Shifting Times At Pocono

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As you’re watching the Pocono 500 this weekend, take into account the fact that there is something missing. There will be no shifting in Sunday’s race, and that is causing some concern in the garage area about what that will do to the racing line, the brakes and the way the triangular race course is attacked.

NASCAR has limited the teams to a single gear ratio for Pocono, in an attempt to save team owners money. It might just cost some team owners a lot of money in the way of wrecked race cars or blown-up engines.

Fourth gear is not a problem for the teams, but the split to third gear is too much to use as an aid for slowing the car down into Turn 1 and to launch off Turn 3 down the immensely long front straightaway.

Pocono was the place that everyone pointed to for the real acid test of the gear rule, because of the propensity for shifting. One driver said the gear the teams have now would chug like a city bus coming off Turn 2, and the line would have to change coming off Turn 3 to get a good run down the main straight.

"I'm really against what they've got here,” Jeff Gordon said after practice on Friday. “I think it's really going to make the racing bad. With us not being able to shift and get up off the corners is not a good thing. I wish there were exceptions they had throughout the season and places where the gear rule didn't exist and this should be one of them, in my opinion."
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Gordon said Turn 3 would be the critical juncture of every lap. "It's always crucial to get off Turn 3,” he said, “.but that's going to be a big focus because the rpms drop so much over there that you get the engine down to where it just doesn't want to pull up off there and you lose a lot of speed there. If you get your car working really well there, I think it's going to be the only place you can pass - especially because of the gear rule."

Getting your car right has never been that big a deal at Pocono until the end of the race, but Tony Stewart said it was going to count for more than ever this weekend. “I think without having the gear to help you get off the corner - if you do lose your momentum through the corner - I think it's really going to hurt you,” Stewart said. “It's definitely going to put an emphasis on making sure you get your car right."

On the one hand, it does help the drivers concentrate on driving the race car instead of worrying about hitting the rpm range for a downshift at 200 miles per hour into Turn 1 and hitting the right revs for the trip down the straightaway. On the other, the brake system is going to get a workout worthy of half-mile Martinsville rather than 2.5-mile Pocono.

Is this the right thing for NASCAR to do? Well, as with most things NASCAR does, it’s what is, and that’s that. If or when the policy reveals itself to be harmful, they’ll quietly rescind the gear rule and think of something else to possibly save team owners money while limiting the work that has to be done.

The trouble with this approach is, are they really saving money for the teams? With hotel bills, travel costs, testing, R&D and all the rest, NASCAR team owners spend money like sailors on shore leave to get that one little advantage over the rest.

The one-engine rule was a necessary policy statement: NASCAR no longer saw a need for practice engines and special qualifying bullets designed to last five laps at the most, in addition to the race engines everyone had to use anyway. The impound rule was also a good idea, because it helps keep teams fresher and allows NASCAR to build some flexibility into the race-week schedule. Plus, it allows the teams to adjust the travel schedule to more adequately address the cost of moving numbers of personnel from Charlotte to wherever.

There’s plenty to watch at Pocono in the first place—it usually seems that something strange happens there every year. Neil Bonnett hit a deer once during practice and the poor thing was all up inside the hood and lying on top of the engine—with its antlers poking out the front.

Drunk fans running across the track during the race, rabbits causing a complete shutdown of practice for 45 minutes while officials tried to corner them, all that has happened here.

Let’s see what happens on Sunday. It’ll be fun to watch in any event.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005, Pocono 500

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