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Pocono is one tricky triangle

Denny Hamlin swept both Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway as a rookie four years ago, then won on the triangular 2.5-mile track again last year.

Associated Press (2006)

Denny Hamlin swept both Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway as a rookie four years ago, then won on the triangular 2.5-mile track again last year.

There have been some really terrific veteran drivers who never have quite been able to figure out the bizarro world of Pocono Raceway. Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt had 159 victories between them in NASCAR's top series but only four at Pocono (two each).

And some drivers have succeeded at the odd, triangle-shaped 2.5-mile track out of proportion to their experience level. For instance, Denny Hamlin holds the track record with an average finish of 9.5, and three of his 11 career Sprint Cup victories have come at Pocono.

That's right. By the end of Sunday's Gillette 500, Hamlin — in his fifth full season — could have as many victories there as Cale and Dale combined.

Go figure.

Hamlin has tried.

One of the first things he was asked after winning the August race at Pocono last year was, basically, how come you are so darn good there?

He said, "I'm not really sure."

Pressed, he came up with, "I've got a good feel for it. I think once you win here once, you just get a feel for the car and you feel for what it takes to win."

Getting a "feel" for Pocono can be as hard as getting a feel for biomechanical engineering for some drivers. Or, more accurately, trigonometry.

See, the track is a true triangle, but it's not equilateral.

"The turns all have their own characteristics, but they are all relatively flat and those are the kinds of corners that I feel I am the best on," Hamlin said. "Turn 1 is a very wide sweeping corner, but it's got a little bit of banking to it. The second corner, the tunnel turn, is very flat and it's very fast. That's really where you can gain a lot of time on guys. And the other corner is like a short track … it's very flat and very wide and it comes out sweeping to the long straightaway.

"It's a lot like a mixture of different racetracks, a track that rewards a guy who is very smooth on corner entry. And I think that's where it kind of plays into my strengths."

Mark Martin, who has more than two decades of experience at the place, never has won there but has finished second six times.

"It's a tough place to conquer," he said. "I've had the fastest car there about five times. I just couldn't get to the start/finish line first. I just haven't been able to put the whole package together there."

Pocono is one tricky triangle 06/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 11:33pm]
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