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Okay, is it time to ask if these speeds -- like 215 mph -- might be just a little too fast?

Okay, is it time to ask if these speeds -- like 215 mph -- might be just a little too fast?

Joey Logano (L) and crew chief Jason Ratcliff: on the Pocono 400 pole...with a lot of pressure to perform (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   How fast is too fast?
   Typical question on a fast repave, like here, where Pocono Raceway's spiffy new asphalt is leading to record-smashing speeds.
   In fact, speeds here and at Michigan next week will be some of the fastest speeds in NASCAR history….much faster than even Daytona and Talladega, where restrictor plates are used.
   Too fast?
   Nobody's even raised the question.
   Jeff Gordon says he's seen speeds as high as 214 mph during the three days of practice at this 2-1/2-mile triangular-shaped track.
   Matt Kenseth last month had predicted 215 here on the frontstretch, which he called far too long a straight for this sport at these speeds.
   However Goodyear engineers said that at their test two months ago they didn't speed much faster than 205.

   Joey Logano, who has struggled at times to keep up with teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, won the pole Saturday for Sunday's Pocono 400, at 179.598 mph, just a couple tenths of a second quicker than Carl Edwards, in setting up a Toyota-Ford front row for the 1 p.m.ET start.

   With Logano, Busch and Hamlin, Joe Gibbs' men took three of the top five spots. And a whopping 36 men broke the track record. Track position is figured to be extremely important in the three-hour race, if passing is as difficult as it now appears.

   However what to expect in the 400 is still up for great debate, since it's unclear if a second groove will come in in the crucial first turn, the highest speed corner on the track. Pocono races tend to become gas mileage games, and that's one prediction here, particularly since fresh tires don't appear to be faster than worn tires. In fact worn tires may be quicker, given how grippy this new asphalt is.

   NASCAR isn't alone here this week. ARCA is also running, on a different tire brand, Hoosier, which ARCA pole winner Brandon Poole said reacted a bit unusually to the Goodyear rubber on the track. ARCA speeds Friday were about five or six mph slower than NASCAR speeds – Joey Logano posted the quickest Sprint Cup laps at 179.501 mph all the way around.
   But, perhaps worrisome is that the slowest ARCA car for Saturday's race is more than 30 mph slower than Poole….and half the ARCA field has never even seen this track before.
   However no one here seems very worried about all of this.
   Drivers aren't complaining much about the tires, noting that the tires actually get faster the more drivers run on a set. That means don't expect short-pitting in Sunday's Pocono 400.
   And drivers aren't complaining about enough grip. Plenty of that…as long as they stay in the groove.
   Unfortunately this track, even after three days of practice, is still a one-groove track. Drivers aren't yet willing to get out of that single groove, and NASCAR officials, for some reason, haven't put down traffic cones to force drivers to try to work in a second groove.
  The really tricky part of the track is the high-speed first turn.
   "We're seeing some pretty high speeds, and we are going to see more of that next weekend at Michigan," Gordon said, referring to the next track on the repave list.  
    Gordon was one of the men testing for Goodyear at Michigan: very fast too, he says, "but it was a very comfortable-feeling pace.
    "The cars drove really good; they stuck to the race track good; I like the tire that Goodyear brought there. Just like here -- we just need the groove to widen out a little bit. That is only going to come with laps."
    So with this just one-groove, how to pass someone?
     "It's going to be hard to bump people out of the way, because we're going so fast," Dale Earnhardt Jr. says. "I think even the slightest bump would wreck a car.
    "If the cars were going a little bit slower and that track was a little wider, and the groove was a little wider, you could probably move people around.
     "I think one of the ways you'll see the most passing is on a restart, when somebody gets under somebody in turns one and two and the guy on the outside is able to race him through that corner and they sort of get bottled-up and slow off of turn two.
    "You're going to see a lot of guys taking advantage of people and making it three-wide, maybe four-wide, heading into the Tunnel Turn. You'll see a lot of that, I bet.
     "Any time a couple of guys get caught-up racing each other, or somebody has the slightest of runs of them, they're going to try to go three-wide and force an issue into the next corner, because general passing as we know it is going to be real challenging until the surface widens up and the track ages a little bit."

