Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Never-ending Thoughts on the 2018 Pocono Race

It is day three of thoughts on the Pocono race. It is different waves. First was looking at the race, taking what we knew and commenting on it. Then it was looking at the thoughts and feelings after Robert Wickens' accident. Today I want to look at other things that happened during the race that did not get attention on Sunday because it was relegated out of discussion and it wasn't talked about yesterday because it still didn't feel right.

A lot of people were up in arms over the start and it took out one car and significantly hampered the race of another. Twice in as many races the initial start has been a flashpoint for IndyCar with the pole-sitter in each case being accused of funny business to disrupt the field into the first corner of the race.

After watching this race and watching a handful of NASCAR races and issues both IndyCar and NASCAR has had with restarts, restart zones and more, I have an alternate way for when the race returns to green flag action and it takes it out of the hands of any driver. The green flag should be waved or the green light should come on when the pace car hits the line at pit in.

Here is why:

1. It takes it out of the hands of a driver who could manipulate it to brake check the driver behind them and potential cause an accordion-like accident similar to the one we saw on Sunday.

2. Drivers don't do the hurry and wait build up to a restart zone. There is no point in building up speed and then quickly forcing the field to decelerate and then stomp on the throttle to hope to gain an advantage. The pole-sitter or the leader is no longer in charge. If he or she wants to do that and decelerates coming to the line and the lights go green then he or she could get snuffed out and end up losing ten positions. In this scenario a driver would have to stay on edge, remain focused and be ready to go because an external force decides when the race becomes green.

3. It is cut and dry. Once the pace car hits the line, the green light comes on and drivers can hit the gas. No more of this restart zone, the leader can start anywhere between two lines. It is just like a stoplight at the intersection outside your house. The light turns green and then everyone can go.

It seems simple to implement. Are there issues with it? Sure. The pace car isn't perfect. We have seen plenty of pace car errors throughout the years but I think it decreases the chance of an accident occurring and another driver being at fault. One thing IndyCar has had a problem with throughout the years is the pole-sitter or leader playing games with a start, whether it has been the last few weeks with the abrupt deceleration or Hélio Castroneves being full throttle and eight car lengths ahead of the field before the flagman even has the green flag in hand. This might be the best way to save the drivers from themselves.

I got to watch some of the race broadcast from Sunday and Tony Kanaan was in the booth after his retirement. He was insightful and he fit in with Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell. Does that mean Kanaan should join a four-man IndyCar booth like NBC does for NASCAR? No and besides, Kanaan has a contract for next year and I think he still wants to be a driver.

But the one thing that hit me is how rotten Kanaan's year has been. Some of it might be age and every driver regresses a bit when they get older but it seems like Kanaan has had the little things take him out of races this year and the worst part of it is they have occurred at oval races where he is most likely to shine. A tire puncture forced an extra pit stop in the Indianapolis 500 and he got back in the top ten before a spin ended his day. His Texas race was over before he could break a sweat after a grazing the wall and a throttle sensor issue took him out early a Pocono.

Unfortunately, this hope of a renaissance at A.J. Foyt Racing with this successful driver has not happened. If anything, it has happened about four years too late. I am not sure when or if it can turn around for Foyt. The good news is the team has said it is retaining both drivers for next year but it seems like it doesn't matter who the drivers are. The problems are deeper than that.

Finally, I want to go back to the lack of track time the teams had at Pocono. There was a split camp over whether it was fair the drivers had an hour of practice and a qualifying run before the race and many seem to think extra time should have been given.

Part of me thought there was a chance for a brief warm-up session in the morning just to get some rubber into the racetrack. That didn't happen.

It was talked about in the booth and Kanaan and Bell both agreed that they liked the get to it nature of an hour practice followed by qualifying with an hour final session. Kanaan even said that you get all this time at Indianapolis to try things out and then can't make a decision but at a race like Pocono the team is forced to get to the point.

I think Pocono was a rough weekend. It was a two-day show and rain came after qualifying. I think two-day shows save the teams from themselves. Not every oval race should be a three-day show. Teams need to save money and unnecessary expense should be limited. In this case however, with a new aero kit and changes from Indianapolis and with few teams having time at the track maybe IndyCar should have scheduled a test at Pocono for Friday and given the teams three to six hours to learn and understand what this car can do.

It is hard for the series because it isn't like the 1990s where you can get every team to test and figure out the aero package. In a perfect world, IndyCar would have tested multiple days with every car at Pocono before this race to figure out the low downforce aero kit. We don't live in that world. The series and the teams have to kind of figure it out as they go.

