The tricky triangle known as the Pocono Raceway got a major facelift in the off-season with new asphalt. If drivers thought the old pavement with its ruts, slick spots and potholes was bad, the new surface may be just as difficult to figure out.
NASCAR is so aware of the new challenges for the three-turn, 2. 5-mile raceway, it will allow two extra days of testing before the track officially opens for practice, qualifying and Sunday’s Pocono 400.
Everyone knows new asphalt was necessary, but it doesn’t mean they are looking forward to the smoother, faster race track.
“I tend to like old surfaces, but that’s gone,” Jimmie Johnson said. “Normally, it’s an edgy race track regardless of the tire that you come with on a new repave. It sounds like we didn’t have that and Pocono made sure they used the same mix, the same asphalt that we were racing on.
“I’m optimistic that they are on to something and that other tracks when they resurface they can go back to their old mix. We have seen this new mix that goes down and it takes years and years for the comfort to come for the track to age for the side-by-side racing to come.”
While few are looking forward to arriving Wednesday and spending five days at Pocono, they are thrilled the main event finally has been shortened to 400 miles. Track owners Dr. Joseph and Dr. Rose Mattioli have insisted on 500-mile races since 1974 when the track joined the NASCAR schedule.
“Yeah, I’m not real excited about being up there that long,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I don’t think anybody is to be honest with you. That’s the schedule and we’ll go up there and just run around in circles.
“I know NASCAR is wanting to get enough rubber down so we have a good race. That’s really the reason why we are going for so long, to really avoid any kind of debacle with rubbering the track down. There’s really no other excuse for being there the entire week.”
Next week’s race is at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway – another track that has new pavement. NASCAR will open that track to testing one day earlier than normal.
Busch’s future in limbo
Kurt Busch’s suspension from this weekend’s race at the Pocono Raceway has put his future in doubt.
His current ride with Phoenix Racing is based on a handshake agreement, according to car owner James Finch. He said he plans to talk with Busch next week, knowing his recent outburst against a reporter makes it even more difficult to sign any potential sponsors.
“If he’s going to kill himself, I’m not going to be in the airplane with him,” Finch told ESPN.
Busch was asked if being on probation kept him from racing harder, or possibly retaliating, against Justin Allgaier in last Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Dover, Del. Busch said probation kept him from beating the reporter since he felt the question was an attempt to spark controversy.
NASCAR, which last year urged drivers to show more personality by telling them to “have at it,” suspended Busch for one week and extended his probation until the end of the year.
Busch released a statement Monday night saying he accepted the penalty. He also apologized to the reporter.
During a radio interview Tuesday with NASCAR Radio on Sirius XM, Finch said, “He needs to either get his mind right or he’s going to be working somewhere else. Quit wrecking cars, be nice to people. That’s not hard to do.”