TONY STEWART Paradigm Shift at Pocono ATLANTA (June 6, 2005) - After years of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers shifting into overdrive just past the start/finish line of Pocono (Pa.) Raceway's 3,055-foot long straightaway and then downshifting...
Paradigm Shift at Pocono
ATLANTA (June 6, 2005) - After years of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers shifting into overdrive just past the start/finish line of Pocono (Pa.) Raceway's 3,055-foot long straightaway and then downshifting upon entering turn one, the only shift that will take place in 2005 is a paradigm shift.
The gear rule implemented this year by NASCAR restricting teams to a single, mandated gear at every race track with the exception of Daytona (Fla.) and Talladega (Ala.) - the two restrictor plate tracks on the Nextel Cup schedule - has changed the racing model at Pocono.
Gone are the days when teams were forced to out-think each other on transmission and rear end gear ratios so they could achieve maximum horsepower by having their engines turn maximum rpms. The single rear end gear available for Sunday's Pocono 500 is a 3.89-inch gear, a far cry from the 4.22-inch gear teams used to employ. That means a loss of about 200 rpms, with team's engines most likely reaching a maximum rpm of 9,600 this weekend.
The end result is a different Pocono 500, but just how different is unknown. Drivers will have to adjust their typical line throughout the 2.5-mile triangle, while crew chiefs will have to manipulate their car's chassis to overcome the lack of horsepower. Those who strike the proper balance will be rewarded quickly, while those who struggle will endure a long 500 miles.
Since you no longer have to shift at Pocono, what affect will that have on your driving style, especially going into turn one?
"We'll actually have a chance to enjoy the race a little bit because we won't have to do all that shifting. I really didn't enjoy shifting at high-speed places like Pocono anyway. If you shifted too early, that's what caused some guys to get loose. I've had cases where I almost wrecked because of it. I think it'll be a lot nicer now. It'll make you really concentrate more on keeping your momentum through the corners instead of having to worry about who's got the best transmission ratio."
What presents the biggest challenge for you at Pocono?
"All three corners are different - that's the most challenging part. It seems like you can always get your car good in two of the three corners, but the guys who are contending for the win are the guys who can get their car good for all three corners. That's a very hard thing to do - get you car good through all three sections of the race track. This year it'll be a little different because we won't be going through transmission and gear changes like we have in the past trying different combinations to find more speed. It's going to be a totally different style of racing compared to what we've had in the past at Pocono. Hopefully, it'll even things out for everyone."
Since Pocono has three distinct corners, where do you start with your race setup?
"We always go out and figure where I feel like I'm struggling the most, because that's where I feel like I'm going to make up the most time. It seems like if we can get our car to go through the tunnel turn well, then we're normally able to get The Home Depot Chevrolet to go through the rest of the race track well. The tunnel turn seems to be our toughest turn on the race track. Getting through turn two and the last corner of the race track that's flat, long and sweeping - those seem to be the toughest two corners to get through. And if you're a little bit off, you're a bunch off. If there's a guy who can get all three of those corners right, then that's the guy who's going to win the race."
What's the most treacherous part of Pocono's layout?
"Probably the tunnel turn. Everybody realizes how fast they're going into (turn) one. And they know that if they wreck they're going to wreck hard. The tunnel turn is a little sneaky. It's a tight fit through there, and you don't really know how fast you're going until something bad happens."
Coming down that front straightaway the racing can get pretty wide. When and where do you have to get back in line to make it into that first corner?
"It just kind of funnels itself back into line before we get into (turn) one. Everybody tries to get back on the high side to make their entry into the corner, but sometimes it does get a little tight in there. But most times, you just do what you have to do to get The Home Depot Chevrolet back in line."
If you're down on horsepower at Pocono, are you pretty much out of contention?
"Yeah. If you're down on power at Pocono you're a mid-pack car at best. You need power to go down that front straightaway, and if you don't have it, you're done."
Explain a lap around Pocono.
"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three - you drive it in kind of deep and then try to float the car through the corner. You go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn and it's basically one lane. It's flat and very line-sensitive. You've got to make sure you're right on your marks every lap when you go through there. Then you've got a short chute into turn three. It's a big, long corner and it too is very line-sensitive. With it being line-sensitive and the fact that we've got a straightaway that's three-quarters of a mile long after that, it's very important that you get through the last corner well. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you're not bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make."
Well before you came to Pocono as a rookie in 1999, you raced at Pocono in a go-kart as a youth. What was that like?
"Years and years and years ago, 1986 I think, I ran the WKA (World Karting Association) Enduro Series. When we ran Pocono, we actually ran the majority of the big track backward. You went out on the front straightaway backward and then you turned into the road course in the infield and came back out on the speedway past the part where you'd run with the Nextel Cup car, but you'd turn back on the track and turn to the right. You'd go around the tunnel turn and then come back around. It was pretty neat, pretty different. You really didn't get a perspective of what it was like in a stock car by any means because you were going in the wrong direction in a go-kart that only went 105 mph. It was definitely a different perspective than what I experience there now."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet:
With the new gear rule implemented for this season, drivers will no longer be shifting at Pocono. With engines only turning a maximum of 9600 rpms, is that easier on the engine but harder on the rear end gear, or is it easier on everything? And what affect will it have on the race?
"I think the race will be so slow that it'll be easy on everything. I think that what we'll find is the place to make up speed will be in the corners - carrying speed through the corners by either driving in harder or picking the throttle up earlier. Without downshifting going into (turn) one, we'll have to work on not overdriving the corner. I think the feeling we'll get is that we'll just be crawling around there."
Is the gear rule almost acting like a restrictor plate at Pocono in that it's slowing the cars down so much?
"I think so. From what we looked at we figure the rpm drop is a going to be pretty big. It's just going to be really slow, and it'll take a while to get up to speed."
With the reduced rear spoiler height also introduced this season, will the slower speeds actually help a car's handling at Pocono?
"I don't know. Ask me on Monday. We don't really know what to expect. I think it's just going to slow everything down. It's going to take a really boring race and turn it into a really, really boring race. Fuel mileage and track position will be even more important. And I like Pocono. I think it's a cool race track. But 500 miles there is too long for anything, anywhere, anytime for as long as it takes to get around there."
Because no corner at Pocono is alike, do you have to give up handling in one corner to make yourself better in another?
"If you can get over the tunnel turn and then get off through (turn) three pretty good, you're normally fairly happy. You can kind of move around in (turn) one - some guys run the high line and some guys run the bottom. You can move around enough to get your car halfway decent."