Commentary

The race may be long and in the middle of nowhere, but Pocono looks good

Pocono Raceway isn't near much of anything, unless you want a secluded spot for a honeymoon, but the place never looked so good to drivers and fans after last week's Brickyard fiasco, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: August 2, 2008, 5:54 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

LONG POND, Pa. -- Pocono never looked so good.

Then again, Siberia would look good this week after NASCAR experienced one of its most embarrassing moments with the tire-tearing Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

So even the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 (a ridiculously long title that's fitting for a race that's ridiculously too long) on the old Pocono triangle, looks like a private beach on a Fijian island by comparison.

Unlike Indy, Pocono is a place where NASCAR held an open test this year for the Sprint Cup teams, so things turned out a little better when the series raced on the 2.5-mile layout in June.

Kasey Kahne won that day, automatically making him one of the favorites for Sunday's 200-lap marathon. With a little luck, the event won't be conducted in 10-lap sprints, as was the case at Indy.

But everyone in the Cup garage is trying to put that travesty behind them.

"Obviously, we all feel bad for the fans," driver A.J. Allmendinger said. "They are the ones paying the money. That probably wasn't what they were hoping for. But for me as a driver, I had fun with those short dashes all day."

It worked out well for Allmendinger, who posted a career-best 10th in the unusual race. And he was 12th in the Pocono 500 in June, so Allmendinger is feeling good about his trek to the mountains of Pennsylvania this weekend.

Who isn't?

Pocono Raceway, a former turnip farm, isn't exactly the glamour stop on the Cup tour. It's the closest track to New York City in distance (about 90 miles) but light years away from everything else.

The cars move fast, but the race moves slow. Pocono has two of the longest races of the season.

Only the Coca-Cola 600 took longer to complete than the first Pocono race this year, which came in 24 seconds short of four hours. It only took 25 minutes longer to race another 100 miles at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May.

But a long race at one of NASCAR's most unusual tracks is a chance to get back to normal racing after the Indy fiasco.

"In retrospect, it's obvious the tire [at Indy] was not good enough," Jeff Burton said. "There's no other way to say it. There have been times this year where the tire has not been what we wanted."

Pocono wasn't one of those places. The Pocono tires for this weekend's event were shipped to Indy the night before the Brickyard as a precautionary measure in case the teams ran out of tires during the race.

They came close. Some teams used 10 sets of tires, but no one dipped into the Pocono tires.

This weekend's tire actually is a little softer on the right side (believe it or not) than the Indy tires that wore down to the cords every 10 laps. But the Pocono pavement isn't as abrasive as the Brickyard surface.

"I heard the Indy people [track owner Tony George] say they have no blame whatsoever," Burton said. "That's just not true. It's the only track we have where our tires wear out in five or six laps every year."

There was enough blame to go around, but it's time to look ahead.

Jimmie Johnson

A lot has changed. The cars have 40 to 50 percent less downforce, which promotes tire abuse. It will take time to sort it out. What Goodyear needs is a stable environment. I would like to see us go to softer left-side tires so the tires all wear the same. And I think the tire wearing out is a good thing.

-- Jimmie Johnson

"We are in a whole different world with these new cars," said Jimmie Johnson, the winner of last week's circus. "A lot has changed. The cars have 40 to 50 percent less downforce, which promotes tire abuse. It will take time to sort it out.

"What Goodyear needs is a stable environment. I would like to see us go to softer left-side tires so the tires all wear the same. And I think the tire wearing out is a good thing."

The problem is other drivers feel differently.

"I would rather us err on the side of a car that drives badly [with harder tires] than the side where they wear out," Burton said. "When they do that, like Atlanta this year, everyone complains about no grip and blames Goodyear."

Clearly, a solution isn't unanimous. The upcoming presidential debates will probably have fewer conflicting ideas over issues than the theories and suggestions everyone has for NASCAR over Indy, tires and the new car.

But this is a new week at a track where the teams have data they can use from two months ago. Tires shouldn't be a problem on Sunday.

It's a seemingly endless race, on an old track, a long way from anywhere, but Pocono is a pristine palace in the sun this time. The place is everyone's honeymoon resort this weekend.

Compared to Indy, it sure looks good.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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