Polesitter Denny Hamlin can see why some drivers might be enticed to cut corners when attacking the reconfigured Tunnel Turn at Pocono Raceway on Sunday.
But the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner at Pocono suggests everyone exercise caution rather than bravado when it comes to the infamous Turn 2 in the Pocono 400.
In an effort to improve safety and increase speed, the track has removed curbing and paved over a grassy area to create a 15-foot apron at the top of the track known as the Tricky Triangle. However, the ability to cut the corner or make a pass on the widened racing surface could be more illusion than reality.
“It’s a cool idea, but the new asphalt is like two inches higher than the old asphalt,” noted Hamlin. “It’s not a smooth transition, so it will rip your splitter … literally, you’re going to just tear your whole front end right off the car if you try to cut that corner.
“I’ve got probably a handful of guys that I have an idea would try to do that and it’s not going to be good for them when they try to do it. But somebody’s going to get forced down there at some point and I’ll be interested in seeing the outcome of that.”
The alteration is similar in some ways to the modifications made several years ago at the entry of Turn 3 at Phoenix International Raceway.
“But you can’t use it like Phoenix because at Phoenix you’re running 120 mph,” Hamlin said. “Here you’re running 190 [mph] going into that corner. If the new asphalt is two inches higher, physics ain’t going to let that happen. So, it’s a cool thought but it’s not going to be useable.”
Despite the risks of tearing up a splitter, the rewards could be great for a driver who might attempt the move late in a race, perhaps on a restart for a green-white-checkered finish at Pocono.
“I’m sure someone is going to try it,” said Brad Keselowski, who qualified third for Sunday’s race. “Clean air is so important, and when we all go down into Turn 2 and we are stacked up, I’m sure someone will try to use it to find clean air. We’ll all be watching to see how they get through or if they make it. It should be interesting.”
Hamlin isn’t convinced.
“I think all the Cup drivers are smarter than that,” he said. “It’s not a smooth transition. It’s a huge jump when you hit it. The only reason somebody’s going to go down there is if they get forced down there. And if they get forced, they’re probably going to be turning hard left into the garage as soon as they get to the front straightaway.”
Whether or not the reconfigured turn will provide any advantage in competition, the elimination of the curb and widening of the apron has certainly provided a bit more margin for error.
“With the Tunnel Turn now, there is less of a penalty for getting in there and misjudging the apex – which is nice because I do that a lot,” Carl Edwards said. “I was the master at hitting that curb and really messing up my lap. I notice now that if I cross over that line, it is just a little more forgiving.”
“That curb,” Keselowski said, “was kind of a race-killer. If you hit it, it would damage the front splitter … and it could really end your day and not necessarily be your fault. At least, now, you have somewhere to go. I thought [removing that curb] was a good thing, a great change.”