Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Overton’s 400 at Pocono Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After a marathon race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back to Pocono Raceway for their second visit of the 2017 season as they get set for Sunday’s running of the Overton’s 400.

With only three turns, instead of the four turns at all other ovals on the circuit, Pocono is definitely one of the most unique tracks on the schedule. The three turns all have differing banking with Turn 1 and its 14 degree banking modeled after the now-defunct Trenton Speedway, Turn 2 and its nine degree banking modeled after Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Turn 3 and its six degree banking modeled after The Milwaukee Mile.

While Pocono has been chastised over the years for boring racing, these unique characteristics allow for speeds near 200 mph down each of the three straightaways and the wide frontstretch allows drivers to fan out four and even five-wide as they barrel towards Turn 1. Many drivers consider Pocono a mix between a road course and an oval, or a “roval” as some call it.

In addition to the normal Pocono concerns, look for braking to be a big issue this weekend as several teams experienced brake failure at the end of Pocono’s long straightaways the last time they were at the track in June.

Teams will also experience qualifying and the race on the same day this weekend as Pocono is one of a handful of tracks that are experimenting with two day shows that will feature qualifying on race morning instead of a day or two before.

By the Numbers

Opened: 1971 (First NASCAR race: 1974)

Track/Race Length: 2.5 mile tri-oval (160 laps, 400 miles)

Stage Lengths: First two stages: 50 laps each; Final stage: 60 laps

Banking: 14 degrees (Turn 1), 9 degrees (Turn 2), 6 degrees (Turn 3)

Pit Road Speed: 55 mph

Pace Car Speed: 65 mph

Fuel Window: 33-36 laps

June 2017 Winner: Ryan Blaney – No. 21 Ford – Started fourth, 10 laps led

August 2016 Winner: Chris Buescher – No. 34 Ford – Started 22nd, 12 laps led (weather shortened)

Track Qualifying Record: Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 8/3/2014 – 49.063 seconds, 183.438 mph

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:

  • Erik Jones – No. 77 Toyota – 112.7 – Best finish: third
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 105.6 – 3 wins
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 104.7 – 4 wins
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 103.9 – 3 wins
  • Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 101.9 – Best finish: fourth
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 97.6 – Best finish: fifth
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – No. 88 Chevrolet – 93.9 – 2 wins
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 94.4 – Best finish: second
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 93.9 – 1 win
  • Ryan Blaney – No. 21 Ford – 93.4 – 1 win
  • Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 91.5 – 1 win

From the Driver’s Seat

“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest – turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down,” said Kyle Busch. “We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.”

“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, and if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch, getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140 mph). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”

Last Time at Pocono

Kyle Busch looked to be the man to beat in June’s Pocono 400, leading 100 of the first 150 laps, but a call from interim crew chief Ben Beshore to stay out on old tires while the remainder of the leaders pitted under caution would doom Busch’s chances to win his first race of the season.

Shortly after the restart, Ryan Blaney was all over Busch’s rear bumper, pulling alongside him and eventually clearing him to take over the lead with 10 laps to go. While Busch faded to ninth at the finish, Blaney had his hands full with Kevin Harvick, but the young gun was able to hold off the veteran to score his first career Cup Series win and return the legendary Wood Brothers to victory lane for the first time since 2011.

“I think it exceeds the dream a little bit,” said Blaney. “I grew up watching my dad race on this race track and it’s so cool to get the Wood Brothers in victory lane, number one, and to do it here at a race track that is really close to Ohio – a home to me – is pretty awesome.”

Aside from Blaney’s win, the race will also be remembered for the simultaneous brake failures from Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray in Turn 1 on lap 97. Both drivers made hard hits with the SAFER barrier and while Johnson’s car came to rest along the outside wall, McMurray’s car caught fire and stopped along the inside wall.

McMurray was able to escape the flames and hop over the wall to get away from the blaze that was enveloping his Chevrolet, but it would be several more seconds before the first safety truck arrived to extinguish the flames.

“So, I didn’t really even see the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) car wrecking until I just went down and I got on the brake pedal and my pedal started to go to the floor and I had a little bit that I could kind of pump it and I thought I was going to be okay,” said McMurray. “And then, I don’t know if I got into some oil or what happened, but I just started spinning and didn’t have any brakes.  So, it was really weird that we kind of both had the same thing happen at the same point on the racetrack, but fortunately, we are both okay and yeah, move on.”

Meanwhile, Johnson was slow to get out of his car and slumped down against the outside wall to catch his breath after the incident.

“When the brakes fail like that, there’s so much time to think about the crash and I just needed a minute. I thought it was going to be a lot worse than that. And to have it turn out where I basically just scared myself and got out of the car and walked away, I just needed a second to sit down and catch my breath. But, honestly, I have no sore spots or aches. I feel fine.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, July 29

  • MENCS Practice (9:00 am to 9:55 am – CNBC)
  • MENCS Final Practice (11:30 am to 12:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, July 30

  • MENCS Qualifying (11:30 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Overton’s 400 at Pocono (3:00 pm – 160 laps, 400 miles – NBC Sports Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.