McGEE: Pretty, friendly but confused at Pocono

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Ryan McGee

Before we get started, let me say this. I love the Poconos. The rolling hills and the mild climate are the perfect getaway in the middle of NASCAR¿s blazing hot summer schedule. I am also a huge fan of Drs. Rose and Joe Mattioli, founders and keepers of the Pocono Raceway. Throughout the last decade of NASCAR¿s phenomenal growth and the influx of big business and multi-track supergroups, the Mattiolis have maintained a family atmosphere at their track. It is one of only three truly family-owned racetracks left on the Winston Cup schedule — Martinsville, New Hampshire, and Pocono.
NASCAR on FOX June 7-June 9 at Pocono/Nashville

  • Fri. June 7, Winston Cup: Bud Pole Qualifying, 3 p.m. ET on FSN
  • Sat. June 8, Winston Cup Happy Hour, 6:30 p.m. ET on FX and Nashville 250, 7:30 p.m. ET on FX
  • Sun. June 9, Pocono 500 presented by Subway, 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX

  • Friday

  • Winston Cup qualifying results and reaction from the Pocono Raceway
  • Sean Pragano reports from the Pocono garage on the Pettys' big moves and NASCAR's trouble filling the Pocono field
  • We also this weekend's Craftsman Truck and Busch Series races in Texas and Nashville
  • The series debuts with a piece on 2001 Goody's Dash champion Cam Strader Click here for columns by host Steve Byrnes
    Click here for columns by reporter Sean Pragano
    Click here for columns by producer Ryan McGee

    Airs Monday-Friday on Fox Sports Net at 6 p.m. local and on SPEED Channel at 6:30 p.m. ET.

  • With all of that out of the way, I do have one question. What in the world were these people smoking when they designed this place? ¿Good question,¿ says two-time winner Richard Petty as a big smile widens from behind his black shades. ¿That¿s what we were probably thinking the first time we went up there.¿ When NASCAR first arrived in 1974, the track had been open for about six years. It started out as a three-quarter mile oval but was soon rebuilt into its current configuration — ¿The Magic Triangle¿. ¿It is easily one of the most unique places that we go to,¿ says three-time track champ . ¿There¿s only three turns, and each of those turns is totally different. You¿ve got three straightaways and each one of those is totally different, too.¿ The Pocono frontstretch is the longest on the Winston Cup schedule — a 3740-foot trip. Cars will get in a single-file line and snake their way down that straight as the draft starts coming into play at 200 miles per hour. As they approach the entrance to turn one, they start fanning out — looking for a chance to pass — before hanging a very hard left. ¿Your passing almost always has to come right at the exit or entrance to the turns,¿ admits , who is gunning for a record fifth Pocono win this weekend. ¿We are all pretty equal now horsepower-wise so handling in the corners is where you have to gain your advantage.¿ Turn one is banked 14 degrees, comparable to Indianapolis (nine degrees) or Las Vegas (12 degrees). But don¿t let the moderate banking fool you. It is a wickedly sharp left-hander that swings around well past 90 degrees. ¿You enter turn one with such a head of speed that it¿s very hard to make that car stick through the corner,¿ explains two-time winner . ¿That is the spot on the track where you see the hardest hits into the wall, when guys lose grip trying to hang onto that corner.¿ Straight number two is the Long Pond Straight and also measures over 3,000 feet. Long Pond empties into the most infamous of the three Pocono turns — turn two — labeled the ¿Tunnel Turn¿ because it spans the underground tunnel into the infield. Banked only eight degrees, the turn actually straightens out for a moment before making a hard left onto the third straightway. ¿It¿s like a damn road course out there,¿ says , who won the pole at Pocono in July of 1998. ¿And if you¿ve seen most of us on road course, then you know that somebody is going to just about lose it in that corner every time through there. You have to force yourself to get out of the gas and coast through there longer than you want to before jumping back on it.¿ Straight number three, the ¿shortstretch¿, measures a more humane 1,780 feet but ends with the silent monster of the track — turn three. Overshadowed by the long straights and the "Tunnel Turn", the final bend in the triangle may actually be the key to playing the world¿s biggest, baddest triangle. ¿I think turn three is the key to winning at Pocono,¿ said earlier this week on . ¿It¿s not banked as much (six degrees) as the other two (14 and eight degrees), it¿s also wider and longer than the other two. How you handle in the middle of turn three dictates how well you can come up off the corner and how soon you can jump back in the throttle. If you can get up off that corner just a little bit better than the other guy, then you are going pass him coming down that long frontstretch.¿ ¿It really isn¿t a superspeedway,¿ says Ray Evernham, who crew chiefed Gordon to his three wins. ¿It is part superspeedway, part short track and part road course. And if you look at the guys who have won a lot of races there, it¿s drivers who are good on all three of those types of track.¿

    Four for four

    Four drivers share the record for wins in the Pocono Mountains — Darrell Waltrip, , and the late Tim Richmond with four trophies each. Richmond¿s share of the record is amazing considering the fact that he only ran there a handful of times. It took Richmond just 14 starts to notch four wins, two poles, 10 top-10 finishes. By comparison, Elliott earned his fourth win in his 17th start, D.W. in his 27th and Rusty after 34 races.

    Open wheel open date, IRL ready to return?

    Before NASCAR arrived in 1974, Indycars had been buzzing around Pocono for three years. The first open-wheel race was held on the triangle in 1971 and was won by Mark Donohue. The annual 500-miler was included in USAC¿s ¿Triple Crown¿ during the 1970s, awarding one million bucks to any driver who could sweep the three 500-mile events on the Indycar schedule — Indianapolis, Pocono, and the now-extinct Ontario Motor Speedway outside of Los Angeles. The sweep was accomplished just once, by Al Unser Sr. in 1978. Unfortunately for Al, the million-dollar bonus program didn¿t start until a couple seasons after his triple. ¿When I did it, they just patted me on the back and said, ¿Good job, Al.¿¿ When CART was formed in the late 1970s, Pocono found itself caught in the midst of a rift between the new sanctioning body and USAC. CART dropped the track in 1989 after 18 races. Quietly, the Indy Racing League is looking into a Pocono return after 13 years away from the Pennsylvania mountains. Ryan McGee is the producer of which airs weeknights at 6 p.m. local on FOX Sports Net and 6:30 p.m. ET on SPEED Channel.

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