LONG POND, Pa. — It's a new era at Pocono, and Joey Logano and the rest of the Sprint Cup field posted the speeds to prove it.
Thanks to a repave that led to blistering speeds, Pocono Raceway's track record was topped 36 times, and Logano had the fastest speed of them all.
Logano turned a lap of 179.598 mph Saturday to set the track record during qualifying for today's Pocono 400. Logano won his first pole of the season and fourth in 125 career Cup starts. He drove the No. 20 Toyota around the 2½-mile track in 50.112 seconds.
"It's cool to get a pole here," Logano said. "A new track record, too."
Logano went 18th out of 44 cars and waited for about 45 minutes until the final qualifying lap was turned so he could celebrate. Kasey Kahne held the record of 172.533 mph set on June 11, 2004. Consider this: Kahne starts 10th today and went 177.823 mph.
Carl Edwards joins Logano on the front row, and Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin round out the top five.
The pole continues a recent uptick of solid results for Logano, who is 16th in the points standings. Only 22, he is in a make-or-break season at Joe Gibbs Racing in the final year of a four-year deal. He has insisted in the past that his contract status has not added pressure on him. Considered a phenom when he broke into NASCAR, Logano's lone Cup win came in 2009.
He has fared much better on the second-tier Nationwide series. On that circuit Logano has 13 career wins, four this season, including last week at Dover International Speedway.
"Every time we've been in position to win a race, we've won that race," Logano said.
Logano finished a season-high eighth in the Cup race at Dover and has two top 10s in his past three starts. It could be a sign that things are finally falling into place in his first season with crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
"I think Jason and I are starting to get stuff figured out," Logano said.
Safer: Once the track's harshest critic, points leader Greg Biffle is raving about Pocono.
Biffle famously complained two years ago "they're going to kill somebody there."
Officials heard him, and the facility completed a multimillion-dollar project in 2010 that made safety upgrades, including a soft-wall barrier and catch fence. The track was repaved this year for the first time since 1995.
Now Biffle says the "excitement" is back at Pocono, and he described the surface as "glass smooth at 200 mph."
Shorter: For years, drivers called the 500-mile race tedious.
Pocono Raceway CEO Brandon Igdalsky said it was a mutual decision among the track, NASCAR and TV partners to slice the race to 400 miles.
Pocono founder Joseph "Doc" Mattioli was long a defender of the supersized race. But Mattioli, who died in January, eventually agreed and both Pocono Cup races are 400 miles.
"Five hundred miles here just for some reason just seems to get drug-out and drawn-out," defending Cup champion Tony Stewart said. "I think you're still going to have the same quality of racing, just you don't have to wait that extra hour for that exciting conclusion."
Camping out: NASCAR wanted teams at Pocono on Wednesday and Thursday to test on the surface, and that caused grumbling. Teams rarely are at one track for five days.
"I'd be more concerned about my team if we were in (Las) Vegas for five days more than Pocono," Matt Kenseth said. "I don't know what they're going to do here. Hike themselves to death?"
. fast facts
Sprint Cup points
Through 13 of 36 races. The top 10 drivers plus two wild cards (based on wins) after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
Greg Biffle 486—
Matt Kenseth 485 1
D. Earnhardt Jr. 476 10
Denny Hamlin 464 22
Jimmie Johnson 453 33
Martin Truex 441 45
Kevin Harvick 440 46
Tony Stewart 407 79
Kyle Busch 406 80
Clint Bowyer 405 81