The Frontstretch: IndyCar In Depth: Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled By Sunoco by Toni Montgomery -- Friday July 5, 2013

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IndyCar In Depth: Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled By Sunoco

Toni Montgomery · Friday July 5, 2013


What’s News?

The race itself is the news this weekend as Indy cars return to the Tricky Triangle, Pocono Raceway, for the first time since 1989 for the INDYCAR 400 this Sunday.

The Tricky, three-turn Triangle of Pocono Raceway will make history Sunday, hosting an IndyCar event for the first time since 1989.

“The fans are really excited. A lot of people around here remember Pocono before [with] INDYCAR and we are seeing that with a lot of fans that are buying tickets and what they are telling us when they call. They are saying my dad took me and now I’m bringing my dad and my kids,” says Speedway President Brandon Igdalsky. He says the track decided to bring the series back after discovering just how much the area missed it.

“We hired a company that went out and talked to IndyCar fans and NASCAR fans and just motorsports fans in general, as well as non-motorsports fans and we were pretty surprised by the overwhelming support that it looked like on paper we would have for the event,” he adds. Igdalsky also indicated the track seems to be happy with ticket sales so far. “As we are getting closer to the event, we are seeing the fruits of those labors come to fruition and we are excited by the crowd we are going to have here.”

The excitement ratchets up as you realize Pocono’s also the second leg of the return of the Triple Crown for open-wheel racing. Tony Kanaan, winner of the first leg, the Indy 500, is the only driver who still has a chance to win the $1 million bonus for winning all three legs at Indy, Pocono and Fontana. Kanaan and everyone else in the field still have a chance at the $250,000 bonus for winning two of the three events. Al Unser is the only driver to win the Triple Crown, completing the feat in 1978.

And for one more bit of added intrigue, INDYCAR has announced it will implement a three-wide start for the initial starts at both Pocono and Fontana in recognition of the status of both events as part of the Triple Crown. Fans are familiar with the three-wide starts at Indianapolis, which have been utilized at the event since 1921. The original Triple Crown races of the ’70s and ’80s also used three-wide starts, a tradition INDYCAR officials are bringing back.

“After having the opportunity to test at Pocono and a successful event at Auto Club Speedway last season, we were able to analyze track data and compare to our current start procedure for the Indianapolis 500,” said Beaux Barfield, race director, INDYCAR. “Given the speeds of our starts, the location of accelerations zones, the spacing between rows and the length of the frontstraights at each track, we have decided to move forward with a three-wide lineup for the initial starts.”

Track Preview: Pocono Raceway

NASCAR fans are well familiar with the odd configuration of Pocono, a 2.5-mile oval with three distinct and different turns. Turn 1 is a high-banked, 14 degree turn while Turn 2 is banked at 8 degrees and Turn 3 is a wide-sweeping, flat 6 degrees.

Indy cars ran at the facility from 1971 until 1989. The last driver to win on the unusual three-turn circuit was Danny Sullivan, and none of the current crop of drivers has any experience on the track so it’s a wide open event in many ways. Some drivers participated in earlier test sessions at the track, and all of them were present for an open test on July 4.

Race distance is 160 laps for 400 miles. Emerson Fittipaldi, the last pole winner in 1989, holds the single lap record of 211.715 mph, but all 24 teams went faster than the record in the open test so expect that to fall. Television coverage of the event starts at noon ET, on ABC with radio coverage on the IMS Radio Network and on Sirius/XM 211.

Helio Castroneves, whose resume this season includes a win at Texas still remains atop the point standings. But Ryan Hunter-Reay is closing fast…

What’s the Points? Drivers Helio Castroneves is the current points leader, holding a nine-point advantage on defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. It’s a bit lonely at the top for the driver from Penske Racing, as he is trailed by an Andretti Autosport contingent. Marco Andretti holds down third, followed by teammate James Hinchcliffe in fourth. Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan rounds out the top five.

What’s the Points? Engines Chevrolet has pulled out to a healthy advantage over Honda, leading the manufacturer standings by twelve points, 81 to 69.

Driver To Watch: Marco Andretti grew up about an hour from Pocono Raceway in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and you can bet the driver who has been enjoying a bit of a career resurgence this year would like to breakthrough with a victory on his home track. Andretti Autosport teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay both have wins this year, with Hinchcliffe bringing home a series high three trophies. Andretti has also been enjoying some stellar performances this season, but has run into mechanical issues in a couple of races he looked to have well in hand.

“We’ve been almost dominant the last two races, but had something go wrong,” he said of the Milwaukee and Iowa short ovals. “If we execute and everything goes right, we can win.”

Other News:

- Simon Pagenaud spent his off week last weekend driving a minivan up the mountain course at Pike’s Peak. Pagenaud drove a specially outfitted Honda Odyssey in the 91st Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on June 30, finishing second in the Exhibition Class. He called it “a win for all the ‘soccer moms.‘”

“With more than 500 horsepower, the conditions (rain, fog and light snow at high elevation) were tricky and kept me busy. I feel very blessed and very proud. I’d like to come back again next year with something even more crazy.”

- A.J. Foyt is recovering from successful hip replacement surgery on July 1. Foyt has been suffering from pain in his left leg most of the year. He missed several races earlier this year, notably one where his team won in Long Beach, to undergo back surgery to relieve sciatic nerve pain. After a fall while working on his ranch in June, the pain increased and after consulting with doctors, Foyt decided to undergo the latest procedure.

“I was a little nervous about this surgery, but they had me up and walking the same day. I’m sore, but nothing like I was before the surgery. I guess I waited too long to have it done, though because my hip was in really bad shape. They couldn’t believe I was walking at all,” said Foyt. “The doctors tell me it will be six to eight weeks before I can travel.”

Foyt will watch driver Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply Racing team compete at Pocono on television.

The Picks: Matt Stallknecht is sticking with Marco Andretti and thinks the Nazareth, PA native will win his “hometown” event. Toni Montgomery likes oval specialist Ed Carpenter this week, while our other analyst, Huston Ladner is also going with an Andretti car and is taking Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Upcoming: And now back to the winding road portion of our schedule! The IZOD IndyCar Series takes another off week next weekend and then a break from ovals for awhile with a return to street courses. They’ll next go north of the border, visiting Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto. This is the second doubleheader race on the schedule, with races back-to-back on Saturday, July 13, and Sunday, July 14. Both events air at 3:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

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07/05/2013 05:02 PM

With the just-revealed tire blistering problems, this could be the disaster Indy Car can’t afford.

The Great Waltripo
07/05/2013 07:23 PM

Damn Pete, I hope not. This is their breakout weekend to shine and get back in the spotlight, and a debacle like the 2008 Brickyard 400 is the last thing they need.