Pocono Raceway, site of this weekend’s Pocono 400, is one of the more unique tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion driven by Ryan Blaney, likes the challenges it presents.
“Races at Pocono are always unpredictable,” Wood said. “Some people don’t like that, but I do.”
Some of those challenges are related to the 2.5-mile track itself, which has three distinct turns and is known as the Tricky Triangle.
Turn One, with 14 degrees of banking, was copied from the old Trenton Speedway in New Jersey. Turn Two, better known as the Tunnel Turn, is banked nine degrees and patterned after Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while Turn Three, at six degrees, is made like the Milwaukee Mile.
The difference in banking, and relatively low banking overall, combined with the shortness of the turns compared to the straightaways, lead to speeds that are slower than many oval tracks of the same length or shorter.
The relatively slower lap times relative to the length of the track open the door for various fuel and pit strategies.
“The strategy options are similar to what you see on a road course,” Wood said.
Then there’s weather, another factor that plays into strategy calls for many a Pocono race.
“The track is on top of a mountain,” Wood said. “Storms can pop up at any times, and that changes the way you look at the races.”
Another challenge unique to Pocono is the fact that drivers regularly shift gears, improving lap times but increasing the chances of parts failures.
Last year, Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team dealt with the challenges of Pocono and came away with finishes of 10th in the first race and 11th in the second.
In the first race, the team took a late-race gamble by stopping for fuel with 39 laps remaining, a move that could have put them in position to contend for the win as many of their competitors were running short of making it to the finish.
A caution period took away any advantage they’d gained, but the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team still came away with a top-10 finish.
In the second Pocono go, the race was stopped by fog 22 laps shy of the advertised distance.
Blaney raced as high as fifth place, but found himself in 11th place when fog ended the race 22 laps shy of the scheduled distance.
Before the fog rolled in, the team took a gamble that rain was imminent, but the clouds held off for a while, and Blaney had to work hard to get back to 11th.
“We had two good runs there last year, especially for a driver and crew chief racing at Pocono for the first time in the Cup series,” Wood said. “I’m optimistic as we head back up there.”
Qualifying for the Pocono 400 is set for Friday at 4:15 p.m., and the race is set to get the green flag just after 3 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FS1.