Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger and his Todd Gordon-led No. 22 Penske Racing Team were among the five crews participating in the April Goodyear Tire testing at Pocono Raceway. They were certainly pleased with what they saw, but agree that NASCAR adding two days of testing prior to this weekend’s race was a good idea.
“The new racing surface is as smooth as glass and they did a great job in repaving the track,” Allmendinger said of the 2.5-mile track’s new asphalt, the first repaving of the unique triangular layout since the fall of 1995. “What’s so cool is that they kept the distinctive character of the track, but were able to eliminate all the bumps.
“The speeds are certain to rise and it’ll be really interesting to see how it will race when we get all the cars out there and get after it,” Dinger added. “We welcomed the opportunity to participate in the tire test, but the conditions will be a lot different this week at Pocono than they were when we were there in April.”
The Shell-Pennzoil Dodge, along with the teams of Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola worked with Goodyear during the April 24-25 testing to come up with the tires that will be utilized during this weekend’s Pocono 400. The testing resulted in Goodyear choosing to bring the same right-side tires that were raced at Phoenix back in March to Pocono. The left-side tires will be new to the circuit and will make their debut this week.
NASCAR officials have scheduled almost 10 hours of additional track time spread out over Wednesday and Thursday prior to Friday’s two practice sessions.
“We were very pleased with how the April tire testing went,” said crew chief Gordon. “For our Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Team, it was great to get the track time on the new surface. They did a really nice job with the repaving. The racing surface is about as smooth as they could make it, but we did notice that the long Pocono pit road maintained the undulation that it’s always had.
“The trip to Pocono for the test was the first time I had ever been there, so it allowed me to get a good read on how everything is laid out,” Gordon said. “We welcome the additional testing on Wednesday and Thursday and hope it’ll offer answers to questions we have.
“You have to take into consideration all the changes there have been since we were there testing in April. It had been snowing when we started the test, so you know that the weather will be totally different this week. Plus, we have a different aero package now than we had at the time of the test.”
NASCAR officials issued a technical bulletin on May 15 (Tuesday before Charlotte All-Star Race weekend) that listed several rules changes that went into effect immediately. The major change involved shortening the side skirts – the lower body area between the wheels. The change offered some safety value in that additional air running underneath the car would raise the speeds in which a car will lift and get airborne. A consequence of the change was the loss of downforce.
“From what we’ve seen so far, this new package has taken stability out,” Gordon said. “NASCAR sees how aero-dependent these cars are and I think they will likely continue to tweak on the package we are racing.
“The left-side tires are going to be harder than what we were testing,” said Gordon. “When you look at all of those changes collectively, it’s easy to see how valuable that the track time on Wednesday and Thursday will be.”
Gordon was hesitant to predict how the new track surface would impact the competition fans will see at Pocono this weekend.
“We will learn a lot more about that as we get on into the weekend,” said Gordon. “If the weather cooperates, that’s a lot of track time we’ll have on the new surface. Plus the ARCA guys will be logging a lot of laps and running a race on Saturday before our Cup race on Sunday. But in giving a little insight as to what I expect, I will be surprised to see a second groove open up there this time around. “
In nine career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono, Allmendinger is still looking for his first career win and top-five finish there, but he does have one top-10 finish to date. He has been running at the finish in all nine of the races and finished on the lead lap six times. Most impressive is that he has completed 99.8 percent of possible laps (1,706 of 1,710) with only four uncompleted laps. Overall, Dinger has a 22.8 average start and 21.7 average finish at Pocono.
Allmendinger, Gordon and crew are scheduled to be racing their “PRS-819” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in this weekend’s Pocono 400. This chassis has been raced only once; in the April 1 Goody’s 500 at Martinsville, where Dinger started 27th and finished second. The team will use their “PRS-814” Dodge Charger in the Wednesday and Thursday test days. That car will also serve as the backup Dodge Charger.