MUM’S THE WORD — Last year, Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards was heavily courted by Joe Gibbs Racing, and the subsequent Edwards melodrama became one of the summer’s biggest stories before Edwards decided to stay where he was.
Edwards’ teammate Matt Kenseth has decided to not fall into the same trap Edwards did. Kenseth is believed to be in the final year of his contract with Roush Fenway Racing, where he has been for his entire NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
Friday at Pocono Raceway, Kenseth deflected any discussion of where he might drive next season. “I’ve made it a habit to never talk about my contract in the media, and I’m gonna try to keep it that way,” said Kenseth, second in Sprint Cup points to teammate Greg Biffle. “I never said it was my contract year. Other people might have said that, but I never said that in the media.”
HOW ‘BOUT THEM GRAPEFRUITS? — The early contender for quote of the weekend belongs to Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Friday morning at Pocono Raceway, Bowyer was asked what he thought it would take to win the pole on the newly paved and ultra-fast Pocono circuit. “I don't know,” Bowyer said. “Something the size of grapefruits, I'd say.”
Bowyer described the new Pocono as “very, very fast,” a sentiment shared by many of the drivers.
“It's amazing — you give these engineers and teams a couple days to work on a car. I mean, they've picked up seconds, literally, and I think we started in the 53-second category, and we're running in the 50-second category now,” said Bowyer. “It pretty much — it excites me to be a part of that when you can see those guys go to work and find speed.”
CHIEF CONCERNS — One of the toughest jobs in NASCAR is being a crew chief, because it requires a wide range of technical, analytical, motivational and interpersonal skills. And the myriad changes in the sport make it challenging, too. Take this year’s schedule: Both this weekend at Pocono Raceway and next week at Michigan International Speedway, the track surfaces are new, which creates an entirely new set of variables for the crew chiefs to deal with.
“Any time there is a repave, Goodyear has to do a tire test and obviously bring a different tire, something that can stand up to the speeds, the grip change and all that,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge Charger driven by Brad Keselowski. “The tire is a lot different than what we’ve had, so as much as the surface is different, you’ve got a different tire in the equation. We’ve seen a tire change our setups a lot.”
So this weekend and next will be whole new ballgames for the Sprint Cup crew chiefs.
“The (Pocono) track is real smooth,” said Wolfe. “It was quite bumpy in the past, so some of the setup things that you used to do to try, to work through the bumps and what not, are different. It’s a good bit different. There are a lot higher speeds, as well.”
NEW POCONO, OLD HAMLIN? — To Denny Hamlin, Pocono Raceway is a brand-new race track. As Hamlin predicted two weeks ago, the repaving of the 2.5-mile triangular track has removed any advantage the driver of the No. 11 Toyota might have had at one of his favorite venues.
So for Hamlin, who won two races at Pocono from the pole in his 2006 rookie season and added one victory each in 2009 and 2010, it's just like starting over.
The success we had here ... is gone," Hamlin told the NASCAR Wire Service after the morning session of testing on Thursday. "It's kind of a reset. You're not going to be able to look at any notes from previous (races) and race winners, and try to predict a race winner for this thing.
"Strategy's going to be huge. Track position is going to be big. Of the test guys, you could probably put anyone in the top 20 out front with 15 laps to go, and no one's going to catch 'em."
Speeds increased dramatically during the first two days of testing at the Tricky Triangle. All 41 cars in Thursday's afternoon session were faster in race trim than Kasey Kahne's 2004 qualifying record of 172.533 mph.
Coincidentally, Kahne posted the top speed during testing — 179.490 mph — turning a lap in 50.142 seconds, more than two seconds faster than his 2004 record time.
With the corner speeds being so much slower with the old surface, you didn't get off the corner as well," Hamlin said. "Everyone is shifting (gears) now, and your shift points have moved around dramatically. Obviously, that's been shortened up.
"It's just a big test session right now, trying to figure out what makes speed at this race track, what you have to do, because, really, you drive it totally different than what you used to."
The NASCAR Wire Service contributed to this report.
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.