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Joey Logano versus Mark Martin and Tony Smoke...but the real winner Sunday at Pocono Raceway is.....

Joey Logano versus Mark Martin and Tony Smoke...but the real winner Sunday at Pocono Raceway is.....

Some surprisingly great action on Pocono's new asphalt (Photo: Gettuy Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Yes, Joey Logano won a stirring battle with Mark Martin....Jimmie Johnson and a bunch of drivers got busted for pit road speeding and knocked out of contention...and engine problems doomed Kyle Busch and cost Greg Biffle the Sprint Cup tour points lead.
   But the real winner here Sunday at Pocono Raceway was....the new pavement.
   And this track's new bosses, brothers Brandon and Nick Igdalsky.
   Fresh NASCAR asphalt can be notoriously wicked and fickle, with one-groove, single-file racing, and sometimes even worse, like blown tires and crashes.
   Well, the stuff that the Igdalskys laid down for Sunday's 400 was flat fantastic.
   The Igdalskys now run this huge track in the Pocono Mountains just 90 minutes west of Mid-town Manhattan, on the plot of land off I-80 that grandfather Dr. Joe Mattiolli built this track on more than 40 years ago.
   Dr. Joe passed away in January, after a legendary career running this track...based in part on a credo handed him back when on the back of a Daytona Speedway business card by Big Bill France Sr.: "On the plains of hesitation lie the bleached bones of those who waited, and while waiting died."
    Mattiolli had a way of doing business that was, well, his way.
   And when he turned the reins over to his grandsons, there were questions, naturally, about what to expect.


  Warm and sunny at Pocono Sunday, and these drivers were downright feisty (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   When the Igdalskys last summer abruptly announced they would be completely repaving this huge track, all 2.5 miles of it, there was a bit of a gasp. It is an expensive project. And it would clearly change the nature of the racing here...to some unknown degree.
   And with the smooth pavement now laid, there has been considerable speculation about a possible return of Indy-car racing here.
   In the week leading up to Sunday's 400, drivers and crews worried and sweated and pondered and tested for four straight days, on new Goodyears, trying to figure this place out. And yet Sunday morning just before the race went green they were all pretty much still in the dark and scratching their heads.
   Single-file racing was widely expected. Maybe even worn tires, which is why NASCAR ordered an early competition caution to check the rubber.
   Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. was saying it might be two years before the repaved track finally started coming around to raceable shape.
   So when these drivers kicked the afternoon off with some wildly aggressive racing right from the opening gun, it was stunning.
   And they kept it up throughout the race.
    Two-wide, no sweat. Even through the infamous tunnel turn.
   Three-wide, even four-wide on the frontstretch toward turn one, no sweat.


   Joey Logano (20) nipping at Mark Martin's rear bumper in the final moments of Sunday's Pocono 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Restarts? Tony Stewart, who nearly pulled out the win in the final moments, called the "insane. But you had to take full advantage of them.  That was the biggest opportunity to make gains... and definitely big gains.  You could get three or four at a time if somebody got bottled up a little bit.  Had to be on your toes for the restarts for sure."

    Nick Igdalsky insisted he was never worried:
    "We were really confident.  We had confidence in our paving crew; it's a local firm, that does everything from highways to race tracks. And they've paved our track every time.
   "What makes our pavement here different is 'slag.' That's a product of steel blast furnaces; you see the sparks flying off, that's the stuff. They grind it down....and it's porous – it absorbs oils in the binding.
   "The slag allows for a better aggregate, so you can pack it harder. If you pack stones too hard, they crack.
   "This makes for much tighter bind.
   "We went right down to the base, and got that right, took the bumps out. And then we started layering it, and let it cure, and did the final layer this spring.
   "We consulted with the International Speedway consultants (an engineering group that the France family has used for most track  repaves the last seven years). And they found out we were doing things they didn't know about; and we picked up a few things from them as well.
    "I went through the garage during the week and told the guys 'This is not what Phoenix had (for that recent repave). You're going to have grip out there. You just have to have confidence in it.'
    "Sure enough, after Saturday's ARCA race, we knew there wouldn't be a problem.
    "Even though it was probably a conservative package that Goodyear brought, we got some rubber laid down. And you're going to see even faster speeds in August (that's the August 5th 400 here). And you'll see even better racing in August.
   "You're really going to see what kind of racing Pocono can create."


   Pocono's pit road: speeding penalties galore. Yes,  NASCAR did change the scoring lines, but aren't crew chiefs supposed to check all those little details before the race?. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Mark Martin, who finished second to Logano, lavishly praised the repaving job. In his 30 years in this sport he's seen good paving jobs and not so good.
   Logano's take
   "I thought the racing was pretty good, considering it was a fresh repave and really going into the race not knowing what we were going to have.  
 "The first couple of runs of the race, after it rained last night, and having that Hoosier rubber down there from those ARCA cars, we were sliding around a lot until it rubbered up with our (Goodyear) rubber in there.  
    "You could see the groove widening up as we kept going more and more.  The second lane was pretty decent, and the third turn, and then turn one was widening out too.
     "You can feel like it's going to start getting to the old Pocono in a little bit... but I think it still put on some great racing.  Restarts are always chaotic here, and they were again.
    "And it's always a strategy race too.  
     "I thought the racing was good.  I thought especially for a fresh repave they've done a good job, keeping some old characteristics of old Pocono in it. And we had a lot of fun with it."

  Joey Logano: turning his career around this season, and now with a very timely victory (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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