If adjustments are to be made to the aero kit for low downforce racetracks before next year, and it seems like that is a possibility, IndyCar should schedule a multiple day test at Pocono. In my mind, I think it is more pertinent that teams and the series test at Pocono than say Road America or Iowa, two places where teams tested during the summer. Not that nothing more can be learned from a road course or short oval but rather there are so many opportunities to use the high downforce kit in race weekends that the low downforce kit should get more attention in testing than it does now.

These are some of the lighter thoughts I had from the weekend that didn't seem to fit in on Sunday night or yesterday. A lot of thinking has occurred over the last 48 hours and I am not sure I am done writing about this past weekend. Some of the thoughts were light like the ones above but after Wickens' accident and the dangerous nature of racing it allows you to visit a dark place and you start to realize the dark nature of motorsport that is constantly trying to be hidden in fan autograph sessions and corporate hospitality suites. I want to share those as well because I think it is important to be open. It might not be pleasant but it is important to take into consideration this part of motorsports and its history we ignore.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Rambling On About Pocono

Despite a two-hour red flag, IndyCar had its fourth-fastest 500-mile race in history. In other news, a familiar last name won in NASCAR. There were loads of disqualifications at Silverstone including both Toyotas and it put an America on the top step overall in an FIA World Endurance Championship race for the first time in the series short history. A certain Frenchman continues to have a successful season no matter what he drivers and it has me wondering if a driver has ever won a single-seater championship and a sports car championship in the same year? I am sure it has been done but it has likely been a while. I was at Pocono Raceway all day yesterday. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Rambling On About Pocono
Where do I start?

I am running out of items on motorsports experience checklist. A lot have happened at Pocono alone. Brutally hot summer afternoon, check (Pocono 2013). Soaked through boots and socks, check (New Jersey Motorsports Park 2008). NASCAR night race, check (Richmond 2010). Rain delayed to a Monday, check (Pocono 2016). Two-hour red flag, check (Pocono 2018). Unfortunately, a fatality, check. We don't need to go on.

What is a two-hour red flag like? Surprisingly, the crowd didn't get antsy. Perhaps it was the circumstances. It wasn't the time to be selfish. I think many of us were weighing our options. Do we stay? Do we go? Do we ever comeback? Will the race ever comeback? It wouldn't have been the first time a one-race extension was ignored days after it was announced.

It is waiting. None of us wanted to see another driver die. I think a lot of us had been there before. In the split second the accident occurred, "not again" is all you can say to yourself. Justin Wilson's accident wasn't like that but nobody wants to leave a racetrack to see family and friends while somebody never will.

When a car gets in a catchfence we think of Dan Wheldon. With Wickens' accident in the moment you aren't sure what hit, all you know the car has been torn to pieces. At the track we sat waiting for a replay. We didn't want to marvel at the spectacle of an accident. We wanted to know. We wanted information. We wanted to see for ourselves how bad it was. No one was going to clap. We wanted understanding. We wanted to prepare ourselves. On a cloudy day, we wanted not to be in the dark.

I wrote on the five-year anniversary of Wheldon's accident about how we not achieved a better solution to catchfences in the five years since Wheldon's death. It seemed like nobody was working on it. We weren't hearing of prototypes or models or a track taking the initiative and planning to roll out a new catchfence system.

After this incident, you hope it sparks a reminder to tracks and series that this could be better and not only in a way that doesn't tear a car to pieces and potentially hurt a driver but is also easier and quicker to repair if necessary.

One common alternative to fences is extending the wall to the height of the fence and having cars glance off a concrete or metal barrier oppose to, well... catching a car but a catchfence not only catches but tears a part a car. The title only describes half of what it does.

I am sure there are downsides to if the barrier was one wall. Wickens would have hit and then still had to come back down in the middle of a dozen vehicles starting to decelerate from 200 MPH. Things can still go wrong and that is part of motorsports. Sometimes things cannot be prevented.

Nobody wants drivers to get hurt or killed but it is motorsports and it cannot be eradicated. Think about what these drivers are doing and let's go with Pocono specifically. Top speed is over 220 MPH. The cars are going over 200 MPH in each three corners, each one slightly different then the one before it. There is about a grove-and-a-half in turn one, turn two is too narrow to go side-by-side and turn three is too flat for side-by-side. Things go wrong and sometimes what we don't want to happen do.

