A Closer Look at Pocono Raceway
NASCAR rolled back onto TV screens and racetracks about five weeks ago after a two-plus month pause due to COVID-19. The circuit has done an admirable job of running their races, going from Darlington to Charlotte to Bristol to Atlanta t0 Martinsville to Homestead-Miami Speedway to Talladega along the way. This weekend is no exception for racing except for the caveat that there isn’t going to be one, but two NASCAR Cup Series races coming to you live. That’s right, it’s a doubleheader weekend with races going on both Saturday and Sunday from the “Tricky Triangle” itself, Pocono Raceway.
Pocono Raceway has been around since 1971 though it didn’t become a track on the NASCAR circuit until 1974. Its design was devised by Rodger Ward, who claimed the Indianapolis 500 in both 1959 and 1962. There are three turns on the 2.5-mile track, each with different angles of banking based on a different track. Turn 1 is based on the defunct Trenton Speedway and is banked at 14 degrees while Turn 2, better known as the Tunnel Turn, is banked at nine degrees, much like Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Meanwhile Turn 3 is banked at only six degrees and is reminiscent of the Milwaukee Mile. The triangular shape leads to a pair of fairly lengthy straightaways as the front straightaway clocks in at 3,740 feet while the back straightaway is 3,055 feet in length.
The first race ever run there was the USAC Pocono 500 on July 3, 1971. Mark Donohue won the pole for the race and rallied late to defeat Joe Leonard by 1.688 seconds to take the checkered flag. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Billy Vuckovich Jr. rounded out the top five. NASCAR’s first run at the track came on August 4, 1974 with the Purolator 500. In front of a crowd of 39,000 fans, Richard Petty dominated the field, leading 152 of 192 laps to roll to an 18.8-second margin of victory over Buddy Baker. Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Benny Parsons rounded out the top five that day. The race was scheduled for 200 laps but was shortened due to rain.
This weekend’s races won’t be the 500-mile run that was pretty much the standard up through the 2011 season. It won’t even be the 400 miles that racers have been used to running over the last several years. Instead, the Kids Free 325 on Saturday will be 130 laps covering 325 miles while the Worry-Free Weather Guarantee 350 Sunday will run 350 miles over 140 laps. Saturday’s race will have stage 1 conclude after lap 25 with stage 2 ending at lap 77. Meanwhile, Sunday’s race will have stage 1 come to an end after lap 30 while stage 2 draws to a close at the end of lap 85.
Among current active drivers, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick each have raced here 38 times to lead the way. Kurt Busch has run at the track 37 times while Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman have each raced 36 times to round out the top five. Denny Hamlin leads active drivers with five victories on the track in his career, including a sweep of the two races back in 2006 in his rookie season. Johnson along with Kurt and Kyle Busch, each have three victories at Pocono while Martin Truex Jr. is the only other driver with multiple wins as he has two.
When it comes to top-five finishes on the Tricky Triangle, Kurt Busch laps the field with 14. Harvick has 12, Johnson and Hamlin each have 11 and Brad Keselowski has recorded 10 in his career. Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson each have logged 20 top-10 finishes to lead the way for active drivers at Pocono. Hamlin and Harvick each have 18 while Kenseth, Newman and Kyle Busch all have 15 top-10 runs on the track. Kyle Busch has started from the pole four times while Johnson and Hamlin have three apiece. Kurt Busch, Newman and Joey Logano have each run from the pole position twice. Johnson is the active lap leader here at Pocono, having led 743 laps. That puts him slightly ahead of Hamlin (726) though Hamlin has raced here eight fewer times.
It’s a busy weekend at Pocono Raceway. In addition to the two NASCAR Cup races, the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will run a race on Saturday while the Xfinity Series has the Pocono Green 225 going on Sunday afternoon. Stay tuned for when we give our take on the top props for the NASCAR Cup races this weekend.