Pocono Raceway is seeing the difference a year makes.
The track had to get more creative than its “tricky triangle” last season. In 2020, Pocono was headed toward one of its most profitable weekends in more than 50 years when the pandemic resulted in the loss of fan attendance and other revenue streams.
Things are back on track now, and this weekend’s Cup Series doubleheader is a welcomed sight.
“I’m just thrilled the fans and partners can come back and enjoy it,” track president Ben May said. “What we experienced in 2020 was the right thing to do with our industry. But if the people aren’t there, it’s just a different feel.”
The track will host five races over a three-day period, including a Cup Series doubleheader on Saturday and Sunday. The Pocono Organics CBD 325 is to be held Saturday at 3 p.m., and Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 is set to take place Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf lifted COVID-19 restrictions on outdoor events on May 31. Restrictions had gradually began loosening in February, so May and his team were preparing for the chance to be at full attendance long before the actual decision.
“Unlike our friends at the Sixers and Flyers, this place is 97% outdoors,” May said. “We had a built-in advantage. We just got a little bit lucky we have an outdoor sport.”
The financial losses seemed damaging in 2020, but Pocono held its own. Now, all camping sites have sold out for this weekend. The track also kept all of its core sponsors and even signed some new ones.
One of those sponsors, Pocono Organics CBD, was announced on June 22. Pocono Organics is billed as one of the largest regenerative organic farms in North America.
The fan experience won’t be much different than the pre-pandemic days, May said. A free carnival, kids zone, souvenir travel, playgrounds, and Pocono Mountains activities will be available.
Fans who couldn’t attend last season had the option of getting their tickets credited to 2021.
“It’s going to feel very similar to 2019,” May said. “It feels good on a lot of levels not only for our staff but for our race fans and the local communities.”
More than 1,000 volunteers from contracted agencies and security firms will be working the weekend. Pocono Raceway holds more than 76,000 fans at full capacity.
As for the races, Pocono is hosting a Cup Series doubleheader for the second straight year and is the lone track hosting a Cup Series doubleheader in 2021.
Denny Hamlin tied Jeff Gordon with the record of six for most wins at Pocono at last season’s Pocono 350. He beat Kevin Harvick, who also claimed his first win at the Tricky Triangle last June in the Pocono Organics 325.
Kyle Larson won the Busch Pole award for Saturday’s Pocono Organics CBD 325. Sunday’s pole will be based on Saturday’s results. The top-20 finishers will be inverted, while the remaining drivers will be placed in order of finish.
Both races are to be televised on NBCSN.
“I think that the races being shorter puts a different emphasis on how you go about setting up your car, and then you have that ultimate decision at the end of the first day because of the fact that you know everybody should be better,” Harvick said. “You need to make your car better from the first to second day no matter if you won or finished 30th.”