Race Weekend Central

Swimming in Denial

I used to be in serious denial.

When the critics roared, I ignored.

Even after living the experience firsthand, I refused to acknowledge the wisdom of experts and pundits.

I even addressed the issue right here on this very website….

Sprint Cup events at Pocono Raceway needed to be 500 miles in length.

I had very few supporters. Most who voiced their position on the debate argued that 200 laps around the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” were about forty too many. Whatever needed to be decided at Pocono could be handled in 400 miles.
Given that Pocono Raceway was built on what used to be a spinach farm, maybe an aversion to the place was natural.

It seemed like only Popeye, the Mattioli family, and I believed that longer races in Long Pond were good for the sport.

Running 500 miles at Pocono made sense when USAC Champ Cars campaigned there in what used to be known as the Schaefer 500. The races back in those days made up one-third of USAC’s “Triple Crown”, the other two events being the Indianapolis 500 and the California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway. Mark Donohue won the first race in 1971 and Pocono began its ascent into motorsports lore.

NASCAR didn’t make it to Pocono until 1974, when Richard Petty won a 500-miler at the track on August 4th. As stock car racing grew in popularity, so did the attention given to Long Pond. Battles between “King Richard” and David Pearson captured newspaper headlines, as did the later struggles and triumphs of such famed drivers as Bobby Allison, Tim Richmond, Bill Elliott, and Dale Earnhardt.

But then reality set in. By 1989, CART was frustrated with the condition of the track surface. IndyCar would not compete at Pocono again until 2013. And in 2012, both Sprint Cup races at the track were cut to 400 miles. Teams and fans alike felt that the events were simply too long to suffer through.

Hence the unwritten motto of Pocono Raceway: “Do I have to?” Back when I was traveling with the Cup Series, race teams complained because Pocono lacked convenient lodging and airport access. If teams were able, they could use a small airport near Mt. Pocono, and there were some hotels available nearby. Most folks, on the other hand, found themselves schlepping up-and-down Rt. 315 to find chain hotels in Wilkes-Barre. The region’s largest airport was located in Avoca, several miles to the north.

As such, Pocono was the event media members were most likely to skip. People I knew at various racing publications would use Pocono weekends for their vacation weekends, as in “go to the beach” instead of “go to the track”. And crews seemed to feel the same way, especially if your car was struggling and reduced to merely making laps. The decision to lop forty laps from Cup races at Pocono seemed to be celebrated by all.

Except me, even though I’d sat through long events as a kid and worked through long events with race teams.

But then I followed the events at Pocono on Monday afternoon. While listening to the MRN broadcast while doing chores around the house, I found myself stopping to get my bearings from time-to-time, especially as teams gambled on pit strategies and cars found their way into the Turn One wall. Chase Elliott seemed poised to score his first career Cup win until cagey veterans like Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. got the better of him on late-race restarts. There was also the tenacity of Team Penske as both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano overcame early problems (and penalties) to finish in the top-five.

Then there was the fuel mileage dilemma. At nowhere but Pocono can almost the entire field turn laps by coasting partway around the track. Monday’s running of the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 displayed shades of Indy as saving gas meant saving the win. By the end of the event, as Kurt Busch took the checkered flag and raced his way into the 2016 Chase, I felt exhausted even though I did nothing but listen to the race and hear events unfold. Boredom was never an issue.

After Monday’s race, I now understand the comments of the critics all those years ago. Sprint Cup races at Pocono needed to be shortened to 400-mile distances.

My nerves simply couldn’t handle any more than that….

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via