Jimmie Johnson: Faster speeds change approach to driving at Pocono
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
LONG POND, Pa. -- For an eloquent explanation of the difference new pavement at Pocono makes, just ask five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and two-time Pocono winner Jimmie Johnson.
The new asphalt has made a dramatic difference in speed at Pocono Raceway, which in turn has changed the way Johnson and his fellow drivers negotiate the 2.5-mile triangular track.
"You're in the gas a long time," Johnson told the NASCAR Wire Service. "I'd say the corner that is most apparent for that is Turn 3. You're in the throttle well before you ever see any part of the straightaway, and you make up time on throttle around here.
"We certainly are getting into the corners deeper and rolling the center faster, but the thing that stands out to me the most is how soon you're wide open. Then, if you're shifting, how quickly you need to grab fourth (gear). It's a considerable distance from last year when we were shifting."
Despite the increased speed, though, Johnson said a lap at Pocono isn't uncomfortable.
"Even though we're going so much faster, the comfort is there in the cars, and that's why we're able to lay down these laps," Johnson said. "Then the tire is holding up, so then again, I think it speaks to the tire/asphalt combination and how important that really is that those two materials agree with one another."
As far as Johnson was concerned, there was plenty of agreement where the rubber met the road on Friday afternoon. His No. 48 Chevrolet was fourth fastest in the first Cup practice at 178.678 mph.
During two days of testing Wednesday and Thursday at Pocono, the quickest drivers posted lap speeds of nearly 180 mph. Mark Martin's best lap (50.142 seconds) was more than two seconds faster than the track qualifying record set by Kasey Kahne in 2004 (52.164 seconds).
So, given the increase in speed, what will it take to win the pole for Sunday's Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR? Clint Bowyer didn't have a specific number, but he had a definite idea.
"I don't know -- something the size of grapefruits, I'd say," Bowyer told the NASCAR Wire Service.
HARD TO FIND TROUBLE AT POCONO
It's been an unusual week for drivers and their teams at Pocono -- five days at the same track versus a three-day weekend. Two days of testing extended the stay, but Matt Kenseth wasn't worried about his crewmen getting into trouble during an extended visit to the quiet, bucolic mountains of Pennsylvania.
"I'd be more concerned about my team if we were in Vegas for five days," Kenseth said. "I don't know what they're going to do here -- hike themselves to death? I'm not too worried about those guys.
It's been all right being here. There's not a lot going on. I've enjoyed the couple days of testing, and it's been fun to get on the track and try some stuff. We don't get to test at any places we really get to race, so I've enjoyed that."