Officials comfortable with speeds
Lap times are wicked fast at Pocono Raceway since the 2.5-mile track was repaved last year. However, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, doesn’t anticipate the need for restrictor plates this weekend.
On Thursday, drivers flirted with a total lap speed of 180 mph and cars topped 212 mph entering Turn 1 at Pocono Raceway during the second day of testing.
“No, absolutely not,” Pemberton said of the prospect of implementing restrictor plates. “We’re well within reason here. Average speed is going pretty good, so we’re happy. There’s a lot of grip here, so there’s no reason for that.”
The best average speed in the morning practice was Kevin Harvick's 173.618 mph, but teams are carrying extra weight during the test with the telemetry equipment — it transfers car data back to engineers — and had not run laps in qualifying trim.
Four-time Pocono winner Denny Hamlin was fifth fastest in the morning practice (176.218 mph) but fell to to eighth on the chart in the afternoon, despite a faster lap (178.589 mph). But he said there’s not a discernible difference behind the wheel.
“You can tell a little bit just because the engine is louder, the vibrations are a little bit more," Hamlin said. "Does it scare you? Not really. I’m not saying that I want to go any faster, but it’s definitely very quick. Really I was surprised about the level of grip that the track has and obviously it continues to get faster and faster the more we run.”
Still, Hamlin and Pemberton expect the track qualifying record of 172.533 mph set by Kasey Kahne in 2004 to be obliterated Saturday. Pemberton predicted the time will be at least two seconds faster. Kahne led all drivers in Thursday's test session with a top lap of 179.490 mph.
And Hamlin, one of the first drivers to experiment with tandem drafting at restrictor-plate track Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates some form of drafting down the straightaway at Pocono. He also believes the corners will be treacherous. However, the latest wrinkle — the distance of Sunday's race was changed from 500 miles to 400 — could have the greatest effect of all.
“What you’ve seen in the last few years, with the Car of Tomorrow especially punching a big hole in the draft, is that things were getting crazy on the restarts anyway," Hamlin said. "That’s kind of what you’ll see all day, anyway. And with passing, once green-flag racing kind of gets going, it’s going to be very hard to pass. So I anticipate the restarts will be vary hairy in that sense that everyone will try to get everything in those first three laps cause that’s your time to pass.
“There’s a distinct line you have to run around the bottom — and you can’t get out of it. That part of it is going to be tough. It’s really going to be a fight to whoever gets position on each other in the corner. There’s going to be a lot of drafting down the straightaway and you’re going to see massive dive bombs going into the corner for position. In my estimation, you’re going to see a lot of excitement.”