The first time Darrell Wallace Jr. pulled onto Pocono Raceway, he was “lost.”
It was 2013 and a 19-year-old Wallace was preparing for his first start at the three-turn track in the Camping World Truck Series.
“I was lost for about 20 minutes of the first practice,” Wallace told NBC Sports in a phone interview. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to get behind Matt Crafton to figure out how far off were and it was a pretty good ways.”
Wallace eventually finished seventh that year and eighth the following year in his only two starts at the track in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
Wallace returns to Pocono this weekend in the Xfinity Series, which will race at the “Tricky Triangle” for the first time.
But Wallace would probably be the first to admit that any driver visiting Pocono for the first time shouldn’t follow him like he did Crafton.
“It hasn’t been one of my best tracks,” Wallace said. “I would get off rhythm and spend two to three laps trying to get it back. Two to three laps there is pretty much like an hour.”
At 2.5 miles, Pocono is one of the longest tracks on the circuit with Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Only Talladega Superspeedway is longer at 2.66-miles.
The frontstretch itself could be mistaken for an airport runway with its length of 3,740 feet. The “backstretch” between Turns 1 and 2 is 3,055 feet and the “shortstretch” connecting Turns 2 and 3 is 1,780 feet.
One driver the inexperienced might want to follow this weekend is Ty Dillon. The Richard Childress Racing driver has competed at Pocono six times – two times each in the Sprint Cup, Truck series and ARCA.
“The first time I was actually on track, I was really blown away by how unique it is,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “It is a ‘Tricky Triangle.’ Each turn is so different and you have to change your driving style for each corner and really adjust your race car around what you want for a certain corner. It’s hard to get the whole track perfect the way you want it.
Each of Pocono’s three turns is based off a turn at a different track. Turn 1, at 14 degrees, is based on the now defunct Trenton Speedway. Turn 2, which has eight degrees of banking, is based on the turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The final turn, with six degrees of banking, is modeled after those seen at The Milwaukee Mile.
That final turn is the preferred one for Dillon, who has one win at Pocono in the ARCA series.
“I really like Turn 3, the real flat corner you can really charge the corner hard, carry a lot of momentum,” he said. “But it is flat, so you’re not totally loaded, you feel a little bit free. You can also carry some really good speed through there.”
With this being the Xfinity Series’ first visit to Pocono, teams will be given four 55-minute practice sessions over Thursday and Friday.
But that’s not the only way Wallace has been prepping for his return to a track, where he admits “I need to clean up on my end and be more prepared than I have been before.”
Wallace doesn’t have notes from his two truck races (“At that time it was like, show up and race”), but he does have the data and information gathered by the Sprint Cup teams of Roush Fenway Racing.
“We’ll have stuff from the Cup guys that we can look over to see what they battle throughout the race,” Wallace said. “The biggest thing for us is going back and watching film.”
There’s a lot of insight Wallace and his teammate, Ryan Reed, can gather from watching film of past races.
“You see where the groove moves to,” Wallace said. “Does it move up? Can you run two lanes or how is (a driver) setting up a pass? How is he passing people? What is he doing to get through the corner better?”
They can also view in-car camera video of drivers and view how they operate while navigating Pocono.
“(We’re) trying to watch in-car footage to see (what) shifting techniques he’s doing because we’ll do some shifting there,” Wallace said.
If Wallace takes what he’s learned and turns it into a win, he wouldn’t just be the first Xfinity Series winner at Pocono, he would also score his first series win.