - Pocono Raceway advertises itself as "The Tricky Triangle" because the three turns are physically and strategically different: Turn 1 has 14-degree banking, Turn 2 is 9 degrees, Turn 3 is only 6 degrees.

Drivers in Sunday's Pocono IndyCar 400 Fueled by Sunoco will roar down the long, wide front stretch at up to 230 mph, then lean left into Turn 1, squeeze the steering wheel as tightly as they would on a risky roller coaster and hold on.

There's another long straightaway leading into Turn 2 over the tunnel. From there the drivers head to Turn 3, where they sweep back to the front stretch.

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams race twice during the summer at Pocono, they have notebooks full of background to digest. All the IndyCar teams have are notes from three tests held at Pocono, including yesterday's, as they prepare for the first open-wheel race at the track since 1989.

Most NASCAR teams set up for two of the three turns, and hope for the best with the other turn.

During the open-wheel races in the 1970s and '80s, Turn 1 was a treacherous place, with more than its share of crashes.

"It's just such a unique corner for us to have a corner that's that sharp, with that high bank," said James Hinchcliffe, the IndyCar Series victory leader with three wins this year. "The banking kicks in probably 200 yards before you actually start turning. So you feel like you're pulling out of the car before you actually get to the corner, which is big, as well.

"When you're coming towards it at the speed that we are in a bunch right there, you look like you're just heading into a wall. It's just so banked, so tight, and it's tough to get your head around getting an Indy car through there at 220-plus miles an hour."

Dario Franchitti is the only driver in Sunday's race with Pocono experience. He finished 41st in the June 2008 Sprint Cup race.

Referring to the IndyCar spring test at Pocono, Franchitti said: "We were going through Turn 3 wide open. At Pocono, you're always compromising, one corner to the next. The tunnel turn wasn't so bad, but [Turns] 1 and 3 were a real handful."

Bobby Rahal, now an IndyCar team owner, won the 1988 Pocono race. His son Graham will be in Sunday's 400-miler.

"I haven't seen the track since 1989, but, from what I understand, it's a lot smoother than it used to be," Rahal said. "It was always one of my favorite, if not my favorite, ovals, and was certainly my favorite big oval, because all three corners were totally different.

"Based on testing, it's going to be a big challenge. They [drivers] are almost flat out, or are flat out, which is hard to believe, because I don't think we were ever flat by any stretch of the imagination around the whole track.

"The series has since put more downforce in the car, so it should make the car a bit racier, and easily flat out, so that is going to take a little bit of the advantage away from those people who can get the handling working better."

Marco Andretti posted the fastest time in yesterday's practice sessions (220.963 mph). Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan was next (219.802), followed by Helio Castroneves (219.123).

Kenseth keeps clicking

Matt Kenseth's remarkable season marches on . . .

In his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has won four of the first Sprint Cup 17 races. Three of the victories are on 1.5-mile racetracks. Kenseth has 28 career wins.

"Matt Kenseth is one of the best drivers in the history of NASCAR," Jeff Burton, a former Kenseth teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, said this week. "He never gets enough credit. He's smart and aggressive.

"When he joined the Gibbs organization, I told J.D. [Gibbs], 'He'll make Denny [Hamlin], Kyle [Busch] and the organization better. He's a great teammate."

Burton drives the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He is 21st in points, one spot outside the wild-card qualifying umbrella for the Chase. Burton finished second in last year's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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