It still measures 2.5 miles and has the same demanding triangular layout, but it's a decidedly different Pocono Raceway that hosts the Sprint Cup Series this weekend.
Thanks to the track's first full repaving project since 1995, plenty of variables are likely to emerge in Sunday's Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR at 1 p.m. ET on TNT for the first time this season. Another twist: the race will be the Eastern Pennsylvania track's first at a 400-mile distance after 37 years of 500-milers.
Cup teams began two days of testing Wednesday and the new asphalt quickly produced unofficial speeds that eclipsed the track record. While the extended schedule will allow drivers to get familiar with the new surface, the additional track time will place a premium on crew chiefs' ability to adapt to Pocono's changing characteristics.
"With an essentially new race track and new surface, there's a huge opportunity for someone to figure something out and dominate," said Carl Edwards, a two-time Pocono winner who ranks 12th in the standings at the halfway point of the regular season.
"We want to be that guy. We don't want to go out there and have some preconceived notion or something. So we're going into it with real open minds and hoping that we can master that surface and take advantage of the unknown there."
One certainty is that the race will be 100 miles shorter than in years past. How it might affect strategy is another matter.
"To me, the shorter the race, the more intense it is," said Ryan Newman, whose only Pocono win came in 2003. "I think there's going to be some rewards in us having some shorter races and having some longer races -- it all depends on the venue, in my opinion. A place like Pocono with the long straightaways, it's nice for it to be a little bit shorter. I think it's a good change."
One thing that hasn't changed in 11 races is the grasp on the series points lead by Greg Biffle, whose lone Pocono victory came in 2010. Biffle's consistency, plus a convincing win at Texas in April, have lifted him to a one-point edge over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
The jockeying for a top-10 ranking to qualify for the Chase for the Cup has also significantly tightened; just 17 points separate eighth-place Tony Stewart from 12th-place Edwards along the cut-off line.
Trucks set to tango with Texas
The variety of victors in the Camping World Truck Series continued last weekend at Dover, when Todd Bodine became the sixth different winner in six races to start the season. If history is an indication, Bodine may end the streak of unique winners himself come Friday.
The truck tour makes the first of two visits this season to Texas Motor Speedway for Friday night's WinStar World Casino 400 at 9 p.m. ET.
Bodine's familiarity with Texas has produced six wins, the most of any driver in any NASCAR national series at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track. Four of those wins have come in the track's first truck race of the season, which is 35 miles longer.
"The spring race is the longer of the two races at the track, which I am better at," said Bodine, who snapped a 38-race winless streak at Dover. "I think we're able to wear everyone else out on the long runs. That's where I excel."
Bodine's latest win helped him jump three spots to sixth in the standings, but he's still 37 points behind series leader Justin Lofton, who broke through for his first truck win at Charlotte three weeks ago. Lofton leads Timothy Peters, Bodine's teammate at Red Horse Racing, by just one point.
Ty Dillon, 13 points back in third place, enters Texas with six consecutive top-10 finishes to start the season -- a record for truck series rookies.
- Pocono Raceway