For the past two seasons, we did doubleheaders at Pocono. Now that we’re back to just a single race at the track, do you prefer the doubleheader or do you like the standalone event?
“Any time we can get two races in one weekend, I’m in. I think it added a unique element to the weekend just because of the invert and everything that happened from the first day to the second day. I always thought that was a cool weekend and I hated to see it go.”
Did the first part of the doubleheader on Saturday help you for the second part of the doubleheader on Sunday?
“Usually. Sometimes you can screw it up, too. Luckily for us, we seem to run pretty good in the doubleheader situations.”
Pocono seems to have a road-course element to it – some flat, fast corners, some bumps, plenty of shifting – does that make it a track that amplifies the NextGen car’s road-course attributes?
“With the NextGen car’s characteristics, you’re going to be able to push and shove and bump draft and all of the things that you can do. And then you’re going to have options on gears, so add that in with sometimes being difficult to pass, I think it’s going to be interesting to see the restarts. I think the restarts are going to get more intense than they’ve been before.”
Drivers have been shifting at seemingly all the tracks this year, due in large part to the sequential shifter in the NextGen car. But shifting on an oval really seemed to first come into vogue at Pocono. Can you talk about the element of shifting at Pocono – when you started doing it and why you started doing it?
“When I started, that was just what you did at Pocono. You downshifted and it was just part of the process of Pocono. But that kind of went away as the teams kind of decided it was too expensive. So we went to spec transmissions and couldn’t shift, and then it went back to, ‘OK, you can shift,’ and now we’re going to shift in every corner. So, it’s definitely just kind of a piece of the puzzle that’s come with this new car, and at Pocono, I think we’re going to shift in every corner.”
With the NextGen car’s sequential shifter, how different is it from the standard H-pattern shifter?
“It’s basically just up and down. When you push up on the shifter, it’s a downshift. When you pull down on the shifter, it’s an upshift. It’s really easy to use. Once you put it into gear, there’s no need to use the clutch or anything on the upshifts or the downshifts. It’s made it a little easier to shift, but there’s a lot more shifting going on, so that adds a new element to it that you really didn’t have before.”
How do you know what gear you’re in, and have you been using the sequential shifter long enough to where you’ve ridded yourself of the habit of shifting in an H-pattern?
“There’s three gear stacks that they put in the transaxle and you run those at different places. So, some places, we’ve actually not run fifth gear. Like Martinsville, we shifted between third and fourth. At some places, you run fifth gear and you go between fourth and fifth, so I would imagine that’s what we’re going to do at Pocono. You still have to think about what you’re doing just because the gear that you’re in is on the dash screen. I found myself a few times, at Darlington even, I’d come off turn two, and I had been downshifting a little bit while I was in traffic or on restarts, and there were a couple of times that I went to grab another gear and I was already in fifth gear. You do that a lot at different places because you’re in between some of those gears, and sometimes you get jammed up and you downshift, and sometimes you do it on a restart. So you have to kind of think, but for the most part, if you’re just making laps you kind of get into a rhythm of knowing which gear you’re in.”
What makes a lap at Pocono so challenging?
“When you look at Pocono, you know that you’re going to have a challenge of getting your car to handle in all three corners. That’s the biggest challenge when it comes to Pocono. You have to make sure you can get all you can coming to turn three because the straightaway after that is really, really long. You can kind of give up the tunnel turn, but you still need to be very good in all three corners. It’s just a different style of racetrack than what we go to on a week-to-week basis.”
You mentioned the tunnel turn – what makes it so difficult?
“The tunnel turn is difficult just because you try to carry so much speed through there. It’s not an extremely hard corner, but it’s an extremely hard corner to carry speed through there without having the front end push or the back slide out. It’s not an extremely hard corner until you try to go through there as fast as you can lap after lap. It’s an easy corner to make a mistake. You can give up a lot of time there, but you can also make a lot of time.”