KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Anyone who paid attention in math class knows that a triangle has three sides. NASCAR fans know that most racetracks have four corners. So, it’s a little unusual for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track to mirror the triangle as opposed to the four-cornered track configuration.
But that’s exactly what happens this weekend when the teams and drivers converge upon Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, otherwise known as the “Tricky Triangle.” Designed in 1965 by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rodger Ward, it features three different corners, each modeled after a different track, and one of the longest straightaways on the circuit.
Turn one, which is banked at 14 degrees, is modeled after the legendary Trenton (N.J.) Speedway. Turn two, banked at 8 degrees, is a nod to the turns at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And turn three, banked at 6 degrees, is modeled after the corners at The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wisconsin.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is one driver who not only has plenty of experience at the 2.5-mile triangle, he is one who has experienced plenty of success along the way. The Las Vegas native heads into the race weekend a two-time Pocono winner, and he has two poles, 12 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s to augment his impressive stats in 29 career starts at the 2.5-mile triangle. Busch has led laps in 18 of those races, including a record-setting 175 circuits spent atop the leaderboard en route to his win in August 2007.
A return to Pocono couldn’t come at a better time for Busch. Entering race 14 of 36 ranked second in the point standings, Busch is still seeking his first victory of the 2016 season. A glance at the upcoming schedule gives him the optimism that he’ll soon find a way to end his search. And it all starts this weekend.
The upcoming series of Sprint Cup races are a brutal stretch with extensive travel to locations up and down the Eastern Seaboard, to the road race on the West Coast and back, and to the beaches of Daytona for the annual Fourth of July weekend event. In addition to the travel schedule, summer means rising temperatures and the need to prepare for the increased heat. While this portion of the NASCAR schedule is tough, some drivers find comfort in getting down to business at a series of tracks for which they have an affinity. Busch is one such driver.
He’s visited victory lane at four of the next six racetracks the series visits, including this weekend’s race at Pocono, where he has two wins. He also has three wins apiece at Michigan International Raceway in Brooklyn and at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, and one at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway – all tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule between the return visit to Pocono at the end of next month. In fact, of his 27 career Sprint Cup victories, 11 have come in the summer months.
While the Haas Automation/Monster Energy team will look to bring home its first victory of the 2016 season this weekend at Pocono, it is virtually guaranteed a spot in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs based on Busch’s position in the point standings. But a win would cement his position in the playoffs and gain valuable bonus points. The 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase will have their points total reset to 2,000 and will be seeded based on bonus points – three per win – earned prior to the start of the Chase, provided they are among the top-30 in driver points.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Talk a little bit about racing at Pocono.
“I think it’s a fun track as far as how unique it is with the three corners being different. And the fact that your setup really can’t be dialed in for all three corners, you have to give and take. Some years it seems like turn one is tough, some years turn three ends up being a tough corner, but I always focus on the tunnel turn. I always try to get through turn two as quickly as I can because, it seems like, the years I’ve won, that’s where I’ve had the best car.”
Which of the three turns at Pocono is your favorite?
“I love the tunnel turn – turn two. It seems like it is the easiest place to gain speed and lose speed. Like I’ve said, every time I’ve won a race there or competed well, I had a good car in the tunnel turn. It’s a challenge every time you go through there on how much speed you can really carry. Over the years, they’ve changed the shifting pattern for us. Sometimes you shift, sometimes you don’t. So there are always options when you go into the tunnel turn.”
Everyone talks about compromising at Pocono. Do you think the lower downforce package will exacerbate the challenges of the racetrack, or will it be the same Pocono that we’re accustomed to seeing?
“It seems like the years that I have run really well there and had a shot to win, I was good in the tunnel turn. That has always been my focus.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine