Not So Tricky: The 10 Best Drivers Who Have Mastered Pocono Raceway
Every track in NASCAR presents its own unique challenge.
The short tracks test how much the drivers can control their tempers and how well they can manage their brakes. Intermediate tracks focus on handling and making the car work well the entire way across the track.
Road courses present the unique challenge of seeing if the driver can handle both left and right turns. Restrictor plate tracks test how well one can use the draft and when is the best time to make a move to the front.
But, the Pocono Raceway is unique because so many different aspects go into one track. It's been nicknamed the "tricky triangle" because each of the three corners present a different challenge. Not to mention, each of the three straightaways are of different length.
At 2.5 miles in length, it is one of the largest tracks on the circuit. The front straightaway is the longest in NASCAR, as it's over a mile in length, and cars reach speeds over 200 MPH entering the first corner.
Two of the three corners are sweeping, like ones on a road course, while the tunnel turn is a one-lane, tight and fast corner that has caught even the best drivers off guard.
It is quite possibly the hardest track to get a handle on. Just because driver is happy in one area means he's not in another.
To be good at this track, it's all about compromise and adjustments. That is what wins races at Pocono Raceway.
Although many drivers have been able to figure out how to run well at this track, here is a look at 10 drivers who managed to master the "tricky triangle."
No. 10-Tim Richmond
Pocono has often been referred to as a speedway that is raced like a road course. Naturally, drivers who have road racing experience can do extremely well on a track like that.
When it comes to this track, Tim Richmond had it figured out in the mid-1980s. He came from an open-wheel background, and the flat, sweeping track simply fit his style.
Between 1986 and 1987, Richmond won three of the four races at Pocono. Total, he also had four other top-10 finishes.
There's no telling how well Richmond could have done in NASCAR had it not been for his untimely death in 1989. But, his early success at Pocono was undeniable.
No. 9-Jeremy Mayfield
Before the substance abuse suspension, the lawsuit against NASCAR, and the abrupt end to a promising career, Jeremy Mayfield had a lot going for him.
In 1998, he got his big break thanks to Roger Penske. He was hired on as a teammate to Rusty Wallace, and immediately he looked like he was going somewhere in his racing career.
It was that year, at Pocono, that Mayfield broke through and got his first win in NASCAR. He did so by holding off defending champion, Jeff Gordon.
It would be two years later that Mayfield would battle Dale Earnhardt for the victory at Pocono, and Mayfield pulled off his own "bump and run" on the man who made a habit out of it.
Those would be his only two victories at the track, but he consistently ran near the front after that victory.
Mayfield would soon go to Evernham Motorsports, where he made the first Chase for the Cup and got two more victories. Since then, his career went to a standstill, and finally came to an end after his suspension at Darlington last season.
Even though his name has been tarnished with what happened in 2009, no one will forget how promising a driver he was. It all began with his first win, at Pocono.
No. 8-Carl Edwards
It's not often that a driver is able to find his groove at a track he's never seen before. But, in the case of Carl Edwards, he was able to do that in his rookie season.
His first time at the Pocono Raceway in 2005, Edwards did his backflip for all the fans to see. Just over a month later, he would finish fourth. In his first year at Pocono, he averaged a 2.5-place finish.
It would take two years for him to get another victory at the track, as his highest finish between 2006 and 2007 was 14th. That has dropped his average finish to just over 13th.
Edwards has a lot of races left in him and a lot of victories. When it comes to Pocono, it's safe to say he's head over heels for this place.
No. 7-Mark Martin
While Edwards tasted victory in his first attempt at Pocono, Mark Martin has not been able to break down that wall.
That's not to say he hasn't been trying over the years. Since Martin started his full-time career in NASCAR with Jack Roush in 1988, he has failed to finish a race at Pocono only six times.
At the same time, Martin gained 19 top fives and 32 top 10s. Those are impressive statistics for the 51-year-old driver, and something he's very proud of.
