Monster Energy Series drivers and teams will be making the first of two trips to Pocono Raceway this weekend.
Ahead of Sunday's Axalta presents the Pocono 400, see what Monster Energy Series drivers think about the keys to winning at the Tricky Triangle.
Martin Truex Jr.
Although last year was a struggle at Pocono with finishes of 19th and 38th, Truex has been the man to beat at almost every racetrack this season. The Furniture Row Racing driver has one victory there, which came in June 2015.
“We’ve been good at Pocono the past couple of years, just had some weird things happen to us,” said Truex, who captured the pole in the second Pocono race last year. “The guys who are good there make their cars work in all three turns. If one turn is off, you better figure out a way not to mess up the other turns. I always look forward to Pocono. Got some good fishing holes up there as well.”
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Coming off of his fifth second-place finish of the season, Larson is ready for the challenges of the Tricky Triangle. In six races at Pocono, Larson has an 8th-place average finish.
“We typically run pretty good at Pocono, so hopefully we can build on our strong runs in the past and try to get our second win of the year this weekend," Larson said. "I like tracks that have some character, and Pocono definitely has that, so excited to get there.”
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The seven-time champion has three Pocono victories on his résumé, including a sweep in 2004. He also started from the pole to win in June 2013.
“Pocono is such a unique place,” said Johnson. “We’re always stuck in an engineering kind of mindset of is it better to be faster on the straightaways or through the corners or how you set the car’s ride heights; the drag or downforce you might put in the car due to the ride heights. From a driver’s standpoint, it’s frustrating because a small loss of time through the center of the corner after you have almost a mile-long front straightaway, you can look at a stopwatch and be five, six, or seven-tenths off and think wow, we’re really out of it.
"And there are some awesome cycling runs, so I’ll have fun," he added.
Elliott finished fourth in the June Pocono event in 2016, but the August race was a struggle, finishing 33rd. He’ll be really focused on mastering the turns this weekend as he still searches for his first career Monster Energy Series win.
“Just corner exit,” Elliott said. “The straightaways are so long a little mistake on corner exit lasts for such a long time, especially off (Turn) 3 and out of (Turn) 1. I think just really making sure you have some good forward drive in your car and you are able to maximize the straightaway’s because just a little bit can go a long way because it carries you down the long straightaway.”
LAT ImagesRusty Jarrett
Blaney is really looking forward to racing in the Pocono Mountains, especially since he recorded finishes of 10th and 11th at the track last season, respectively.
With the constant shifting, it also serves as good practice for Sonoma Raceway in a couple weeks.
“I really enjoy racing at Pocono,” said Blaney. “It's a fun racetrack because we drivers are constantly shifting going in and out of those three tricky corners and that's something we don't get to do that often.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse has struggled at Pocono through the years. Over the course of eight races, he has a best result of 15th and four finishes of 25th or worse.
“Pocono has been a difficult track for us overall,” Stenhouse said. “This year though I feel like our Fords are much stronger so I’m looking forward to this weekend. After our misfortunes, last week, it is important for us to have a strong run this weekend.”
After securing a playoff spot with his win at Phoenix, Newman is focused on earning as many bonus points as possible before the end of the regular season.
Newman will have to improve on his pair of 12th-place finishes at Pocono last year if he wants to accomplish that goal this weekend.
"Pocono is all about horsepower,” Newman said. “It has those super long straightaways. Getting your car to turn through the Tunnel Turn has also been important to having a good run. Just in general, you need to get off Turn 3 and use all your horsepower down the straightaway. There is nothing that handles better than plenty of horsepower."
Bayne is currently sitting on the playoff bubble. He’ll need to be on his game at Pocono and push through the track’s unique set of difficulties.
“Pocono is definitely a challenging track,” said Bayne. “With the added element of shifting through the corners, you really need to be on your toes every lap. I’m confident that we will unload this weekend with a fast Ford and be able to have a solid run on Sunday afternoon.”
The rookie will compete in his first Monster Energy Series race at Pocono. Jones is hoping previous success in other series will propel him to a strong finish on Sunday.
“We finished second there in ARCA and second again last year in the (NASCAR) XFINITY Series, so I guess the secret is to figure out what it takes to win at Pocono,” Jones said. “I’ve been fortunate in that the big speeds we run there felt natural from the beginning so I’ve always been comfortable racing there. The long straightaways and the way you have to make speed on those types of tracks just came natural to me.
Suarez, another driver who will compete in his first Cup race at Pocono, is looking to build on his sixth-place finish at Dover with another top 10 at the Tricky Triangle.
“Pocono is so different from any track that we go to all year as it has just three turns,” the rookie driver said. “The straightaways are really long and each turn is really different. With that being said, I really enjoyed racing at Pocono last year and have been looking forward to making my return since we left a year ago.”
Kahne finished sixth in this race one year ago. Sitting just outside of the Monster Energy Series playoff bubble, a solid top-10 finish would do the Hendrick Motorsports driver a lot of good.
