Pocono Raceway Comes under Attack
Fryer, Jenna, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon says it's outdated. Jimmie Johnson believes it produces bad racing. And Kyle Busch fears Sunday's event is going to be downright boring.
Pocono Raceway is officially under attack, and the assault comes as its owners ardently defend its future on the NASCAR schedule.
Bruton Smith, the billionaire owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., wants desperately to purchase the mountain racetrack from owners Joseph and Rose Mattioli. But the Mattiolis are adamant the track is not for sale and will be one day handed down to their grandchildren.
Even if Smith were to prevail, he has no plans to preserve the facility that serves the New York and Philadelphia markets. Instead, he'd pluck one or perhaps even both of its Cup Series dates and move them to SMI-owned facilities.
The battle for ownership of the Pocono track comes amid a wave of criticism against the 2.5-mile triangle.
Gordon, the four-time series champion, was the first to fire when he openly wondered how the "outdated" track has held on to its two Cup dates, despite needing a "ton of upgrades."
"I'm shocked that they've had two races for as long as they've had," Gordon said during testing here two weeks ago. "I'd be surprised if it stayed that way in the future."
Back for Sunday's race, Gordon hasn't retreated from those comments.
"It's obvious that this is a track that needs some upgrades, and I still believe that," he said. "At this day and time with this series at the level it's at ... it's only being constructive criticism as to what upgrades I think they need to have, especially if they want to continue to stay on the circuit going forward."
The Mattiolis have listened to criticism before -- improving the garages and creating lounges for the drivers in 1995. And when he noticed a chunk of asphalt coming loose after the race here last August, 83-year-old Joseph Mattioli walked the path on the track and found baseline cracks in a 15-foot-wide section between Turns 2 and 3.
He had the section filled with a new asphalt that's created a patch drivers are raving about this weekend.
But the patch is the only positive they've found.
At 500 miles, drivers have long complained the race is way too long. If NASCAR surveyed the garage, series officials would be hard pressed to find a single person who doesn't want the race shortened by 100 miles. …