Every other sport has injuries. We don't want to see ACL tears, broken legs or shoulders or concussions but when you have athletes giving it 100% against other athletes of equal capability over who is better things bodies break. Injuries are going to happen in motorsports and, unfortunately, deaths will happen. We can continue to make cars safer and safer. We can make the catchfence safer. Sometimes if it is going to happen it is going to happen and that is a hard reality to accept. We work to make it less likely but some days everything we do will not be enough.

Going back to the wall idea. Pocono has grandstands only along the front straightaway. In my mind, it is the best track to extend the wall up and remove the catchfencing at least from the entrance of turn one all the way to the exit of turn three. It seems odd to leave 3/4 of a mile of catchfencing, especially at a place where not only drivers but spectators could be hurt but if you put a wall there then many of the seats will see nothing. Nothing would be visible on the front straightaway. I sit in row 47 at Pocono. The only seats higher than where I sit is the 300 level and those are about five rows of $150 tickets. If there was a ten-foot concrete wall in place instead of a catchfence on the front straightaway I wouldn't be able to see the cars in front of me. All I would be able to see in front of me is pit road. I would be able to see the rest of the track but the important part would become hidden and that would be a disaster for a track.

In an effort to keep drivers safe and still provide a fan-friendly experience, tracks have to balance the options. Using Pocono as the example, I think a wall could replace a catchfence around the entire track besides the front straightaway. There would be some trackside campers along the Long Pond straightaway between turn two and turn three that would become redundant and you would probably piss a lot of people off but it is give and take and there is plenty of room inside of Pocono for those campers.

We have only broken the surface of what I want to say after this Pocono race. I think I could write each day about it from here until Gateway. I think over the next day or two or three I will write here and there about what comes to mind, what I think is right and what I think I am wrong about.

We all want Robert Wickens to get better and be back in a car as soon as possible. His wonderful rookie season has been cut short in a horrific accident. I think we can all agree we want him to return better than ever when he is healed and I think we all agree we want steps to be made to decrease the likelihood of a repeat of Wickens accident in the future, preferably sooner rather than later.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Alexander Rossi but did you know...

Kurt Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Bristol. Kyle Larson won the Grand National Series race. Johnny Sauter won the Truck series race.

The #3 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R13-Gibson of Gustavo Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Mathis Beche won the 6 Hours of Silverstone after both Toyotas were disqualified. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer won in GTE-Am.

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson of Jean-Éric Vergne, Romain Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola won European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Silverstone, the team's third consecutive victory. The #3 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Matthew Bell, Garett Grist and Anthony Wells won in LMP3. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Liam Griffin, Alex MacDowell and Miguel Molina won in GTE.

The #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Connor De Phillippi and Alexander Sims won the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway. The #14 3GT Racing Lexus of Kyle Marcelli and Dominik Baumann won in GT Daytona, the team's second victory of the season.

Hiroaki Ishiura won the Super Formula race from Motegi.

Ott Tänak won Rallye Deutschland.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has its final oval race and its final night race of the season from Gateway.
Formula One is back from summer break at Spa-Francorchamps.
MotoGP will be at Silverstone.
NASCAR's Cup series is off but the Grand National series will be at Road America and the Truck series will be at Mosport.
The Suzuka 10 Hours will be held, the second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters visits Misano and will not only race at night but Alex Zanardi will be there!
Supercars makes it debut at Tailem Bend.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

First Impressions: Pocono 2018

1. I am exhausted. I am not sure I have had a more tiring day at a racetrack. But I survived and I am going to kind of wing this and not really dig deep and I have yet to watch the broadcast. I will save that for tomorrow.

2. This was an old school 500-mile race. The kind where one driver said I am going to run as fast as I can and let's see if you can keep up. That is what Alexander Rossi did today and he picked up his second consecutive victory, his second 500-mile race victory, this third victory of the season and he closes in on the championship lead. This has been an impressive season for Rossi and while he has given away a lot of points now is the time to collect and Rossi is taking them in bunches. There is still a lot of time left in the season but Rossi is peaking at the right time.

3. The one driver who could keep up with Rossi was Will Power and it seemed Power was going to win his third consecutive Pocono race and third consecutive 500-mile race. For another race, Power found a way to the lead when he didn't seem to be in contention. This race was a lot like a road course race. Rossi was gone at one point, 11 seconds clear of the field and then he hit traffic and couldn't make it through. Power went from 11 seconds to one second back and pushing Rossi. What benefited Power was he made ground when Rossi was stuck behind Pagenaud and Power was able to leapfrog ahead of Rossi but Rossi ran him down and Rossi deserved this one. He led 180 laps. It was a beat down we haven't seen in a 500-mile race in a long time.

