By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LONG POND, Pa. -- To Denny Hamlin, Pocono is a brand new racetrack.
As Hamlin predicted two weeks ago, the repaving of the 2.5-mile triangular track has removed any advantage the driver of the No. 11 Toyota might have had at one of his favorite venues.
So for Hamlin, who won two races at Pocono from the pole in his 2006 rookie season and added one victory each in 2009 and 2010, it's just like starting over.
"The success we had here . . . is gone," Hamlin told the NASCAR Wire Service after the morning session of testing on Thursday. "It's kind of a reset. You're not going to be able to look at any notes from previous (races) and race winners and try to predict a race winner for this thing.
"Strategy's going to be huge. Track position is going to be big. Of the test guys, you could probably put anyone in the top 20 out front with 15 laps to go, and no one's going to catch 'em."
Speeds have increased dramatically during the first two days of testing at the Tricky Triangle. All 41 cars in Thursday's afternoon session were faster in race trim than Kasey Kahne's 2004 qualifying record of 172.533 mph.
Coincidentally, Kahne posted the top speed during testing -- 179.490 mph -- turning a lap in 50.142 seconds, more than two seconds faster than his 2004 record time.
"With the corner speeds being so much slower with the old surface, you didn't get off the corner as well," Hamlin said. "Everyone is shifting (gears) now, and your shift points have moved around dramatically. Obviously, that's been shortened up.
"It's just a big test session right now, trying to figure out what makes speed at this race track, what you have to do, because, really, you drive it totally different than what you used to."
THE TURN IS THE HARD PART
AJ Allmendinger, who had the fastest lap in the Thursday morning session (177.190 mph), said the average speed didn't hold a candle to the pace entering Turn 1.
"I think on data it's 211 (mph)," Allmendinger said. "The speed's easy down the straightaway. The problem is you've got to turn at the end."
And the problem with turning is that, for now, Pocono is a one-groove racetrack. Over the course of the weekend, drivers expect it to widen out as the new asphalt takes on more rubber. That should make both lanes viable for restarts during the race.
"At Phoenix last year, we all thought the same thing when it got repaved, that starting on the outside was going to be brutal, and you're just going to be hung out to dry," Allmendinger said. "By the end of the race, you could argue that being on the outside of every row was actually a little bit better, because you get a run off the corner.
"The track will eventually widen out, because we'll have to restart the race double-file; we'll have to start the race double-file; you'll have an ARCA race (Saturday) that will have to start double-file. So the track will widen out. It's just not going to do it until people start racing."
Carl Edwards chose not to make a substantive comment on the suspension levied against Kurt Busch on Monday, but he had something to say about race car drivers in general.
In an oblique reference to Busch, who was punished for a contentious verbal exchange with a reporter after Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Dover, Edwards was asked if he ever worried about possible harm from a driver who took his anger issues to the racetrack.
"Have you ever seen me race when I'm pissed off?" Edwards quipped. "We're race car drivers, guys. We're not manners teachers. We're race car drivers. We don't get through a race, much less a career, with any success by always being kind and always saying and doing the right things.
"We're competitors. I can only speak for myself, but sometimes it's difficult to remember that you're on television, and they're a lot of different people watching, and you have to control yourself. I can't think of a guy who hasn't had an incident where they've kind of forgotten that."
From NASCAR's point of view, Busch has forgotten it too often. He was on probation for a May 12 incident at Darlington, where Busch accelerated through Ryan Newman's pit box while crewmen were still working there.
In addition to a 10-day suspension under which Busch will miss Sunday's race at Pocono, NASCAR also extended his probation through the end of the year.