LONG POND, Pa. — For an eloquent explanation of the difference new pavement at Pocono makes, just ask five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and two-time Pocono winner Jimmie Johnson.
The new asphalt has made a dramatic difference in speed at Pocono Raceway, which in turn has changed the way Johnson and his fellow drivers negotiate the 2.5-mile triangular track.
“You’re in the gas a long time,” Johnson told the NASCAR Wire Service. “I’d say the corner that is most apparent for that is Turn 3. You’re in the throttle well before you ever see any part of the straightaway, and you make up time on throttle around here.
“We certainly are getting into the corners deeper and rolling the center faster, but the thing that stands out to me the most is how soon you’re wide open. Then, if you’re shifting, how quickly you need to grab fourth (gear). It’s a considerable distance from last year when we were shifting.”
Despite the increased speed, though, Johnson said a lap at Pocono isn’t uncomfortable.
“Even though we’re going so much faster, the comfort is there in the cars, and that’s why we’re able to lay down these laps,” Johnson said. “Then the tire is holding up, so then again, I think it speaks to the tire/asphalt combination and how important that really is that those two materials agree with one another.”
As far as Johnson was concerned, there was plenty of agreement where the rubber met the road on Friday afternoon. His No. 48 Chevrolet was fourth fastest in the first Cup practice at 178.678 mph.