4. Somehow Scott Dixon finished third and once again on his worse day he ends up on the podium and while he lost a fair share of points, he still leads the championship. He really didn't have a chance at victory but once again he was able to rake in the points. He was slightly off strategy but he found a way to the front when others appeared to be better.

5. Sébastien Bourdais was fourth and the final car on the lead lap. I can't recall the last time this few cars finished on the lead lap for a 500-mile race. I am sure it happened more recently than I think. I remember the 1999 Indianapolis 500 didn't have that many lead lap finishers and maybe one of the last 500-mile races in the CART-era had few lead lap finishes. Bourdais was solid today. He kept his nose clean. Ironically, Bourdais was the last one to get in his car before the restart and it wasn't a minute or two after everyone else. Everyone else was strapped in and Bourdais was on his cellphone, riding in the golf cart up the pit lane. It read of someone confident and somehow conflicted. But we will talk about that tomorrow.

6. Josef Newgarden rounded out the top five in a day where fifth was probably the best he was going to do. He didn't quite have it to compete at the front. For part of this race he was seventh or eighth but it typical Team Penske fashion it found a way to use pit strategy to make up a handful of positions and it this case it greatly benefitted Newgarden.

7. Zach Veach was a darling today. He was making passes and he was challenging the likes of Newgarden, Bourdais and Pagenaud in this one. He looked comfortable out there and he has made big strides in the last three races.

8. Going back to this being more like a road course race, Marco Andretti stopped early and when from sixth to third and spent a fair share of the race there. However, it always felt Andretti wasn't going to end up on the podium and either Dixon, Bourdais or Newgarden would collect the hardware. Sure enough that turned out to be true. Andretti did well today but his early stop forced him to save fuel and he couldn't hold on to the positions. Andretti doesn't seem to be a driver who can save fuel and that is fine but he can't be put on a fuel save strategy. Let him go all out.

9. Simon Pagenaud finished eighth and he seemed to be eighth all day. He didn't quite have it and it seems to be that kind of year for him.

10. Charlie Kimball finished ninth and it is kind of hard to believe. Then again, this wasn't a race to focus on ninth. He just kept turning laps and that is what Kimball does on a frequent basis and if you keep finish laps then the finishes will follow. He might not be the most popular driver but he can get results and he is helping Carlin greatly.

11. And rounding out the top ten is Ed Carpenter. He was up in that group with Bourdais, Newgarden, Andretti, Veach, Pagenaud and Dixon but he faded. While his team seems to have Indianapolis figured out, Pocono remains a mystery.

12. A.J. Foyt Racing gave Matheus Leist a terrible strategy and he was forced to make an extra stop with 14 laps to go. He still ended up 11th but he could have been in the top ten.

13. Ed Jones finished three laps down in 12th and Max Chilton was four laps down in 13th.

14. Let's go to the start because that is what royally screwed Graham Rahal's day. The start-stop nature of IndyCar starts the last few races nearly caused an accident at Mid-Ohio and did this weekend. Unfortunately, Rahal was the guy to run into the back of another competitor and it ruined Spencer Pigot's day. This is something that will be tackled in greater detail tomorrow but on top of the damage that forced Rahal a lap down, he was penalized another two laps. Impressively, Rahal only finished four laps down and he was three laps down from like lap 12 so he had a strong car but was never going to catch up.

15. We are going to tackle the Robert Wickens accident now but not in great details. I haven't been able to digest a replay. I saw a few at the track but it is hard to break it down in that setting. It is unfortunate for him because he has been spectacular. We have been here before with these accidents. They can't be avoided. It is terrible it happened so early and a lot of drivers were done after six laps. More specifically, a lot of Honda drivers were done after six laps. Wickens and Ryan Hunter-Reay were two possible contenders. James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato both can't get a break in Pocono. Pietro Fittipaldi gets a career-best finish but only because there weren't 23 cars in this race. He is another driver who can't seem to get a break regardless of what he is driving.

16. I need some time. Everything will be visited tomorrow. I just need time. It is late. It is nearly 10:00 p.m. ET. This was a 12-hour day from leaving to head to the race to pulling into the driveway. Accident and two-hour red flag aside, this was a fun race. It was a different race than what we saw last year at Pocono. There is a beauty in a 500-mile race and IndyCar should have a Triple Crown. Even better, these cars did 188 laps of consecutive green flag racing. The average speed was 191.304 MPH. Should something be done to the universal aero kit after two iffy showings on 2.5-mile ovals? Maybe. IndyCar will undoubtedly explore it but a different race does not mean a worse race. The strategy was fun and passes could be made but they were challenging. Isn't that what we want? We want a driver to earn a pass. It was great to be there and the crowd was really good. It had to be better than last year and not many left during the red flag. Dario Franchitti even commented on the radio broadcasted how good the crowd looked and how amazed he was that the crowd stayed. It was an emotional day. We sat wondering if we were watching another man die and three hours later were standing cheering a race into turn two for the lead. It was a long day.