     "You'll see them fanning out on the frontstretch," Greg Biffle says. "I'm sure we'll go in the corner four or five-wide at some point.  
      "I just hope everybody gets a chance to get down on the apron getting into one like I did unexpectedly.  That thing is pretty violent.  
      "You're not going to dip down on that apron and come back off of there still driving straight ahead.
     "If  you see a guy clip that apron, the guys up the track are in for a rude awakening, because he's on his way up there.  It's a pretty abrupt transition between the apron and the race track; plus the corner speeds are really high."

   Tony Stewart says the new pavement "is definitely an improvement over where it's been. It needed a facelift.
    "It's still challenging….but it's got a lot of grip.
    "But the thing I was probably most impressed with wasn't necessarily the track, but Goodyear brought a tire that is stable right off the bat. That's something we normally fight when we go to a track that's been repaved -- It has a lot of grip, but you also get a lot of instability.
    "It'll build a second groove. But you're definitely going to be on your toes on restarts; you aren't going to see four and five-wide going down in there like what we used to.
    "Guys are going to be more selective about when and where they try to make their moves."
   Stewart opened the season strong, but lately he's been erratic.
   "Texas was a big bump in the road, and Charlotte was a pretty big disappointment," Stewart concedes.
     "After we get done Sunday we're all going to know a lot more about what's going on.
    "But this week and next week are two question marks. We really don't know what to expect."

   Stewart himself is really looking for strategy Sunday. Fuel mileage? A lot of drivers expect that to be key to the end-game.
   "Any time you go to a track like this or Michigan, you're always going to be in a fuel mileage scenario," Stewart says.
   "The tire does fall off a little bit, which is good. That's going to keep guys from strictly just playing the fuel mileage game."
   Stewart hopes. He's been hit and miss on the fuel mileage game.
   And what to think about Stewart's comments about Kurt Busch and that NASCAR suspension?
   Was that the sound of 'beep-beep-beep' at the rear of Stewart's hauler….with Stewart backing up and away from those odd comments earlier this week praising Kurt Busch for threatening to beat up a reporter?
   Sounds like it: "If the sponsors are leery, then it puts you in a bad spot as an owner, unless you have unlimited funding and can just put in there whoever you want.
    "It's definitely a huge concern. You definitely have to look at that, for sure because you know half of the battle is getting a good partner and sponsor."

     Biffle says turn one is a tricky deal: "I've gotten out of the groove a couple times, and it's damage control trying not to wreck it," he says.
    "As it starts widening out, guys are going to start experimenting . It will be single-lane racing, but we'll be able to pass, I'm sure."
   One surprise so far, Biffle says: "You put new tires on and you slow down.
    "It's sort of backwards.
   "So it's definitely going to be 'track position,' like a road course race….and stay out for track position (rather than pitting), because new tires aren't going to go anywhere."


I don't get why you say Stewart was backing up

I don't get why you say Stewart was backing up on his previous comments concerning Busch vs the Media?? Earlier Stewart commented on his take of the Pockrass/Busch incident ...and the need the media has to agitate an already volatile situation. Friday Stewart commented on how difficult it is to find sponsorship for a driver who has a short fuse. Two different subjects. I don't believe I heard " the beep beep of a truck backing up" as you note... Just a man who knows both sides of the issue and has as much right to an opinion as the rest if us. Hopefully we'll have a great race this weekend and will find other issues to dissect so we can leave Busch to attend to his business in peace.

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we appreciate your views of course, but i really

we appreciate your views of course, but i really dont understand complaints about 'the nascar media'...because unfortunately there is virtually no 'nascar media' any more, with newspapers having eliminated the beat, except for one or two papers.
agree that we need a great race to get our focus back on the track....

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