Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR

Up to Speed: Previewing the Pocono 400

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After taking on the Monster Mile last weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads north to Pennsylvania this weekend for the first of two 2017 dates at Pocono Raceway and Sunday’s running of the Pocono 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.

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 2016 Winner: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – Started ninth, 32 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:

  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 105.7 – 3 wins
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 105.6 – 4 wins
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 104.8 – 3 wins
  • Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 102.7 – Best finish: fourth
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 95.6 – Best finish: fifth
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – No. 88 Chevrolet – 93.9 – 2 wins
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 93.6 – Best finish: second
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 93.2 – 1 win
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 93.1 – 1 win
  • Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 92.5 – 1 win

From the Driver’s Seat

“Pocono (Raceway) is a tough place,” Chris Buescher said. “All three corners are so different, and it’s just a unique race track. 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.”

“From my point of view, it looks like we get about eight-cars wide on restarts at Pocono. Then we get into Turn 1 and there are cars everywhere. And it’s a little bit of a disaster sometimes. You don’t want to be in the middle of it, you’d like to at least be on the edge. And we try to get down there and for the most part we seem to get through it, there is a little bit of give and take. Then we go down the backstretch and it’s almost like we get into it going into Turn 2. It’s just the unique characteristics of Pocono and getting those really long straightaways and the speed that creates some really wild restarts there.”

Last Year’s Results

Last June, Kurt Busch rolled into Pocono without his crew chief Tony Gibson, but that didn’t matter as interim crew chief Johnny Klausmeier was up to the task of leading Busch and his No. 41 team from atop the pit box.

With Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Chase Elliott battling for the lead late in the race, Busch saw his opportunity to pounce and was able to get by both drivers into the lead. Once in the lead, Busch and the rest of the field went into fuel conservation mode and Busch was able to make up his two lap fuel deficit while keeping Earnhardt in his rear view mirror. By the time the checkered flag flew, Busch was well out in front with a 1.126 second margin of victory as he claimed his 28th win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Following Busch and Earnhardt to the finish was polesitter Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, and Joey Logano to round out the top-five.

“It’s an amazing feeling when you get to drive into victory lane at any track, any weekend at any time, and it’s very special, because it makes you think of all the hard work that everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing put into this car.  To be in position, that’s what it’s all about.  Johnny Klausmeier called a perfect race to gamble on the fuel a little bit, but he also gave me the ball.  He’s like, hey, we’re two laps shy, go get it for us,” said Kurt Busch

“And so as a driver, we were restarting I think 10th at that point.  We had to work through some of the guys that stayed out, which you knew or I knew we could get those guys because they were really gambling on fuel, but just overall a great team effort.  It’s a lot of work at the shop, but each week we’ve been in position this year so far, and we haven’t quite sealed the deal, and so today we did, and we’re going to enjoy this win.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, June 9

  • MENCS Practice (11:00 am to 12:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (4:00 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, June 10

  • MENCS Final Practice (11:30 am to 12:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, June 11

  • MENCS Pocono 400 (3:00 pm – 160 laps, 400 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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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.