Long Pond: Tony Stewart preview

Whatcha know about Pocono? ATLANTA (June 4, 2002) - The triangular layout of the 2.5-mile Pocono (Pa.) Raceway nestled in the Pocono Mountains may look appealing. The green meadows sprinkled with yellow flowers cast against a blue sky make for...

Whatcha know about Pocono?

ATLANTA (June 4, 2002) - The triangular layout of the 2.5-mile Pocono (Pa.) Raceway nestled in the Pocono Mountains may look appealing. The green meadows sprinkled with yellow flowers cast against a blue sky make for a postcard-like setting when the NASCAR Winston Cup Series rolls into town for their annual June stop.

But for drivers and crew members of those Winston Cup teams, their postcards won't read "Wish You Were Here."

Pocono's unique layout, beginning with an enormously long front straightaway that dumps into a tight, semi-banked turn one, gives drivers and crew chief fits and engine specialists nightmares. No corner is alike. No straightaway is the same.

Upon leaving turn one and shooting down another straightaway, drivers are subjected to the tunnel turn, a very narrow half-corner. If unscathed, drivers exit the tunnel turn and speed down a third straightaway, only to negotiate another tight corner. Turn three is the final turn of the track, and with little banking, drivers must feather the throttle to get the balance and grip they need to race down that long front straightaway all over again.

As a result, drivers must constantly adapt their racing line while mechanics must sacrifice a car's handling in one corner to be better in another - all for a total of 200 laps. But perhaps fretting the most over Pocono's layout is the engine specialist. With teams only allowed one engine for practice, qualifying and the race, the strain of 200 laps on an engine already turning 9,200 rpms for long periods of time will make any engine builder reach for the Pepto before the Powerade.

Will the aerodynamic issues you've faced this year with the Pontiac present an even bigger problem at Pocono?

"It'll probably be worse there than anywhere because in all three corners you run right around the bottom of the race track. But the good thing about Pocono is that you do have long straightaways. So if you do get a run on a guy through the corner, even though it's not really a two-lane race track, you'll probably have enough of a run to get by him down the straightaway."

Explain a lap around Pocono.

"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three, but you've got the challenge of having to downshift in the middle of 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."

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 Pontiac back in line."

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."

Well before you came to Pocono as a Winston Cup 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 Winston 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."

Chris "Woody" Woodward,
engine specialist on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac

With the incredibly long front straightaway that Pocono has and the resulting strain that it produces on the engine, is Pocono the one track on the Winston Cup circuit where the one-engine rule is a concern in terms of liability?

"Yeah. With that long front straightaway, it makes the engine turn about 9,100 to 9,200 rpms for a long time, and on top of that, you have to shift. Add that to the equation and there's always the possibility of a missed shift, which can really damage the engine.

"But we don't approach Pocono any differently than we would any other race weekend. We'll change the valve springs before the race, but we do that now everywhere we go. There's really no secret. You just hope for the best - that the driver is cautious and pays attention to his shifting. At the end of the day, if that what he's done then you should be in good shape.

"The natural frequency that the motor goes through with the straightaway being as long as it is just isn't good for the valve train, period. It's just tough on motors. So you've just got to be cautious and watch everything really closely, especially during your final inspection before the race."

Sometimes you'll hear the television commentators talk about drivers hitting the "rev chip." Can you explain what the rev chip is and what it does?

"The rev chip limits the amount of rpms the engine can turn, and depending on what size chip you use, you can limit the rpms to whatever you want. If you put in a 9,300 rpm chip, then the motor will only run to 9,300 rpms, where it will hit the chip and, essentially, stop. The chip won't allow the motor to rev any higher than 9,300 rpms. The rev chip, however, will not help you on a decel (deceleration) situation, where the driver misses a shift and he spikes the rpms. There's nothing you can do. The chip won't help that. Again, it goes back to the driver needing to be cautious.

"The chip is really an insurance policy. We had a problem this year at Atlanta where Bobby (Labonte, Stewart's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing) spun on pit road. The motor over-revved and we broke a valve spring. A rev chip helps prevent something like that from happening. Like I said, it's a piece of insurance. If the driver makes a mistake, we've got some insurance for him."

When the one-engine rule was implemented this year, was Pocono one of the tracks that you circled on your calendar as a potential trouble-maker for guys like you whose responsibility is the engine?

"Pocono is certainly one of a couple. I don't know if it's the toughest tracks on motors, but it's definitely rougher than others. Any track that has a long straightaway, like Pocono, is tough on motors. But motors have personalities too, and you know when the frequency of rpms hurt and don't hurt."

-jgr/hp-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing