1971 Meets 2012: Pocono Is the Great Unknown

In 1971, drivers and teams from the USAC Champ Car Series – a forerunner to what is now known as the IZOD IndyCar Series – headed to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, a brand new track on the circuit, for the Schaefer 500.

The participants headed to Pocono with no idea what to expect, as the 2.5-mile triangular layout designed by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rodger Ward was (and remains) unlike any other track in the world, with three different corners, each modeled after a different track. Turn one, which is banked at 14 degrees, is modeled after the now-closed Trenton (N.J.) Speedway. Turn two, banked at eight degrees, is a nod to the turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And turn three, banked at six degrees, is modeled after the corners at The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.

It’s a unique design that has always been a challenge for drivers and mechanics alike as they attempt to find the fastest way around the “Tricky Triangle” in search of victory lane.

The drivers and teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series may very well feel like the participants in that 1971 USAC Champ Car race since they will be greeted by a freshly-paved Pocono Raceway and won’t quite know what to expect.

That includes two-time Pocono winner Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). Stewart, like many of his fellow competitors, will spend Wednesday and Thursday testing on the new surface before the normal three-day race weekend schedule begins on Friday.

Stewart is hoping to find the right combination to score a third victory, just as he did in June 2003 while still driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and again in June 2009 when he claimed the first ever point-paying victory for SHR. 

But in addition to the new surface, there is another new wrinkle – a shorter race. Sunday’s race is set for 400 miles, 100 miles less than all previously scheduled Sprint Cup races at the 2.5-mile triangle. 

Much as it was for Indy car drivers 41 years ago during the very first race at Pocono, Sunday’s race is the great unknown. And just as Mark Donohue did in 1971 by beating Joe Leonard, Gary Bettenhausen, Sammy Sessions and Jimmy Caruthers, Stewart hopes to be the first to figure out the great unknown.

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