17. And IndyCar will be back at it in six days. Scott Dixon's championship lead to Alexander Rossi is 29 points, Josef Newgarden is 66 points back and Will Power is 81 points back. After today, it seems to be a four-horse race.


Morning Warm-Up: Pocono 2018

Will Power is one step closer to history starting on pole position at Pocono
Will Power won his third pole position of the season and his 53rd pole position in his IndyCar career, tying him with A.J. Foyt for second all-time. The Australian took the top spot with a two-lap average of 219.511 MPH and it is his first pole position at Pocono. This is Power's second career pole position for a 500-mile race. He won from pole position at Fontana in 2013. In that race, Power led a race-high 103 laps. That Fontana race is only one of two oval races Power has won from pole position in his career. The other was at Milwaukee in 2014. Power is attempting to become the first driver to win three consecutive Pocono race and the third driver to win three consecutive 500-mile races joining Al Unser and Bobby Unser. The pole-sitter has won seven times at Pocono. Team Penske is responsible for five of those seven victories, including the last time the pole-sitter was victorious at Pocono with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2014. The other two times saw A.J. Foyt winning from first starting position.

Josef Newgarden qualified second in another clean sweep of the front row for Team Penske. Newgarden's two-lap average was 218.802 MPH and this is the fifth time this season Team Penske has swept the front row. This is Newgarden's second front row start at Pocono. He has finished in the top ten in all five starts. After not finishing better than 16th in his first five 500-mile races, he has had eight top ten finishes in his last ten 500-mile race starts. Newgarden did not lead a lap at Mid-Ohio three weeks ago but in the prior four races he had led 366 laps. He has led 73 laps in his career at Pocono including him leading in the last four Pocono races. A top five finish this weekend would be only the second time Newgarden would have picked up consecutive top five finishes this season. He finished fourth three weeks ago at Mid-Ohio.

Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay form an all-Andretti Autosport row two. This is the third time this season Rossi and Hunter-Reay have started on the same row. At Road America, Hunter-Reay started third and Rossi started fourth with Hunter-Reay finishing second while Rossi finished 16th after a chamber shim issue. At Toronto, Rossi started fifth and Hunter-Reay started sixth with Rossi finishing eighth despite having to go off strategy after he broke his front wing running into the back of Power while Hunter-Reay was got in two separate incidents including himself driving into the tire barrier in turn three before be caught in a multi-car incident in turn one. Simon Pagenaud makes it three Team Penske cars in the top five. This is the first time Pagenaud has started in the top ten in consecutive Pocono races. The Frenchman had started 14th in each Pocono race to fall in an even-numbered year before this one. Robert Wickens will make his Pocono debut from sixth on the grid. The driver of the #6 Honda is sixth in the championship entering this race. This is his eighth consecutive top ten starting position.

Zach Veach matched his career best starting position of seventh position for what will be his first Pocono IndyCar start. Veach started seventh in the second Belle Isle race in June. This is only his second top ten starting position of his career. Veach made two starts at the track in Indy Lights. He started sixth and finished fourth in 2013 and he started on pole position in 2014 and led six laps before he finished second. Sébastien Bourdais ended a streak of three consecutive races starting outside the top ten with his eighth place qualifying effort. This is only the third time Bourdais has started eighth in his career. He did it at Sonoma in 2011 and finished sixth and he did it in the 2016 Grand Prix of Indianapolis where he and Tony Kanaan were caught in a turn one, lap one accident. James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato will start on row five. This is Hinchcliffe's fourth top ten start at Pocono and Sato has started in the top ten in every Pocono race since 2013. The two drivers combine for only two top ten finishes in this race and they have led a combined six laps with each driver having led three apiece.

