NASCAR’s new knockout-group qualifying gets a different look Friday at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Pocono is one of NASCAR’s longer tracks at 2.5 miles. Its three-cornered layout – nicknamed the “Tricky Triangle” – also makes Pocono distinctive.
So when drivers head out to qualify Friday – in packs instead of individually – new strategies will likely be in place.
“Pocono could be very interesting with that track,” said Brad Keselowski, who was on the pole for last week’s race at Dover International Speedway in Delaware. “It is probably the most sensitive track as it pertains to sun and clouds. As large of a facility as it is, it’s very easy to have one part of the track under shade and another under sun. There is nothing that keeps you on pit road if you want to go out. That eliminates those variables and it is in your hands to make the right decision.
“It puts more skills and instinct into the game, which we all have an interest in seeing.”
Because of the length of the track – only Talladega’s 2.66-mile layout is longer than the 2.5-mile tracks at Pocono, Daytona (Fla.) and Indianapolis – tire wear could be a factor, especially while battling traffic.
“You usually end up kind of out of grip by the third turn,” said Jimmie Johnson. “That’s just due to the tire getting more miles on it than what you would normally have. But it’s the same for everyone and there is enough room on that track you should be able to get a clean lap and not worry about traffic. I think the format will work well.”
Pocono’s long front stretch (3,740 feet) might also allow something else different with the new qualifying format: drafting.
“I’m not saying we would be bumper to bumper, but you might want a car out in front of you to get a little bit of draft,” said Jeff Gordon.
Said Johnson: “If you are fortunate enough to time it and get a tow down the front straightaway when somebody is finishing their lap and you are getting up to speed, that could be beneficial to you.”
But Joey Logano said drafting might not be the best strategy.
“I think you will see similar to all these other places,” said Logano. “You will see cars trying to get clean air. The draft will be a good thing down the straightway but a killer in the corner. So you will have to weigh out the pros and cons. If someone gets lucky and gets a draft at the end of the lap, it might be great. Trying to time that out and to plan that is nearly impossible.”