CHARLOTTE, N.C., (June 13, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (June 13, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, heads to one of the oddest tracks on the Winston Cup circuit this weekend when he ventures into Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for the Pocono 500.
The triangular 2.5-mile oval is a melting pot of race tracks, with not one corner or straightaway being the same. Turn one is semi-banked. Turn two, also known as the tunnel turn, is a narrow half-corner. While turn three is a long and sweeping corner that dumps drivers onto a frontstretch that is almost a mile in length.
Pocono's unique layout provides an interesting set of circumstances for drivers and mechanics alike. Drivers must constantly adapt their racing line, while mechanics must sacrifice a car's handling in one corner to be better in another. Finding a happy medium at Pocono is as elusive as finding the fountain of youth, but it hasn't deterred the 47 teams slated to qualify for the Pocono 500, including the #20 team of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Pocono has a lot of flat track characteristics along with some characteristics all its own. Is it a place that suits your driving style, considering your success at such flat tracks as Richmond (Va.), Homestead (Fla.) and Phoenix?
"I like it because it has three corners and they're all different. All three have different personalities. If you get the car good in one corner, then sometimes it's bad in one of the others, and yet tolerable somewhere else. The challenge is getting The Home Depot Pontiac to handle through all three corners all day."
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."
Pocono is the only oval where you shift. Why is that?
"Because my motor man tells me that's the only way to go fast there. Everybody shifts there."
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 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."