For Denny Hamlin, Pocono presents a three-sided question mark

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota drives during testing for the new track surface at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2012 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

LONG POND, Pa. — To Denny Hamlin, Pocono is a brand new racetrack.

As Hamlin predicted two weeks ago, the repaving of the 2.5-mile triangular track has removed any advantage the driver of the No. 11 Toyota might have had at one of his favorite venues.

So for Hamlin, who won two races at Pocono from the pole in his 2006 rookie season and added one victory each in 2009 and 2010, it’s just like starting over.

“The success we had here . . . is gone,” Hamlin told the NASCAR Wire Service after the morning session of testing on Thursday. “It’s kind of a reset. You’re not going to be able to look at any notes from previous (races) and race winners and try to predict a race winner for this thing.

“Strategy’s going to be huge. Track position is going to be big. Of the test guys, you could probably put anyone in the top 20 out front with 15 laps to go, and no one’s going to catch ’em.”

Speeds have increased dramatically during the first two days of testing at the Tricky Triangle. All 41 cars in Thursday’s afternoon session were faster in race trim than Kasey Kahne’s 2004 qualifying record of 172.533 mph.

Coincidentally, Kahne posted the top speed during testing — 179.490 mph — turning a lap in 50.142 seconds, more than two seconds faster than his 2004 record time.

“With the corner speeds being so much slower with the old surface, you didn’t get off the corner as well,” Hamlin said. “Everyone is shifting (gears) now, and your shift points have moved around dramatically. Obviously, that’s been shortened up.

“It’s just a big test session right now, trying to figure out what makes speed at this race track, what you have to do, because, really, you drive it totally different than what you used to.”


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