KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Few people are likely to list the state of Pennsylvania among the top producers of NASCAR talent, but on Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), the Keystone State is well represented with three crew members.
The three Pennsylvanians who work on Stewart’s Chevrolet say this weekend’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway is one of the most important of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Each began racing in the area and could think of nothing better than to win in front of the homefolks Sunday afternoon at the “Tricky Triangle.”
Pocono Raceway hosted its first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in August 1974 and has long served northeastern NASCAR fans. Each turn is modeled after turns at three different tracks. Turn one, with 14 degrees of banking, was modeled after the old Trenton (N.J.) Speedway. Turn two, also known as “The Tunnel Turn,” is like Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its 9 degrees of banking. Turn three, with 6 degrees of banking, is similar to The Milwaukee (Wis.) Mile. At 2.5 miles in length, fuel mileage often plays a role in determining the race winner at Pocono. All of that is part of racetrack’s appeal.
No. 14 crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz grew up in Lehighton, Pennsylvania playing on the high school football, wrestling and track and field teams. He also spent a lot of time watching his father race at Mahoning Valley (Pa.) Speedway and working on cars at his father’s business long before he even owned a driver’s license. He studied mechanical engineering and performed research for the U.S. Navy through Applied Research Laboratories in graduate school at Penn State University before heading to North Carolina to embark on a NASCAR career.
“There’s a simple, one-word description I have of Pocono, and it’s ‘home,’” Bugarewicz said. “I grew up about 20 minutes from the racetrack. I’ve raced up in the Northeast and attended many of the races at Pocono. I used to go to qualifying all the time there. Pocono means a lot to me. It would really mean a lot to me to have a win there at some point in my career. I haven’t been successful with that, yet, but I hope to change that shortly. “
Justin Peiffer hails from Lebanon, Pennsylvania and works as the team’s interior specialist overseeing Stewart’s safety equipment and comfort each weekend. He’s already visited victory lane at Pocono working with Craig Goess, who won the 2010 ARCA race there.
“Pocono is my home track,” Peiffer said. “I grew up about an hour and 20 minutes south of there, so my family gets to come up there when we race twice a year. It’s one of my favorite tracks. I love the area. It would mean everything to win there, especially having your family there. I remember when I was a kid in the early ’90s watching races there. A win at Pocono would be really special.”
Josh Sobecki is the No. 14 team’s rear tire carrier. The New Kensington, Pennsylvania native said everyone in his home state knows the importance of Pocono.
“I grew up watching dirt races, but we always knew Pocono was the big boy in Pennsylvania,” Sobecki said. “It’s an unusual track, but it’s a great test of the teams to see how they handle the three different corners.”
Although he grew up in Columbus, Indiana, about 650 miles from Pocono Raceway, Stewart wants to win as much as his Pennsylvania teammates. Sunday’s race marks his 596th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and his 35th career, points-paying Sprint Cup start at Pocono where he owns two poles, two wins, eight top-threes, 12 top-fives, 23 top-10s and has led a total of 183 laps. He says Pocono is as challenging as any track on the circuit.
“You have the longest front stretch in all of racing,” said Stewart, whose first visit to Pocono came as a 15-year-old in 1986 when he raced a go-kart as a member of the World Karting Association. “By the time you get to the end of it, you feel like you are threading a needle. Then you start in the banking and you have to downshift in that equation. It’s three distinct corners you have to approach three different ways. All three of them are so crucial.”
Stewart also added the key word needed for success – momentum.
“It’s such a fast racetrack that you have to carry momentum,” he said. “If you break your momentum just because you downshifted, you aren’t going to make up that momentum. It’s probably the ultimate momentum racetrack.”
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Races at Pocono more often than not seem to come down to fuel mileage. How do you save fuel?
“It’s not a half-mile or mile-and-a-half track. It’s 2.5 miles. So, when you have to save, you have to save a lot to even gain you one lap. But, there are ways to do it. There are a lot of different techniques drivers can use to save fuel. Remember, you can be midpack, pit and still get out in front of the leaders.”
What stands out about the track to give it the name “Tricky Triangle?”
“Well, all three corners are very different from each other. You have turn one that has a lot of banking in it for a flat track. Turn two is a very short-duration and flat corner. And then, turn three is a very, very, long, sweeping, flat corner. There’s a lot going on but every corner on the track is totally different from each other. It’s a big challenge for the crew chiefs to not only try to find a balance, but to also figure out what to do when they’re making changes. They have to figure out the corner they’re trying to fix without messing up the other two corners.”
Your win at Pocono six years ago came in a fuel-mileage race. Can you explain what you did to make sure you had enough fuel to go the distance while many of your competitors did not?
“I’ve lost a lot more races like that than I’ve won. It was between Carl (Edwards) and me. We were the strongest two cars at the end of the race and we were able to get the track position we needed. Our guys did a great job of getting us out of the pits in the lead and that gave us the opportunity to make Carl push harder in the beginning to get the lead. Once he went into that fuel-conservation mode, we had to follow suit. To be in a situation where your speed is dictated off the guy behind you and not off of what you can do, it’s a different style of racing. It’s hard. It’s just as hard, if not tougher, than trying to run 100 percent.”
What kind of marks do drivers use to get around a track like Pocono?
“I think every driver is different. At every racetrack you go to, there’s something distinct in the racetrack that you would use as a reference, but every driver kind of has his own different deal they look for. It can be something really small. It can be just a variation in the shade of the asphalt that gets used as a reference, sometimes.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine