Pocono Raceway a ‘horsepower’ track that can trip you up with its three corners

Leave a comment

There’s a general consensus among NASCAR Cup drivers regarding Pocono Raceway.

Underestimate its three turns at your own peril.

Unlike any other track on the NASCAR circuit, the track in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, is the only one that throws less than four turns at those who try to master it.

And any one of them can make for a long day.

“We’re always stuck in an engineering kind of mindset of is it better to be faster on the straightaways or through the corners or how you set the car’s ride heights,” said three-time Pocono winner Jimmie Johnson in a press release. “From a driver’s standpoint, it’s frustrating because a small loss of time through the center of the corner after you have almost a mile-long front straightaway, you can look at a stopwatch and be five, six, or seven-tenths off and think ‘wow, we’re really out of it.’ But honestly, it was just a small little thing that happened in the center of Turn 3 that compounded down the (frontstretch).”

Pocono features one of the longest frontstretches racing at 3,740 feet. That leads into a 14-degree turn and then the 3,055-foot long backstretch.

After the eight degree Turn 2 and a 1,780-foot “shortstretch,” the six degree Turn 3 leads back to the frontstretch.

Drivers all point to Turn 1 and 3 as the biggest obstacles they must figure out during the course of a 400-mile race at Pocono.

“Pocono is all about horsepower,” Ryan Newman said in a press release. “Just in general, you need to get off Turn 3 and use all your horsepower down the straightaway. There is nothing that handles better than plenty of horsepower.”

Chase Elliott believes “a little bit can go a long way” when it comes to getting off a turn.

“The straightaways are so long a little mistake on corner exit lasts for such a long time, especially off (Turn) 3 and out of (Turn) 1,” Elliott said in a press release.

Said Ty Dillon, “I think you try to focus on (Turns) 1 and 3, those are the longer straightaways that you have coming off of those two corners. The Tunnel Turn is something that, as a driver, you can work on throughout the day to make your car get through there a little bit better.”

The “Tunnel Turn” is the name given to Turn 2, which runs over a tunnel entrance to the track. It’s known for being a bumpy experience for drivers in the past, but was smoothed out two years ago.

“You would think that Turn 2 is the least important, but it seems like time is really made and lost in that turn by hitting your mark,” Paul Menard said in a press release. “If you miss it by even just a foot, your lap time really suffers. So it’s important to hit all three corners.”

At 2.5-miles, Pocono is the longest non-restrictor plate track the series has visited this year. It will also be the first time that stage racing has taken place at the track, which will be “critical” in how the race plays out.

“Depending on where you are running with the leader or close to the leader – you can pit and stay on the lead lap,” AJ Allmendinger said in a press release. “Strategy there with the stage racing is really going to be critical to how it plays out when you pit. If you’re maybe not in position to get points in that stage, you can still pit and stay on the lead lap and restart up front. There is going to be a lot of strategy we are going to have to play through as the race evolves, keeps changing.”

Teams will begin trying to master the track’s turns in the first practice session for the Pocono 400 on Friday at 11 a.m. ET.

and on Facebook

Two Cup cars to miss practice time Saturday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chase Elliott and Paul Menard each will miss 15 minutes of final Cup practice today at Martinsville Speedway inspection issues last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

Final Cup practice is scheduled to take place from 12:30 – 1:20 p.m. ET today.

The forecast from wunderground.com calls for a  high of 43 degrees and a 50 percent chance of rain during the final practice session.

 and on Facebook

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule for Martinsville Speedway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A busy day is scheduled for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway with the Camping World Truck Series race followed by qualifying for Sunday’s Cup race.

Here’s the full schedule for day with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Without NASCAR ride, Blake Koch devoting energy to helping younger drivers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Blake Koch‘s son Carter is 5, but he’s already developed some understanding of how NASCAR works.

“All he’s ever known is me as a race car driver,” Koch tells NBC Sports. “He’s smart enough to know now that when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. retired and Matt Kenseth retired and Danica (Patrick) retired, he now knows what retirement means.”

At some point since last November, Koch had to explain to Carter why he wasn’t competing in 2018.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, are you retired?'” Koch says. “I was like, ‘No, buddy, I just lost my sponsor.'”

Koch is four months removed from his last start in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series.

After two years racing full-time for the team, he was replaced by Ryan Truex, who brought sponsorship with him. Koch was left without a ride after making 213 starts in the Xfinity Series since 2009.

Koch has heard many of the same questions since November.

Are you done racing? Are you still trying to get sponsors? What are you doing?

“My answer is no, I’m not done racing,” Koch answers. “I can’t be done racing.”

At 32 and with 229 national NASCAR starts on his resume, Koch was left with two options when the 2017 season ended.

“Sit around and feel sorry for myself and read all the support and the tweets and let it (allow me) to think that an opportunity should come to me or go out and make something happen and have fun and utilize my resources and knowledge,” Koch says.

He decided he wasn’t going to pursue any ride this season. But Koch is not going anywhere.

In addition to a weekly appearance on Fox Sports 1’s “NASCAR Race Hub,” Koch wanted to try his hand as a driver mentor, helping young NASCAR drivers develop with the knowledge he’s accrued the last decade.

Koch jokes that his love of helping people may have been one of his “downfalls as a driver.”

“I helped other drivers,” Koch says. “If someone asked me what I was doing or about the race, I told them my honest opinion because I actually liked helping.”

