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Auto Racing

Pocono working to improve track

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 10:56 AM
LONG POND, Pa. -

Pocono Raceway keeps taking hits.

Often criticized by drivers for unnecessary 500-mile races and for clogging two spots on the Sprint Cup schedule, the 2 1/2 -mile triangle track is now deemed by some unsafe after an accident involving Kasey Kahne in the June race.

The rally cry of "shorten the races" has morphed into "make them safer."

Track president Brandon Igdalsky is listening - and he's promising to do what it takes to improve the track.

"Do we need to make changes? Yes," he said.

Greg Biffle offered the harshest critique in a recent Sports Illustrated story, saying "they're going to kill somebody there." He added: "If they don't change that racetrack - maybe not next year, maybe not three years from now - they'll hurt somebody there."

Igdalsky wants the feedback - even as he believes Biffle overstated the danger - and already has started planning safety improvements. The track is adding more SAFER barriers in time for next year's race and would like to install a catch fence along the non-grandstand areas.

The barriers would be installed along the inside wall between turns 1 and 2 and down the "Long Pond" stretch. The barriers, a combination of steel and foam, will replace the current guard rail system. SAFER barriers are currently in place at each of NASCAR's oval tracks and are being installed on the road course at Watkins Glen.

Kahne was involved in a huge scare in the June race when he lost control of his car in the grass, then went airborne and into the trees that line the track. Had the car sailed higher, Kahne would have flipped out of the track.

Igdalsky has taken a bigger role as his grandfather, track owner Joseph Mattioli, scales back his duties. Igdalsky helped bring corporate sponsorship to the races and the first trucks race Saturday, and has an eye on bringing back an IndyCar Series race.

"We're making some noise," Igdalsky said.

Pocono Raceway had corporate sponsorship for its June Cup race for the first time since 1996. Pocono's June race had been called the Pocono 500 since 1997.

Mattioli said last year that Pocono didn't have sponsorship.

"I don't need the money, and if you don't need the money, what the (heck) is the sense of sponsorship?" he had said. "We call all the shots. All the VIPs on race day are our people, not the sponsor's people."

He said before Saturday's trucks race the sponsorship package "was so nice we couldn't refuse it."

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