Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pocono isn't the Pocono we used to Know

I hate to see any race track lose a date on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, but I’m starting to feel that it’s about time we saw goodbye to one of the two Pocono dates on the schedule. I didn’t feel that way until recently. In fact, Pocono was always on of my favorite tracks because it was so unique compared to all the cookie-cutter facilities popping up in the new age of NASCAR.

Pocono’s triangular shape is an amazing 2.5 mile track with 3 differing degrees of banking in each turn, getting progressively flatter with differing angles each time. The long straights provide a great platform for the fastest cars to drag race their way into position and set themselves up for each of the three turns.

As for the surrounding landscapes itself, maybe only Bristol compares with such natural beauty which makes Pocono a great family getaway for the weekend.

Something happened in 2005 that began my slow disdain for the track to get me to the point where I’m at now, which is hoping a Pocono date goes somewhere else. That something was the NASCAR mandated a single gear ratio for all cars which took several tiers of ingenuity from the Pocono races by both the crew and the drivers.

Pocono used to be called the Superspeedway that runs like a road course, and it actually was. When drivers would come into that tough turn three, the ones with some road course skills would down shift helping keep the RPM’s up, while also helping break around the turn. As of 2005, downshifting was no longer in the mix at Pocono. With NASCAR’s mandate, it took some of the fun out of the race for fans because it took some of the driver skill out of the equation.

Pocono was always a track where a drivers true driving skills came out, almost as much as a road course. Over the years, the past winners of Pocono looked like the winners list from Watkins Glen or Sonoma with drivers like Tim Richmond, Rusty Wallace, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Ricky Rudd, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart, all of whom were great road course drivers. Of course, having a lot of horsepower under the hood helped too, but getting in and out of the turns fastest while holding that perfect line was pivotal.

It all changed in 2005 with Carl Edwards winning the first mandated race and then the next year a rookie swept the season with relatively no one even being close to him. Denny Hamlin had a perfectly set car for both races despite Jason Leffler being awful in the same car the year prior.

In the ensuing years, the quality of racing dissipated for the most part because there wasn’t enough passing. It became strictly a horsepower track where the fastest car won and was rarely challenged. The equalizer in the past was how each driver maneuvered around the turns and how crafty the crew chief was their gear ratio.

Now Pocono is just a beautiful destination with the great racing of yesterday just a memory.

The only problem with hoping for a date being removed is that it’s likely to be moved to a 1.5 mile facility, which would be counterproductive. I know it’s not possible for Rockingham to get a date back, or even give Darlington their lost date back. It’s also not likely that any new proposed sites such as Seattle or Denver would build a one mile or less track, maybe in the Richmond or Phoenix mold.

So, knowing what would be in store with my wish, I detract. Keep Pocono’s dates, but have the competition committee mandate an exception for Pocono and the road courses to make things more interesting for the fans and allow for more passing and competitive racing.

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