Koch also observed a lack of people in similar roles in NASCAR.

“Every other sport has a coach or someone to lean on or someone on your side. Golfers, quarterbacks, everybody does. Except for NASCAR drivers,” Koch says. “Even Supercross racers have trainers and coaches and people making them better and better. But in our sport, it was just nonexistent, because there were no drivers that would retire and still want to be at the racetrack helping other drivers.”

Before committing to the idea, he went to former NASCAR driver Josh Wise for advice. Wise works with Chip Ganassi Racing helping their drivers.

“I did pick Josh’s brain a little bit on if he was happy doing it, if he missed being in a car and all that kind of stuff,” Koch says. “He still had the adrenaline rush, he loved what he was doing. … He saw results from the work he’s putting in. … You don’t want to do something and feel like there’s no results behind it and you don’t want to do something if you don’t think it’s going to be fun or rewarding.”

Through Chris Biby, a driver manager, Koch was connected with Matt Tifft, who joined Richard Childress Racing this season after a year with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s also begun working with Truck Series driver Myatt Snider.

Koch and Tifft did not interact much last year, aside from greetings at driver introductions.

Their first real conversation came over a meal at Hickory Tavern in Huntersville, North Carolina.  Now they talk almost every day.

Koch didn’t officially begin his role helping out Tifft until after the season opener at Daytona.

“What I try to be for Matt Tifft is everything I’ve always wanted,” Koch says. “Confidence is key. It’s a big part of going fast, being confident in yourself. I believe that comes from hard work.

“I knew I had that feeling, and that’s something I implemented into Matt’s weekly routine, that when he shows up to the racetrack he knows he’s been working harder than every single person out there, and he’s more prepared than anyone out there. Then you have a little extra pep in your step when you’re walking in the garage.”

Koch says a “very small portion” of the work he does with his drivers is at the track. Most of his “two cents” comes between Monday and Friday.

On Sunday nights, he sets a schedule for Tifft and Snider, what to do with their workout program, race prep and what to work on in the simulator in addition to general notes for the race weekend.

Tifft says Koch is “very particular about every single thing” he’s doing.

“I set up specific workouts for him to do throughout the week and I tweaked his nutrition a little bit,” Koch says. “But he was already pretty disciplined with his nutrition. I set a checklist of things he needs to know every single week before he gets to the racetrack. Small details, even little things like garage flow. … When you get to the race track, the only thing you should have to think about is hitting your marks and running in a perfect line and focusing on your task at hand, not the other small details that are just cluttering your mind.”

Through roughly four weeks of working with Tifft and Snider, Koch has found the same satisfaction that Wise has in his role with Ganassi.

“When this opportunity came across to work with Matt, I could still race,” Koch says. “You have that competition, the adrenaline because you feel like you’re invested in part of it and I could help them out. It kind of helped fulfill the desire I had for helping people and helping someone make the best of their opportunity. I know how difficult it is to get an opportunity in this sport. When someone has that opportunity, I love nothing more than to see them maximize it. That’s what keeps me excited.”

Working with the two young drivers also keeps Koch on his toes in the case an offer materializes from a team.

“It absolutely helps,” Koch says. “I have to stay in shape and constantly watch, read and study data and work as hard as I was, probably working harder now than I was when I was driving. Because I have the accountability of Matt Tifft and Myatt Snider. Those guys are starting to push me harder in the gym, too. I have to get stronger. You can’t have your athletes stronger than the coach. I got to step up my game.”

Koch isn’t done adding things to his work life.

He plans to launch a new business in May, which he works on in the afternoons following his morning workout.

Koch isn’t giving away any details on that business will entail.

“The reason I started it is back when I was racing, if I poured as much effort and passion and hard work into my own business and product that I did into everybody else’s I’d be in a much better position right now,” Koch says. “I’ve learned a lot, about business and marketing and how to create a successful company, especially being friends with Matt Kaulig and seeing Leaf Filter grow over the years, I came up with an idea that I know people need and use and want, and I’m going to supply that to people here very soon.”

In the meantime, with the Xfinity Series off the next two weekends and Koch not making the trip to Texas Motor Speedway, he will spend his weekends nurturing his son’s dirt bike career. Carter competed in his first race last weekend.

“He was begging for it,” Koch says of the dirt bike. “I wanted to get him in a go kart or something a little safer but he’s just about as hardheaded and stubborn as I am.”

A Driver’s Drive: Darrell Wallace Jr. aggressive and confident


Returning to the site of his first Camping World Truck Series win provided a great opportunity for Darrell Wallace Jr. to reflect on his meteoric rise through the NASCAR ranks in the week’s edition of “A Driver’s Drive”.

Finishing second in the Daytona 500 put his name in the record book as the highest finishing African-American driver and raised expectations about Wallace’s potential at the Cup level.

Martinsville is going to raise another challenge to see if he can live up to that potential without stepping over the line. Wallace earned his first victory in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions on this track in the 2013 Kroger 200. He backed that up with another win in the same race the following year. Those victories add to his confidence and possibly his aggression on the bullring.

“Looking back on stats and what not, you’ll see that I’m one of the most aggressive guys coming up through the ranks,” Wallace said.

On Sunday, Wallace will need to temper that aggression if he wants to score another top-10 in Cup competition.

For more on what Wallace says, watch the video above.