This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its first of two yearly trips to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, this time around for Sunday's Pocono 400. But it's not the same old Pocono. Sure, the track configuration -- distance, unusual three-turn layout and banking -- are all the same, but that's about it. The race is 100 miles shorter and the track surface has been repaved since the series last visited in 2011.
"We're in for a really good race come Sunday," Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said. "Goodyear's done an excellent job at matching the tire to the new surface. Basically, all the way up and down through the garage, we've heard zero complaints, which is a good feeling."
This pavement is unbelievably just nice, smooth.
Because of the new surface, this race weekend is longer than normal. Race teams began arriving at the Pennsylvania track on Wednesday for a two day test to get used to the new surface. Thirty-six cars hit the track on the first day of the test.
The No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of Mark Martin was the fastest on day one of the test, with a speed nearly five mph faster than the fastest speed turned in during a practice session during the most recent NASCAR race weekend at Pocono last August. Martin got his car around the track at a speed of 175.380 mph on Wednesday, compared to the 170.026 mph turned by the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman last year.
So if this test session is any indication, the pace on race day is going to be fast. But there's no telling what Sunday's racing will provide.
"You never know what to expect when a race track gets paved," Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, said. "This pavement is unbelievably just nice, smooth."
While there are uncertainties heading into the race on Sunday, Burton does believe that the racing is going to be better than past Pocono events.
"The quality of racing is going to be improved a great deal," Burton said. "It's still Pocono. It still has the same characteristics and the personality of Pocono, but just has more grip."
Same Pocono, new Pocono, nobody knows exactly what to expect when the field takes the green flag on Sunday. Whatever it is, it's likely to be fast. After all, more grip generally means more speed.