LONG POND, Pa. (AP) – Coming off a sweep of last summer’s events at Pocono Raceway, Jimmie Johnson should be the favorite Sunday.

But the Nextel Cup points leader has virtually no advantage heading into the Pocono 500. A change in the gearing rule means everybody will be going slower, looking for new way to get around the 2.5-mile triangle.

“With the gear rule we have, we won’t be able to shift,” Johnson said Friday. “That’s going to be much different than what any of us have done before, and I expect the times to probably be a lot slower since we’re not able to optimize the power band of the engine.

“And then with the smaller spoiler, at Pocono it’s very tough to get stopped in turn one with the speeds we carry and I would expect that the smaller spoiler is going to be a little tougher on the brakes as well. So it’s going to be a different race track, probably one of the tracks we will have the most difficulty adjusting to with this new rules package this year.”

There is no motivation for a driver to downshift, Elliott Sadler explained.

“You would wreck. It would lock the rear wheels up,” he said. “It would be like driving your normal car down the road and going from fifth gear to first gear. You would wheel-hop and then you would wreck.”

Neither knows what to expect when the green flag waves. But Johnson certainly will miss the old routine.

He has worked hard on perfecting his Pocono driving style. Now, the search will be on to figure out what must be done to maintain his advantage on this track – the only layout of its kind on the NASCAR circuit and the only place outside the road courses in Watkins Glen., N.Y., and Sonoma, Calif., where shifting was used outside pit road.

“What made it so interesting and fun for me was the shifting and the demands on the braking and getting your downshift done right at the right time,” said Johnson, who on Sunday will try to become just the third driver to win three straight races on the mountaintop.

He hopes drivers will not become frustrated because he expects considerable aggravation over the added difficulty of passing without the sudden burst of power provided by downshifting.

Among the most sought-after consultants on the new package is Doug Yates, chief engine builder for Roush-Yates Engines. He’s advising everyone to find the best balance in the motors.

At most tracks, the difference between the top and bottom of engine performance is 2,000 rpms. Here, it will be about 3,000.

“The first thing we tell them is, “Don’t shift,”‘ Yates explained. “They’re all used to shifting. That might sound kind of simple and ridiculous, but habits can be hard to break.”

Drivers will be exiting the slightly banked and sharp, speed-robbing turns in same top gear they used on the long straightaways. It will be as if a passenger car tried to quickly recover lost speed with an automatic transmission. It doesn’t work.

A balance of power that would permit the teams to build engines that could be used at many tracks without skyrocketing costs figured in NASCAR’s thinking, Nextel Cup director John Darby said.

“They can build engines which can stand 9,500 rpms with less failure,” he said, noting that each increase makes the cars less cost-effective.

Not shifting feels strange to Rusty Wallace.

“I keep finding myself reaching up for the gear, and wanting to pull it down,” he said after practice. “But it’s all the way down already.”

Teammate Ryan Newman said practice was boring without shifting.

“Every time you have a change everybody is going to complain,” he said. “We’ll just have to see how it works out, but it’ll put less stress on the motors.”

Practice speeds Friday were down considerably from past years. The top speed was Kurt Busch’s 166.620 mph.

That should mean the cars will not come close today to Kasey Kahne’s year-old Pocono qualifying record of 172.533.

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