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Pocono drivers hail shorter race

Take a dip through the tunnel at Pocono Raceway and emerge to the sight of a giant banner that almost obstructs the view of the twin spires that sit atop the grandstand:

"Welcome to Doc's Place."

The banner was raised in honor of track founder and chairman Joseph "Doc" Mattioli for the first race held at Pocono since he died in January. Mattioli's presence looms large this weekend. His portrait is on the cover of the race program, commemorative decals are stuck on the Sprint Cup cars, staff workers wear pins, and his name is painted in yellow on rocks outside the garage area.

This 2 1/2 -mile triangle track nestled in the mountains will always belong to Mattioli.

"It's getting harder," said his grandson, Brandon Igdalsky. "It's hard to be around here this weekend and not hear his booming voice."

Igdalsky has assumed control and is mostly calling the shots these days at Pocono. Igdalsky was already track president as Mattioli scaled back his duties in recent years and added CEO to his title last year.

The track remains in the family (his brother and sister are executives) and the 36-year-old Igdalsky has already put a modern stamp on a track that dates back to the 1960s.

Mattioli's absence isn't the only jarring adjustment.

The track underwent an overdue repave that led to breakneck speeds on two days of testing this week.

The race, which had long eschewed corporate sponsorship in the title, is called the Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR. The race marks Twitter's first official partnership with a sports league. The #NASCAR page will feature tweets that bring fans closer to all the action at the Pocono 400.

Fans, writers and drivers have 100 fewer miles to tweet Sunday.

In a change that had teams celebrating like they won Daytona, the grueling 500-mile race was shortened to 400 miles. Long considered one of the more tedious races in Cup racing, 400 miles is expected to provide a close and compelling race from the drop of the green flag.

"This track has been a fuel mileage race in the past and a little bit shorter race could shake that up," driver Clint Bowyer said. "It just seemed like this is a track that we got strung out on and it was just a bit too long."


Around the tracks

*Alex Tagliani won the pole for tonight's IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. Tagliani turned a lap at 215.691 mph late in Friday's qualifying session to bump Dario Franchitti from the top starting spot. Franchitti went 215.646 to qualify second.

*Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve said in Montreal he received threats after blasting Quebec's student movement. The Canadian driver said Friday he received "dangerous" emails in reaction to his comments Thursday night after protesters tried to disrupt a cocktail party kicking off Canadian Grand Prix festivities. Villeneuve said that if protesters make good on a plan to jam the subway system on Sunday -- the day of the race -- it will amount to domestic terrorism.

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