Pocono Raceway has long been known as "The Tricky Triangle," but this time, the unique 2.5-mile, three-turn racetrack in Pennsylvania will likely be more tricky for Sprint Cup Series teams to figure out.
The track has received a new coat of asphalt since the series last competed there 10 months ago. It's the first time Pocono has been repaved since 1995.
Furthermore, the race distance at Pocono will be shorter than it normally has been in the past. NASCAR and track officials announced last year that both races there during the 2012 season would be trimmed from 500 miles to 400. Each event at Pocono had been scheduled for 500 miles since the series began competing at this track in 1974.
Track activities at Pocono will begin sooner than normal, since NASCAR is allowing teams to test there on Wednesday and Thursday. Teams will practice again on Friday and then qualify Saturday. The race is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET).
"I'm nervous heading to Pocono, because I have no idea what to expect," said Roush Fenway Racing driver and current points leader Greg Biffle. "We have a day and a half of testing, which is good, but I have no idea how fast it will be, or how different it will drive through the corners. I'm excited it was repaved and also think that the race being shortened to 400 miles will create some excitement with the fans."
Biffle comes to Pocono with only a one-point advantage over his teammate Matt Kenseth.
Six weeks ago, Goodyear Tire held a two-day test session at Pocono. Seven drivers representing teams from the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series participated in the test. Jamie McMurray from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates was one of them.
"I'm looking forward to the race," McMurray said. "I hated this place. This was my least favorite track to come to. I never really cared for Pocono. And after the few laps, with the speed and the grip that it has, from my perspective, I think most guys will like this a lot more."
Kasey Kahne currently holds the track qualifying record at Pocono with a lap at 172.533 mph, which he set in June 2004. Kahne, in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, took part in the tire test as well. He's expecting his record to be easily topped.
"I would say it's definitely going to get broke," he said. "It's just by how much. It should be a good bit."
Jeff Gordon, who is Kahne's teammate, won his fifth race at Pocono one year ago, which placed him in a tie with Bill Elliott for most victories at this track. Gordon has also scored two poles, 17 top-10 finishes and 27 top-10s in 38 starts at Pocono. His total of 957 laps led there is tops among all drivers.
Gordon believes the setups at Pocono this time will be different, but he's looking forward to the challenge.
"There really is no comparison from last year to this year, because nothing compares to a repave," Gordon said. "We'll probably have very little in our setup this weekend compared to what we ran here last year.
"Even if the track didn't change, Goodyear could bring a different (compound of) tire. If we used the same tire, a year-old setup still probably wouldn't be fast enough, even if you dominated the race the previous year. The sport evolves that much every year."
With 13 races remaining before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Gordon desperately needs a win to get back into playoff contention. The four-time series champion is now 21st in the point standings. He is 94 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer but only one marker outside the top-20 and "wild card" territory.
Hendrick Motorsports has been dominant within the past month. Jimmie Johnson won at Darlington and Dover, as well as the all-star event at Charlotte. Kahne scored the victory in Charlotte's 600-mile race.
Johnson won both races at Pocono during the 2004 season but has not driven into victory lane there since then.
"Granted we haven't won at Pocono in quite some time, but we have led a lot of laps at the old surface," he said. "I tend to like old surfaces, but that's gone. Kasey was up there for the tire test. He had a lot of positive things to say about how the tire reacted to the surface."
Kahne won the June race at Pocono in 2008 when he drove for Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Pocono 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, June 10. Race: Pocono 400. Site: Pocono Raceway. Track: 2.5-mile triangular oval. Start time: 1 p.m.(ET). Laps: 160. Miles: 400. 2011 Winner: Jeff Gordon. Television: TNT. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.