Jeff Gordon has praised the resurfacing of Pocono Raceway after driving on the new asphalt on Wednesday, although he expects the main novelty to be a shorter race at the tri-oval this Sunday.
A five-time winner at the 2.5-mile track, Gordon was among 36 Sprint Cup drivers who completed the first of two days of testing on the new surface that replaces the worn, bumpy and abrasive asphalt that had been in place since 1995.
Veteran Mark Martin set the best lap of the day, running around eight tenths of a second faster than the current track record. set back in 2004, while another 21 drivers were also under the standing benchmark.
"They did a great job – the track was really nice and smooth, good grip," said Gordon. "We've had some repaves where you go and it's a handful and pretty slick and that wasn't the case at all today.
"Even the access roads around, when you get off of the racetrack coming back to pit road or trying to get out of other cars' ways was nice and smooth. I felt they did an excellent job."
Despite that, however, Gordon is unsure about what to expect come race day in terms of how much the new surface will allow for side-by-side racing. Cup teams will continue to test Thursday and Friday and will then be joined by the ARCA series, which is the only support series this weekend – fact that will probably not assist the rubbering-in process over multiple grooves.
"We need more laps, more cars on the track racing side by side," said Gordon. "I wish there were more races this weekend, because the groove is pretty narrow right now. With testing we're all running by ourselves and that's what makes that narrow groove.
"Until we get out there in the race and start to widen the groove, we won't really know what it's going to be like. It's always nice to know when the grip level is good, and all we really need is that groove to get wider and we'll put on a great race. I hope that happens this weekend."
Despite speeds raising considerably and the unknowns brought by the new surface, Gordon expects the main novelty this weekend to be a race 100 miles shorter than in the past. For the first time since 1974, the Pocono Cup event will run for 400 and not 500 miles.
"I think the biggest difference this weekend is going to be nice having a shorter race," said Gordon. "When you're looking at low 50-second bracket, that's a long lap and to do that for 500 miles, that's a long race.
"It's nice that they've shortened it, whether we run the old track or the new one."