Kasey Kahne’s Tweet said it all.
“Off to Pocono PA. The next five days is going to feel like a month I'm thinking,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver Tweeted Tuesday night.
He is not alone in that sentiment. With a new track surface at Pocono Raceway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will have four hours of testing today, five-and-a-half hours tomorrow and two hours, 55 minutes of practice on Friday. Add it all up and it’s 12 hours and 25 minutes of running laps over three days at Pocono.
On top of that, 10 Sprint Cup regulars, including Kahne, will leave Pocono today to fly to rural Ohio and back for tonight’s Prelude to the Dream dirt late model race at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway.
In truth, testing is only part of the reason for the Pocono marathon. As much as testing is important for the teams to be able to dial in their cars on the new surface, putting rubber down on the asphalt is critical. The more rubber that goes down on the 2.5-mile triangular track, the better the chance there will be two racing grooves and not just one. And that will be critical to ensuring a good, competitive race on Sunday.
“Pocono is kind of a catch-22 when it comes to the repave because, if you think about it, Turn 3 already was repaved,” said Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. “We ran where the grip was, so only two-thirds of the track is going to be really new to us. It’s going to be interesting. The track is so unique, and that to me makes it fun. It’s one of my favorite racetracks. But the new repave will provide some different challenges, I am sure. I guess we will have a couple of extra days to try and figure it out.”
Joey Logano, who participated in the Pocono tire test in April, said the track started to pick up a second groove during the test. He’s optimistic that will continue this week.
“I think once the track widens out, the race will get better and all that,” said Logano. “I think the track is going to be a lot different from practice to the race. I think a lot of things are going to change for us between that time. But everyone is going to have plenty of practice out there with the couple of test days that we've got. So we'll have plenty of time out there to really tune our cars and try to make it as best we can.”
Without question, the fresh track surface will raise speeds, but it remains to see how the quality of racing will be. That won’t be known until Sunday.
“Speed doesn't always translate to great racing,” said former driver Kyle Petty, now an analyst for SPEED and TNT. “Some of the best races in the world are run at Martinsville when you run 80 or 90 miles an hour. Just because you run 200 plus (mph) doesn't mean it's a great race. But I do believe it opens up the whole track to try different grooves and experiment.”
“From my perspective, the newly surfaced racetracks are typically not the better races,” said Newman. “The older, more worn-out racetracks provide much better racing – side-by-side, multiple grooves. The tire combination that goes along with it has much more fall-off which, in turn, I think leads to better racing. The cars are going to have to handle a 40-lap run with just three-tenths of (a second per lap) fall-off. The old racetracks have three seconds of fall-off. That, to me, is just better all the way around for the fans.”
For his part, Logano is a bit more hopeful about Sunday.
“I think when you get 43 cars out there, I think you'll really be able to see the track widen out a little bit,” he said. “... Goodyear is going to bring a good tire, we’ll have a lot of grip and the track will widen out.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.