The unexpected can often be the expected at Pocono Raceway.
Pocono Raceway's nickname is "The Tricky Triangle" thanks to its unique three-corner configuration. No other track on the NASCAR circuit is like the east Pennsylvania speedway built with three wholly different corners.
Pocono occasionally will play the role of racing's very own Bermuda Triangle, thanks to the oddities, wild moments and big crashes that it has produced since construction in 1968. The track welcomes high speeds, features corners with varying demands and boasts straightaways both narrow and wide. In fact, the Pocono front stretch is the longest straightaway in NASCAR at 3,740 feet.
Seemingly everything that could happen at a race track—especially one nestled in scenic, rural country like the Poconos—has happened at Pocono Raceway. Wildlife have caused cautions, cars have crashed on warm-up laps, and one car returned to pit road with tree branches in the cockpit. The weird happens at Pocono, and the following is a compilation of Pocono's wild and odd events.
Denny Hamlin took the hard road to his first career win at Pocono in 2006.
The simple story of Denny Hamlin's first two visits to Pocono Raceway in 2006 says the then-rookie hammered down both a season sweep at the track and the first two wins of his career. It was an incredible achievement to find such success at a track he had never seen that often rewarded experience.
But Hamlin's first victory at Pocono may have given him all of the experience he needed. After leading early, Hamlin suffered a blown tire on Lap 51 and spun off the track. He quickly gathered the car, limped it to pit road and waited for the crew to finish repairs. He restarted the race deep in the field but rallied back to the lead in 52 laps. Hamlin would later take his first career Sprint Cup checkered flag.
Soggy, wet conditions seem to never be far off at Pocono, and in 2002 Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr. found out the hard way what slick grass and a poorly designed wall can do to a race car.
Then teammates at Dale Earnhardt Inc., Park and Earnhardt made contact and spun sideways exiting Turn 1 on the first lap. Park's car hit the infield guardrail first, and the compression and contact with Earnhardt's car sent Park's No. 1 twisting, pivoting and flipping through the air. A petrified Earnhardt raced from his car to Park's in fear of substantial injury, but Park was deemed okay after the race.
Stephen Leicht, a 26-year-old part-time driver from Asheville, N.C., was making just his fourth start of the 2012 Sprint Cup season at Pocono Raceway when he experienced one of the track's strange events.
Leicht, in the No. 33 Chevrolet for car owner Joe Falk, radioed his crew incredulously as he slowed for pit road. Some sort of woodland animal—Leicht thought it was a beaver—had scampered across the track during practice, right in the line of Leicht's car. Leicht caught the animal with the nose of his car, sending it flying.
Competitor Martin Truex Jr. later clarified that the animal was a groundhog after swerving to miss it, too, and brushing the outside wall.
A running feud between Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch continued at Pocono in 2010 when contact between them sent Busch hard into the outside wall. But Busch's impact wasn't the scariest part of that particular crash sequence.
Behind them, Elliott Sadler was racing for position when the field checked up to miss Busch's sliding No. 2. A driver behind Sadler inadvertently hit his No. 19 and spun him to the infield. Sadler braced for a glancing blow against the guardrail but instead walloped a strange wall extension at high speed.
Sadler, who fortunately had just his breath taken away from the vicious crash, couldn't believe that the flawed track design destroyed his car to the extent of the entire engine being removed and thrown from the vehicle.
The wild and odd moments at Pocono are hardly relegated to happen only when NASCAR drivers are on track. Even the support series—in this case drivers from the ARCA Racing Series—features incidents that you have to see to believe.
Young Louisiana driver Aleks Gregory found that out the hard way in 2012 when he crashed on the first warm-up lap of the race. He was likely traveling no more than 70 mph at the time, but something strange happened, and his No. 32 took a hard right turn and went head-on into the outside wall.
Crashes during cautions are rare, but a crash less than a half mile from leaving pit road and before the start of the race? That's just Pocono.
The sensation of pushing the brake pedal and not getting a response is enough to terrify any driver slowly traversing a neighborhood street. Now imagine the feeling driving an 800+ horsepower race car along the longest straightaway (3,780 feet) in all of NASCAR when you go for the brake pedal entering a corner and there's nothing there.
That was the situation in which Jeff Gordon suddenly found himself with about ten laps to go at Pocono in 2006. A jab at the brake pedal by Gordon didn't slow the car entering Turn 1 at nearly 200 mph. Instinctively, he turned the car left hoping to scrub speed, hit the infield grass, and half-spun up the track into a driver's side hit.
Gordon was sore but OK after the crash, but his car certainly wasn't.
Thanks to a late restart, drivers were especially close together after the white flag at Pocono in 2010. AJ Allmendinger was looking to preserve a tenth-place finish and blocked teammate—but not close friend—Kasey Kahne on the final lap.
Kahne ended up in the grass, then slid back to the right and in front of the field charging for the finish. Kahne was slammed by several cars and was launched in the air where the rear of his car actually went over the wall and caught the decorative bushes lining the track. Fortunately, Kahne's car came back inside the track amid the multi-car melee.
Kahne was fine after the accident, and Pocono added a fence along the backstretch for the next event.
The strangest incidents in the ARCA support series races at Pocono have seemed to happen in the early laps. Fortunately, driver Buster Graham made it through the pace laps in 2012—but the good luck didn't last much longer.
Graham spun at the end of Pocono's front stretch at the start of Lap 2 with several other cars and tracked toward an inside wall. But a combination of slick, wet grass from previous rain showers and an oddly-graded access road sent Graham's car airborne just enough to clear a four-foot inside fence.
Graham's car actually escaped serious damage thanks to not hitting the wall, but it still remains one of Pocono's crazier moments.
The woodland creature that showed up in 2012's June Pocono race weekend wasn't the first two- or four-legged visitor to cross the 2.5-mile track at an inopportune time.
In 1991, ESPN's Jerry Punch delivered the news when the television network's booth announcers couldn't locate a reason for a caution flag that had waved. Punch reported that drivers Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader had both seen a turkey on the track in Turn 1. Others reported a chicken, but Punch summed it up perfectly by noting "some sort of fowl" was "strolling around the inside of Turn 1."
Besides the 1991 fowl on the track, Pocono has even seen an inebriated fan cross the track during a race and deer leaping on to the surface. There's no telling the next wild oddity Pocono will bring us.