Marco Andretti, who is 11th in the championship, will start 11th, the fourth consecutive year he has started outside the top ten at Pocono. This is also the sixth consecutive race Andretti has started outside the top ten this season and he has started outside the top ten in 12 of 14 races in 2018. Ed Jones will start on the outside of row six, one position worse than Jones started last year on his Pocono debut. His average finish in four oval races this year is 18.25. Championship leader Scott Dixon will roll off from the lucky 13th position. This is Dixon's third time starting outside the top ten this season, his most since 2014 when he started outside the top ten six times. Dixon won from 17th on the grid at Pocono in 2013. The last IndyCar race won from 13th on the grid was by Graham Rahal at Texas in 2015. Tony Kanaan will be next to his former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate on row seven. Kanaan has won three times when starting outside the top ten and two of those were 500-mile races. His first career victory was from 11th at Michigan in 1999 and he won the 2013 Indianapolis 500 from 12th. He also won at Iowa in 2010 from 15th.

Row eight is all-Ed Carpenter Racing with Ed Carpenter ahead of Spencer Pigot. Last year, Carpenter started 22nd and finished 12th. Carpenter has started outside the top ten in five of six Pocono appearances. Pigot makes his Pocono debut this weekend and he is still looking to finish on the lead lap for the first time in a 500-mile race. Pietro Fittipaldi will make his Pocono debut from 17th position. Fittipaldi has finished 23rd in each of his first two IndyCar starts. Graham Rahal joins Fittipaldi on row nine. The last time a Fittipaldi and a Rahal started on the same row for an IndyCar race was at Vancouver in 1997 when Bobby Rahal started 11th and Christian Fittipaldi started 12th and those drivers finished 25th and 14th respectively that day. Bobby Rahal retired after an engine failure. Charlie Kimball will start 19th. Kimball is the only driver to have qualified for every race this season and not have started in the top ten. His best starting position this season was 12th at Texas. Matheus Leist joins Kimball on row ten. Leist has started on row ten or eleven eight times this season.

The final row is comprised of Max Chilton and Conor Daly. This is Chilton's fifth time starting outside the top twenty this season, four of those have occurred on ovals. The only non-oval he started outside the top twenty was Road America. Chilton's best start on an oval was 20th at Indianapolis. Daly has finished better than his starting position in each of his two Pocono starts. He started 20th in 2016 and finished 16th and he started 17th last year before finishing 14th. This will be Daly's 16th start outside the top twenty in 43 IndyCar starts.

NBCSN's coverage of the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway begins at 1:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 2:05 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 200 laps.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Track Walk: Pocono 2018

IndyCar will fill the front straightaway at Pocono
The 14th round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Pocono Raceway and it is the second of two 500-mile races on the schedule. This will be the 173rd 500-mile race in IndyCar history and eight drivers in the field have won a 500-mile race before. Pocono marks the start of the final quarter of the IndyCar season and it is the first of three consecutive weeks of racing that sees the series go from Pocono to Gateway to Portland on Labor Day weekend. Last year's Pocono race featured 42 lead changes, a track record and the last three Pocono races have had the three most number of lead changes at the track.

Coverage:
Time: Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday August 19th with green flag scheduled for 2:05 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
Saturday:
First Practice: 10:30 a.m. ET (60-minute session)
Qualifying: 1:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session)
Second Practice: 4:45 p.m. ET (60-minute session)
Sunday:
Race: 2:05 p.m. ET (200 laps)

The Championship Picture
We have reached the final quarter of the IndyCar season. With four races remaining and 266 points left on the table, 14 drivers head to Pocono mathematically alive for the championship.

Scott Dixon has led the championship since he won at Texas in June and with 494 points he is 46 points clear of the most recent winner Alexander Rossi. This is the first time Dixon has been leading the championship with four races to go since 2009 when he led after Mid-Ohio. He would drop to third in the next race but retook the championship lead after the penultimate round at Motegi. He would then lose the championship by ten points to teammate Dario Franchitti. In 2008, Dixon led the championship with four races remaining in the season and won the championship. He led the championship after 15 of 18 races that year and was never lower than second in the championship.

Rossi's Mid-Ohio victory ended a brief skid of three consecutive finishes outside the top five. He and Dixon are tied for most podium finishes this season with each driver finishing on the podium six times in the first 13 races. Rossi won from pole position at Mid-Ohio, his second victory from pole position this season. The only other driver to win multiple times from pole position this season is Josef Newgarden, who is third in the championship, 60 points behind Dixon. Newgarden's only three podium finishes this season have been his victories at Phoenix, Barber and Road America.

Will Power won last year at Pocono and he is fourth in the championship, 87 points behind Dixon. Power's third place finish at Mid-Ohio was his first podium finish in four races and he has five podium finishes this season. Ryan Hunter-Reay is 95 points behind Dixon. Hunter-Reay has not finished in the top five in the last three races after five consecutive top five finishes and eight top five finishes in the first ten races.

