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Pocono Raceway set to welcome back NASCAR for another big weekend of racing

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When it comes to Pocono Raceway and NASCAR, less has been more.

The first NASCAR race at the track was held Aug. 4, 1974. Richard Petty won the first Pocono 500 and from 1982 through 2019 there were two race weekends at the Monroe County track each summer.

Starting in 2020, NASCAR began a once-per-year stop in the Poconos and after staging Cup race doubleheaders with races on back-to-back days in 2020 and 2021, the last two years have featured just one big race weekend highlighted by a Cup race on Sunday.

And, that one big race weekend has produced some of the biggest crowds the track has seen in 50 years of NASCAR racing at Long Pond.

NASCAR makes its annual visit this coming weekend — a week earlier than last year — with all three major NASCAR series holding races spread over three days starting with the truck series on Friday night.

With Pocono hosting just one weekend instead of the two it had for nearly 40 years, fans throughout the northeast have flocked to the so-called “Tricky Triangle.” In 2022, Pocono had its biggest crowd in more than 10 years. Last year’s Cup race produced a sellout.

Pocono Raceway president Ben May expects this year’s race weekend to attract as many fans, if not more, than 2023.

“The response from the fans has been overwhelming,” May said. “The fans have been coming in droves. It has been unbelievable. We sold out our 3,300 campsites 15 days earlier than we did last year. Not a single camp or RV site is left on our property and then our grandstand sales are a little ahead of where they were at this point last year. Our staff has done a great job and we’re extremely pleased with the response.”

Of course, the weather is always a factor in whether or not Pocono attracts walkup sales. Last year’s races went off without a hitch, which is unusual for a Pocono race weekend.

“The weather will dictate the rest of our sales, but if we stay on this pace, you can rest assured we will have another sellout,” May said. “Last year, we sold out heading into race day. It was right at the wire.”

Last year the track management moved Victory Lane to a place that was accessible to fans near the paddock. Victory Tower was replaced by a 15-foot high viewing platform that spanned 200 feet and offered views into the garage, pit road and Victory Lane.

“Having that Victory Lane where it was accessible to so many fans and having that huge screen on that elevated platform was amazing,” May said. “It was well received. That’s another thing that’s special about NASCAR. I liken it to an NFL game where you can’t get on the field, but in NASCAR you can get right near where the celebration is going on.”

As for changes this year, May said they are more subtle.

“It’s really more a creature comfort kind of thing,” he said. “We’ve added over 200 new picnic tables with umbrellas to add more comfort and shade for the fans. We’re continuing to make small upgrades to the facility. It’s no secret that this place has some years to it. It’s our 51st year on the Cup series circuit so we just continue to hack away at the stuff that’s logical and what’s good for the fans. Over years we’ve added the kids playground, the dog park, the infield block party at night. All of that stuff has been well received.”

May said the goal is that the group that is holding a bachelor or bachelorette party during race weekend is having just as much fun as the family of four.

“We want to be well-rounded as an entertainment venue as we can be,” he said.

There has been no repaving or patches added to the track or something new for the drivers and their teams to get used to.

“Every time we talk about it internally we go back to the fact that the action on the track has been really good the last few years, so we’re not touching it,” May said. “I’m no engineer but these race cars run well here. This track seems to like those new cars. It has been putting on a great show for the fans, so no, we haven’t made any changes to the surface or anything related to the competition.”

May has been pleased with the competitiveness of the Cup series, which will have a street race in Chicago on Sunday before coming to Pocono.

“I’ve really enjoyed the season and it has been as good as we’ve had in the 20-some years I’ve been involved here at Pocono,” May said. “This Next Gen car has raced well at Pocono. We used to have a lot of races here that were less than amazing, but the last three with the new car has been world class. And that’s also true of the truck series where we had a last-lap pass for a win with Kyle Busch last year. The Xfinity series has cars that run well at every track, so we’re pleased with how the races have gone and the crowds that have shown up to watch them.”

Of course, the crowds are one gauge for perceptions of how NASCAR feels about a track, sponsorships are another.

“If we sell out our camp grounds and our grandstand and we have all three of our races sponsored then we feel we still belong on the circuit and we’ll be here for a long time,” May said. “This year we have CRC back as the title sponsor of the truck race and the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau on the Xfinity race and the Visit PA and the tourism board with us for the Cup series race with their brand calling it the Great American 400. We’re different than other sports properties in that 60 percent of our fans come from out of state. So to have those folks spend their money in our bars, restaurants, hotels and shopping in our shopping centers is a big deal.”

The schedule

Friday

2 p.m. —  NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series practice.

2:30 p.m. — NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series qualifying.

5:15 p.m. — NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver introductions

5:30 p.m. — CRC Brakleen 175 truck series race (70 laps, 175 miles)

Saturday

10 a.m. — NASCAR Xfinity Series practice

10:30 a.m. — NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying

12 noon — NASCAR Cup Series practice

12:45 p.m. —  NASCAR Cup Series qualifying

2:20 p.m. — NASCAR Xfinity Series driver introductions

3 p.m. –- Explore The Pocono Mountains 225 NASCAR Xfinity Series Race (90 laps, 225 miles).

Sunday

1:45 p.m. — NASCAR Cup Series driver introductions

2:30 p.m. — The Great American Getaway 400 presented by VISITPA NASCAR Cup Series Race (160 laps, 400 miles)

 


Source: Berkshire mont

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