Pocono Turns For The Worse

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LONG POND, Pa. – Trying to pick the hardest turn at Pocono Raceway - host of Sunday's Winston Cup race - is a little like choosing a healthy hamburger between a Big Mac, a Whopper or a Double with cheese. No matter which one you pick, it’s not going to be good for you.

What’ll you have, sir? Here’s a helping of Turn 1. It’s 675 feet and banked 14 degrees. Oh, it’s pretty sharp, too. No? What about some Turn 2? Around here we call it the tunnel turn. It’s 750 feet and banked 8 degrees. Be careful. It only looks easy.

Something else? Well, we have a beautiful Turn 3, 800-feet long with 6 degrees of banking. Not impressed? After that turn is the longest stretch of straight asphalt this side of Le Mans, so you better enjoy Turn 3.

So what’s it going to be? Go ahead, pick one.

“The hard one seems to be the one I’m approaching,” Ken Schrader said.

Fine, don’t pick one.

“Turn 1,” Schrader finally said. “I’m going faster; makes me think I’m going to hit harder.”

Thank you, sir. Next?

“All of ‘em’s hard,” Sterling Marlin said. “You go into Turn 1, and it’s banked more. The tunnel turn is pretty tricky in traffic. It’s really a one-groove deal to shoot through. Everybody pretty much gets back in single file before Turn 3. It’s pretty much impossible to run two-deep in Turn 3. Every corner here is pretty tricky.”

So you’re not going to choose? Probably a good move. You wouldn’t want two corners here mad at you.

Let’s go to the young gentleman in the bright red suit.

“I haven’t run this track in traffic yet, but I’m having the most problems through Turn 3,” Casey Atwood said. “I’m real loose through there. I feel pretty good through Turn 1 and the tunnel turn, but I get pretty loose through 3 and have to chase it up the track just about every lap.”

There’s a lot of chasing at Pocono’s 2.5-mile oval – wait, is this an oval?

“How often are you going to find an oval with three turns in it?” Kyle Petty observed. “It’s a triangle. You don’t need a computer to figure that out. The deal is, in stock-car racing you have road-course racing and you have oval racing. Where does that leave a triangle to go?”

Pocono.

But back to chasing – setups mostly. You can get your shock-spring-tire combination perfect for Turn 1, but your car will be junk in Turn 2. Get it right for 3 and it’ll be wrong for 1. Screw up 2 and… you get the picture.

“The turns are so much different, you’re car would feel a ton different every place,” Schrader said. “But if you get it right, it gets around all three of them pretty good. But it ain’t killer in any of them.”

Pocono, then, is more about compromise than any political discussion. There’s even compromise about changing gears. Yes, if the three different turns weren’t enough, Pocono is the only oval – check that, non-road course track – where drivers have to shift during a lap.

Schrader, who starts third in Sunday’s race, tried to explain his shift points, but Pocono seems to have gotten the best of him.

“Shift from high to overdrive a little bit past the start-finish line, then back to high – that’s what I’m going to, isn’t it?” Schrader said. “High to overdrive? Hell, I don’t know. Yeah, third to fourth. Shift from third to fourth – but high gear is third gear, and fourth gear is overdrive – somewhere past the start-finish line.

“Somewhere down in 1, when you gear down there and realize you’re not going to hit anything, you get back into high gear.”

From there, drivers either shift again on the “backstretch” – which isn’t so much a backstretch as much as a “second stretch” – or simply leave it in third. High. Whatever you want to call it.

“Going into the tunnel turn, it’s a little trickier turn than Turn 1,” Marlin said. “As soon as you lift, you have to shift and turn at the same time. Turn 1, you’ve got a little more time to gather it up.”

So you might not want to worry about shifting again. Young Atwood, he of the no experience at Pocono, won’t even try to shift a second time going into Turn 2. Seems that’s too tricky.

Then again, so is Turn 3. And Turn 1.

Can we take your order?

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