One hundred and 14 points behind Dixon is the top rookie, Robert Wickens. The Canadian has four consecutive top five finishes including two consecutive podium finishes. Wickens has ten top ten finishes through 13 races. Simon Pagenaud trails Dixon by 150 points with the 2016 champion's only top five finishes this season being his runner-up performances at Texas and Toronto, both races won by Dixon. Graham Rahal is tied with Dixon for most top ten finishes this season with each driver having 11 but Rahal's only podium finish was second at the season opener in St. Petersburg and he has not had a top five finish since the second Belle Isle race. Rahal is 159 points behind Dixon.

James Hinchcliffe sits on 328 points and he is ninth in the championship with Sébastien Bourdais rounding out the top ten on 293 points. Marco Andretti is eight points outside the top ten with last year's Pocono pole-sitter Takuma Sato on 258 points. Ed Jones is three points behind Sato and has not had a top ten finish in the last three races. Spencer Pigot is the final driver with a shot at the championship but the Ed Carpenter Racing driver has a 255-point deficit to overcome.

Power's 500-Mile Dominance
Will Power heads to Pocono and could do something only the Al and Bobby Unser achieved.

Not only is Power going for his third consecutive Pocono victory but he could become the third driver to win three consecutive 500-mile races in IndyCar history. Al Unser won four consecutive 500-mile races when he won the 1977 California 500 and followed it by completing the Triple Crown in 1978 with victory at Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario. Bobby Unser won 500-mile races at Pocono and Ontario in 1980 and then won the Indianapolis 500 the following year.

Power has already joined the Unsers as the only drivers to have won a 500-mile race in three consecutive seasons with Bobby Unser having accomplished it twice. Uncle Bobby won at least one 500-mile race from 1974-1976 and he did it again from 1979-1981. Al Unser won at least one 500-mile race from 1976-1978.

The last time a driver won multiple 500-mile races in a year was Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, who won the Indianapolis 500 and then won at Michigan. The last time a driver won multiple 500-mile races in the same season was Rick Mears in 1991, who won at Indianapolis and Michigan. Power could tie Mears for second most victories at Pocono. Power's Indianapolis 500 victory was his fourth 500-mile race victory and he is one of eight driver to have won four 500-mile races. Only A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford have won at least five 500-mile race victories.

Who could stop Power from joining the Unsers in IndyCar history?

Seven other drivers are entered with a 500-mile race victory. Two active driver have multiple 500-mile race victories. Tony Kanaan has three 500-mile victories and Ryan Hunter-Reay has won two 500-mile races, including a victory at Pocono in 2015. Alexander Rossi has five 500-mile starts and outside of a retirement in the 2016 Pocono race, his finishes have been first, seventh, third and fourth.

Takuma Sato started on pole position last year at Pocono but he finished 13th. Sato has retired and finished outside the top twenty in three of five Pocono starts. Graham Rahal won at Fontana in 2015 but he has finished outside the top ten in four of his last six 500-mile starts and his best finish in those six races was ninth last year at Pocono. Ed Carpenter finished second to Power this year at Indianapolis after he started from pole position but in five Pocono starts his best starting position is tenth in 2016 and his best finish was ninth in 2013 when the race was 400 miles.

Scott Dixon's only 500-mile race victory was his 2008 Indianapolis 500 victory. He won at Pocono in 2013 but that was a 400-mile race. In the 18 500-mile races since the 2008 Indianapolis 500, Dixon has four podium finishes, seven top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes.

Power's Penske teammates are two drivers who could possibly stop the Australian's dominance. Josef Newgarden's worst finish at Pocono is eighth and he has finished second two of the last three years including last year to Power. On top of that, Newgarden has led a lap four consecutive years at Pocono. Since 2015, Newgarden has six top ten finishes in eight 500-mile races. Simon Pagenaud picked up his first top five finish at Pocono last year when he finished fourth but he has four top ten finishes in five Pocono starts and he has started on the front row two of the last three years. Both Newgarden and Pagenaud are looking for their first 500-mile race victory.

Who is Running Out of Time for a Victory?
With only four races remaining, time is running out for drivers looking to get their first victory of the season. Through 13 races there have been seven different winners and there have been four different winners in the last four races.

Robert Wickens, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal are the three drivers in the top ten of the championship without a victory this season. Wickens could become the third driver to pick up a first career victory at Pocono. Mark Donohue won the inaugural Pocono and not only was its Donohue's first career victory but it was Team Penske's first IndyCar victory. Teo Fabi's first career victory was at Pocono in 1983.

