Shifting back at Pocono

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LONG POND, PA. (AP) - Here’s a shift at Pocono Raceway: Drivers can again shift gears on the demanding triangle track after a six-year hiatus where the move all but went away.

“There has been some confusion that shifting was not allowed at Pocono and that isn’t true,” said NASCAR Sprint Cup series director John Darby. “The real reason shifting stopped at Pocono was because gear ratios weren’t compatible for shifting.”

Drivers have attempted shifting very rarely and with no success at Pocono since 2005. That’s when a change in the gearing rule prevented downshifting in the sharp turns on the triangular layout. The 2 1/2-mile triangular track was unique on the circuit because the drivers shifted as if they were on a road course.

Drivers used downshifting to gain quick acceleration exiting the sharp turns. The rule is designed to cut rpm and reduce the number of engine failures. Drivers suddenly had to get used to the difficulty of passing without the sudden burst of power provided by downshifting.

Not this year. Darby said transmission gear ratios were changed to make it easier on engines and give teams a better opportunity to use third gear.

“I feel like I have an opportunity to grab that third gear to get a little bit better launch up off the corner,” said four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. “t challenges you in a way, as a driver and the team, to work on the car to be able to do that. And so I think that just kind of adds another set of skills in there.”

Not all drivers feel shifting will make a difference.

“It will be the same as it was last year,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Take last year’s race and replay it and just imagine all the drivers are shifting.”

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HAAS TO GO: Tony Stewart has no wins and only one top-five finish. It’s certainly not the kind of season expected out of the two-time Cup champion, so he knew he needed to make a change.

Stewart this week released Bobby Hutchens as director of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing. Hutchens held his job since 2009, when he left his longtime role with Richard Childress Racing.

“We just feel like we’re not headed in the direction we want,” Stewart said at Pocono Raceway. “We’ve got to make a change in that direction. I can promise you it’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life.”

Stewart promoted Matt Borland to vice president of competition. Borland has been with Stewart-Haas Racing since its inception as technical director.

“The thing we wanted to do was take Matt, because he’s so smart, and put him on a project side where he can really look at different aspects of our team and company and try to figure out how to get 100 percent out of it,” Stewart said.

Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman are in the top 10 in the points standings, but have struggled lately. Newman has one finish better than 14th since Martinsville in early April.

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