“I really like going to Pennsylvania to race,” Kahne said. “There are a ton of race fans up there. The track is very unique since it only has three turns and they are all totally different. It’s a wide track and people block there a lot, so the restarts can be especially tricky going into Turn 1.”
NASCAR’s newest first-time winner has a best finish of 13th at Pocono. To put more playoff points in his back pocket, Dillon knows he’ll need to master the turns all race long.
"I think you need to be good off of Turn 1 and off of Turn 3,” Dillon said. “If you can make it somewhat down Turn 2 it will make it, but truthfully, you've got to be pretty good in all of them. I've been bad in one of the turns and it hurt me, so I think you've got to be pretty good in all of them.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt swept both races at Pocono in 2014. Looking to add a couple more wins to his total before retiring from full-time racing, the Trick Triangle could be a place where Earnhardt could get it done.
“Pocono is a good track for us,” Earnhardt said. “I like both Pocono and Michigan, so we have some solid tracks coming up for the (No.) 88 gang. We were in the simulator this week working on Pocono. We’ve been working really, really hard the last three weeks. It’s been going great – the cars have gotten better in practice and we’re seeing some good improvements, so we’re going to keep grinding. We’re going in the right direction.”
After showing great speed and leading a few laps at Dover last weekend, the rookie looks to earn another solid finish at one of his favorite racetracks.
“Yeah, I think you try to focus on (Turns) 1 and 3, those are the longer straightaways that you have coming off of those two corners,” Dillon said. “The Tunnel Turn is something that, as a driver, you can work on throughout the day to make your car get through there a little bit better. Ran pretty well there last year, with the Levine Family Racing and that effort, so looking forward to going back there. I really enjoy racing at Pocono. It’s one of my favorite tracks, one of my favorite areas to go to. Looking forward to having a shot there.”
If he wants to join Richard Childress Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon in the playoffs, he’s going to have to figure out a way to turn his season around in a hurry. He currently sits 24th in the points standings.
But Pocono has been a struggle for Menard over the years. To get a good finish, Menard knows he’ll have to tame the tricky turns.
"You have try your best to find a setup that allows you to be good in all three corners to be successful at Pocono,” Menard said. “You have to hit all three corners perfectly. Turn 1 is very important because it leads into the second-longest straightaway, and Turn 3 is obviously important because it takes you into the longest straightaway of the track. You would think that Turn 2 is the least important, but it seems like time is really made and lost in that turn by hitting your mark. If you miss it by even just a foot, your lap time really suffers. So, it's important to hit all three corners."
Buescher snuck into the 2016 playoffs with his upset victory at Pocono last August.
In what’s been a frustrating season so far, Buescher is hoping for more luck at the Tricky Triangle.
“Pocono is a tough place,” Buescher said. “It’s challenging. I love going there. We were able to pull off the win there last year and pull off a little bit of strategy and that’s always going to be a big part of Pocono and racing in general. It’s going to be a matter of how to figure out how to make it to the end and keeps the fenders on. It’s been pretty treacherous the last couple of races so we’ve got to figure out how to keep our Scott Products Chevrolet clean.”
McDowell, known for holding his own on road courses, is a big fan of Pocono because of the similarities it has to Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
“I love Pocono, because it’s a lot like a road race,” McDowell said. “There are three corners that are completely different. I like the fact that you actually have to downshift. That helps me with rhythm and getting the car to feel good. I feel like we have a bit of an edge more so than other places just because of the rhythm you get into shifting.
McDowell is also focused on the strategy involved in running well.
“The good thing about Pocono is there is a lot of strategy, and also the track is so long that you’re not really fighting to stay on the lead lap, so you can be pretty aggressive with your strategy,” he added. “That makes for a lot of fun during the race and some crazy restarts.”
While lots of drivers are talking about speed and horsepower, Allmendinger, like McDowell, is also focused on the strategies that could play a factor in running up front at Pocono.
“Pocono is one of those tracks that you can – depending on where you are running with the leader or close to the leader – you can pit and stay on the lead lap,” Allmendinger said. “Strategy there with the stage racing is really going to be critical to how it plays out when you pit. If you’re maybe not in position to get points in that stage, you can still pit and stay on the lead lap and restart up front. There is going to be a lot of strategy we are going to have to play through as the race evolves, keeps changing.”
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Darrell Wallace Jr.
Wallace will make his first career Monster Energy Series start this weekend in his first race as a substitute for the injured Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
“It's called the Tricky Triangle for a reason," he said. "We've had some decent runs there. I think that's about as much as I can say on that. It's one of those places where it always needs a little bit more work on my end to come back and be better each year.
“I've been leaning on some guys for this Cup start coming up, to make sure I can get all I can out of the car, figure out what we need to do,” he added. “I've been on the simulator at Ford to log laps, get comfortable with shifting, get a rhythm down. It's all about timing there, making the most of that, trying to figure out where you can capitalize on some guys where they're slacking.”