Shift of Plan for Pocono

Jeff Gordon

NASCAR implemented a change in transmission gear ratios to make it easier on engines and give teams a better opportunity to use third gear and shift at Pocono. (Photo: Getty Images)


The return of shifting has some drivers excited and others skeptical for Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway.

It was thought that NASCAR prohibited drivers from shifting gears several years ago in an attempt to help engine wear and in turn potentially save teams money.

"There has been some confusion that shifting was not allowed at Pocono and that isn't true," said NASCAR Sprint Cup series director John Darby. "The real reason shifting stopped at Pocono was because gear ratios weren't compatible for shifting."

Whatever the true reasoning, the sanctioning body has now lifted that ban and teams are once again free to set their cars up so drivers are capable of shifting around the massive 2.5-mile triangular speedway.

The decision has been met with mixed results.

"Shifting was part of why we became the 'Tricky Triangle,'" Pocono Raceway president Brandon Igdalsky said. "It was similar to a road course and it drove engineers and drivers crazy because they could never get the cars perfect. So it came down to not just a drivers' race but a crews' race, too. That's always going to be a great aspect about Pocono. It's who we are and part of our identity."

Some drivers echo what Igdalsky said and welcome a chance to race under such unique conditions.

"It adds a different twist to it for the drivers and for the crew chiefs to get the ratios right, to get the car handling when you are shifting and when you're not," said Ryan Newman. "It changes the way we drive and the way we set up the race cars a little bit. It's fun to have unique situations and unique racetracks."

Greg Biffle has been chomping at the bit for a return to shifting and is sure the change will benefit his chances at winning a second straight Pocono race after taking the checkered flag at the track in last summer’s second stop of the season.

"Long overdue," said Biffle. "To be aggressive and for the car to perform properly at that track, and in order to make passing more capable, we really needed to shift at that race track."

The return of shifting will also benefit the power plants as drivers run more often in third gear won’t create as much heat and keep things much cooler.

"Now it just makes it easier where you can come in, you can put the coolers on the car, you can get the gaps closer so when you downshift you aren't risking missing a shift and spinning the car out and crashing it," said Jimmie Johnson. "It won't be as easy to tear up the transmission and you can build an engine package to suit what you plan on doing. I think it has been a good move."

However, not everyone believes shifting will have an impact on the proceedings during Sunday’s grueling 500-mile race.

“It’ll be the same as last year,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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