Pocono Raceway is a very unique track. The obvious reason is because it is the only triangular shaped speedway on the NASCAR circut. Another reason is due to the “Tunnel Turn,” which some have described for years as the “most challenging turn in racing,” as it is almost a 90 degree angle leading down the short-stretch into Turn 3.
This weekend at Pocono the tricky aforementioned turn has caused problems for some big name teams and drivers and many have questioned why.
If you were to live in the northern part of the United States then you would understand how harsh of a winter that the Pocono region has just gotten over. With that winter, it caused severe bumps in the racing surface heading in and out of the “Tunnel Turn.”
At least that is what track president Brandon Igdalsky stated to the drivers following the opening practice on Friday afternoon.
“They have had a real hard winter and the track changes throughout the temperature changes throughout the year,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said to the media. “We did have some bumps through there last year and they have just gotten more severe.”
There are other drivers who are not as optimistic.
"There's speed bumps the size that you would put in grocery store parking lots up on top of the track," said polesitter Kurt Busch. "The sooner you get over it, the better you're going to be. I had to ignore the tunnel turn, and how bad the bumps are there, and get focused on the majority of the race track."
“I’ve still got a headache,” said Joey Logano following the first practice session on Friday afternoon. “It’s brutal. The front tires are completely off the race track, so obviously that’s hard inside the race car to figure out how to get over that for the driver, but for the team you try to fix that you hurt the rest of the race track. It’s to the point that I’m nervous my car won’t make it through the race because our car’s aren’t build to jump things.”
There have also been some offseason renovations for the entry way to get into the Pocono Raceway facility. However, the tunnel turn was given its nickname because that is how you get into the track, through a tunnel under Turn 2.
The entrance to the track looks fabulous, but there is speculation that maybe that could be one of the reasons as to why the “Tunnel Turn” is so rough this year. The construction of the newly designed tunnel may have dug up some the asphalt. The racing surface at Pocono Raceway is relatively new as it was repaved in 2012.
With the bumps in the turn, it could make for some good racing. Teams will try to capitalize on others mistakes, but it could be more of a give-and-take race at least entering that turn because it will be hard to drive side-by-side in the middle of that corner.
“It’s going to make it an interesting race, for sure” said six-time Pocono winner Jeff Gordon. “It seems like at speed, you can get through there and get over pretty good. It gets your attention, but if you were inside of a car or something, it’s really going to get your attention. It might make for a great race and add some unique challenge that we weren’t expecting.”
There are many drivers who weren’t expecting the “Tunnel Turn” to change so drastically.
“It’s wild,” said Martin Truex Jr. following his third-place qualifying effort. “The first time I went through there I was like ‘either our car is way off or something is wrong with the racetrack. It is amazing how much different it is than last year.”
A handful of drivers have no complaints at all about the track surface.
“I think the bumps are fine,” said Kevin Harvick walking back to the garage following qualifying on Friday. “These guys are going to gripe about anything. They’ll gripe if we’re going too fast or if the tires are too hot, so they got to decide whether they want to race or just gripe about everything.”
Sunday’s Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway should be an interesting race as no one exactly knows what to expect.