By Jared Turner
With last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 now in the proverbial rear-view mirror, the drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series won’t face Indianapolis Motor Speedway for almost another full year.
The track up next on the 2016 schedule bears a striking resemblance to IMS, however. In fact, depending on whom you ask, it’s quite possible that a strong run at Indianapolis could bode well for a driver in Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono.
While the two tracks certainly have their differences – seen most vividly in their respective shapes – Pocono and Indy also possess some notable similarities.
Both are 2.5 miles in length.
Both are relatively flat.
And both feature atypically long straightaways that put a premium on horsepower.
Needless to say, one driver hoping good fortune at Indianapolis is a positive sign for Pocono is Brickyard winner Kyle Busch.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver crushed the field this past weekend as he led a remarkable 149 of 170 laps on the way to a commanding victory – his second in as many years at the legendary speedway.
Busch has never won at Pocono, however, so he’s really hoping that the success of Indy translates into an equally stellar outing at the 3-turn, triangular-shaped Pennsylvania layout on tap this weekend.
Coming off last year’s triumph at Indy, Busch led 19 laps at Pocono and was in contention for the win before being snake-bitten by fuel mileage and finishing a disappointing 21st.
The reigning Sprint Cup champ hopes history repeats itself this year – sans the fuel-mileage woes, of course.
“I thought last year the momentum did carry over,” Busch said after Sunday’s win at Indy. “We won this race and then we were running right behind Joey Logano for much of the last stint at Pocono and we thought we had just enough fuel to make it. We didn’t. We ran out. Joey ran out first and then I got the lead and then we ran out.
“You know, we ran a good race. We ran up front all day. Joey and I were kind of in a league of our own. We definitely need to look at that and see how we were last year and how we excelled from here to there, and try to carry that momentum.”
Ryan Newman, who’s won at both Indianapolis and Pocono, concurs with the sentiment that success at one of the two tracks can help a driver’s cause at the other.
“I have always said the Tunnel Turn at Pocono was the closest thing to any corner here at the Brickyard,” Newman said. “If you feel like you are super-competitive at Pocono in the Tunnel Turn and not necessarily in any other turn, you have something to work with for Indy. Yeah, there are similarities, but the tire is different, conditions are a little bit different.”
Jamie McMurray, a former Brickyard winner who’s never tasted victory at Pocono, is a bit more skeptical of the suggestion that the two tracks should be mentioned in the same sentence.
“I think it used to be that way for sure,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said. “It was, honestly, whoever won Pocono came to Indy and contended to win, or vice versa. I don’t think it is that way anymore. The setups are quite a bit different now. We used to run almost the exact same setups at Pocono and Indy, but with simulation and how far the sport has come, it is just different now for both tracks.”
Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – a two-time XFINITY Series champion still seeking his first Sprint Cup win – likewise doesn’t subscribe to the idea that Pocono and Indianapolis are two peas in a pod.
“I don’t really relate Pocono that much to Indy,” he said.