He has always said that he wants to get a win at Pocono. He may only have a few more opportunities to do that, but even if he doesn't get one he'll know that the "tricky triangle" has always been one of his best tracks.
No. 6-Tony Stewart
A former open-wheel racer, Tony Stewart took to Pocono Raceway right away. In his 1999 rookie campaign, he finished sixth and fourth in his first two races.
Since then, Stewart has been running at the end of every race at the track except for two. He got his first win back in 2003.
That win was not as big as the one he got last year, which was the first for him as an owner/driver. Stewart also has eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. On average, he has a 11.9 finishing position at this track.
Since his 2005 championship season, Stewart has finished outside the top-10 just once at Pocono. He also has three poles at the track, as he swept both top starting spots last season.
Extremely impressive for a driver with the nickname of "Smoke."
No. 5-Bobby Allison
The Pocono Raceway has often come down to fuel mileage. When Tony Stewart won last season, he shut the engine off entering the first turn, then kicked it back on. This was all at over 190 MPH.
Some teams lifted off the throttle early in the straightaways. When drivers had to shift the gears years ago, many left the transmission in high gear to get enough gas out of the tank to cross the line.
If there was any driver that knew how to play the fuel game at Pocono, it was Bobby Allison. His three consecutive wins from 1982-1983 all had fuel playing a major role.
His ability to save fuel to get a victory, or timing his final pit stop at the right time not only gave him three victories, but all three came against Richard Petty.
Anytime a driver can beat "The King," let alone at the same race track in consecutive years, he must be doing something right.
No. 4-Dale Jarrett
In many aspects, Dale Jarrett could be considered "Mr. Opportunity."
He got his first big break when he signed with the Wood Brothers. In 1993, he signed with the then-upstart Joe Gibbs Racing organization and won the Daytona 500.
In 1995, with Ernie Irvan recovering from injuries, he took over the No. 28 car for Robert Yates Racing. That year he got his first win at the Pocono Raceway.
That victory gave him the chance to continue racing alongside Ernie Irvan as a teammate.
Jarrett would get two more victories at Pocono, one each in 1997 and 2002.
When opportunity came knocking, Jarrett answered.
No. 3-Rusty Wallace
There is no question that one of the best tracks for Rusty Wallace was Pocono Raceway.
With four wins at the track, he is in a three-way tie for most wins at the three-turn speedway.
Who could ever forget his intense battle with Ricky Rudd in 1996, or how he took advantage of teammate Jeremy Mayfield's tire failure to get the win in 2000.
If it was fast and the car handled well, there's no question that the No. 2 car, with Wallace at the wheel, was going to be a contender.
No. 2-Jeff Gordon
Up until recently, the top driver at Pocono Raceway was Jeff Gordon. The statistics prove it.
He has four wins (his most recent coming in 2007) plus 16 top-fives and 24 top-10s. He averages a finish of 10.7.
That's not to say he hasn't struggled here. In his rookie season, he finished 28th and 37th in both Pocono races. But the next ten races, he finished outside the top-10 just once while also getting three of his four victories.
He also only has five DNFs at the track, mostly because of accidents that were not of his doing. Who could ever forget his scary wreck in 2006 in Turn 1 where the right-rear tire blew out at over 200 MPH?
Gordon has always been a contender at the Pocono Raceway, and judging by his history, he will be for years to come.
No. 1-Denny Hamlin
Without question, there has never been a driver to become acclimated to a track like Denny Hamlin has to Pocono Raceway.
He came here in 2006 without ever turning a lap on the speedway. At the end of 2006, he had two wins...both at Pocono.
In nine races at Pocono, Hamlin has finished outside the top 10 just twice. Along with his two wins in 2006, he has won the last two races at Pocono. He has four top-fives and seven top-10s. His average finish is 8.6, the best among active drivers.
If you take away his two bad finishes at this track, his average finish is 2.3. There's no driver that comes even close to that.
Right now, if anyone wants to get a victory at the Pocono Raceway, they have to be sure the No. 11 FedEx Toyota isn't out front. Otherwise, their chances are very slim.