While Pagenaud has had respectable results at Pocono, the track has not been as kind to Rahal. Last year's ninth place finish was his first top ten finish at the track in five starts. Last year, he started seventh and that was only the second time he had started in the top ten. His average finish in five Pocono appearances is 15.4. The only drivers with worst average finishes at Pocono with at least four starts since 2013 are James Hinchcliffe at 16.5 and Takuma Sato at 16.8. Ironically, Sato and Hinchcliffe rank second and third in average Pocono starting position of the drivers with at least four starts since 2013 at 4.8 and 6.5 respectively. Rahal's average starting position here is 10.6.

Marco Andretti heads to his home race on a 122-race drought and if he does not win at Pocono or Gateway he will at least match Graham Rahal's record for most starts between victories in IndyCar history. Andretti has had his fair share of heartbreak in his backyard. He started on pole position in 2013 and he led 88 laps but he was forced to conserve fuel to make it to the finish and he dropped to tenth. He started fifth and finished ninth in 2014 but the last three years Andretti has finished outside the top ten. Last year's race saw Andretti stretch his fuel and lead nine laps but a pit stop for a splash with ten laps to go relegated him to an 11th place finish. Andretti's 97 laps led at Pocono is the third most since the series returned to the track in 2013. His grandfather Mario won three 500-mile races with his final 500-mile race victory coming at Pocono in 1986. His father Michael's two 500-mile race victories were at Michigan in 1987 and 1989.

While Andretti is on a 122-race slump, Tony Kanaan has not won in his last 62 starts. His most recent victory was in a 500-mile race and that was the 2014 season finale at Fontana. It was Kanaan's only victory in four years with Chip Ganassi Racing. Kanaan has not finished in the top five since last year at Pocono when he finished fifth. Like Andretti, Kanaan has been snake bitten at Pocono as well. Kanaan has led every year at Pocono and he has started in the top ten four of five years but he has finished outside the top ten three times. His 147 laps led is the second most led at Pocono since IndyCar returned in 2013 with only Power's 175 laps led ahead of Kanaan in that category. A.J. Foyt won four times at Pocono and Foyt's 67th and final IndyCar victory came at the track on June 21, 1981.

Aero Adjustments and Weather
In response to the racing in the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar has introduced a front wing extension in hopes of increasing downforce to the front of the cars and decrease the aero push felt when cars are in traffic. The modification should help cars with understeer.

One other change from the Indianapolis 500 will be temperature. This year's 102nd running of the famed race occurred in sunny and near-record heat with the entirety of the race occurring with temperatures in the lows 90s. The forecast for Long Pond, Pennsylvania for Sunday is most cloudy conditions and highs in the low 70s.

The cooler temperatures should allow for more grip, less cars sliding around and the conditions should be more optimal for passing.

Fast Facts
This will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on August 19th and first since Bruno Junqueira won at Road America in 2001. It was Junqueira's first career victory. Michael Andretti finished second that day with Adrian Fernández rounding out the podium. Scott Dixon was the fourth-place finisher.

Danny Sullivan won at Pocono on August 19, 1984.

This year's race occurs on the 43rd anniversary of Mark Donohue's passing following an accident in practice for the Austrian Grand Prix.

Charlie Kimball finished second in the 2013 Pocono race and since then his average finish at the track is 15th. Last year was the first time Kimball finished on the lead lap at Pocono since 2013.

Zach Veach has yet to finish on the lead lap in the first five oval starts of his career.

Matheus Leist has retired from three of the last five races.

Max Chilton has finished outside the top twenty in the last two races. The only other time he has finished outside the top twenty in consecutive races was both Belle Isle races in 2016. Chilton has not finished on the lead lap in an oval race since last year's Indianapolis 500.

Pietro Fittipaldi's grandfather Emerson held the Pocono track record from 1989 to 2013 with a lap at 211.715 MPH that won him the pole position for the 1989 race. Emerson Fittipaldi's best finish at Pocono came in his first start at the track when he started and finished seventh in 1984. He would retire from his next four starts at the track.

Conor Daly will drive the #88 Harding Racing Chevrolet this weekend. This will be his third Pocono start. Last year, Daly finished 14th and on the lead lap. It is so far his only lead lap finish on an oval in his IndyCar career.

The Pocono winner has gone on to win the championship six times. Those drivers are Joe Leonard in 1972, A.J. Foyt in 1975, Tom Sneva in 1977, A.J. Foyt in 1979, Rick Mears in 1982 and Scott Dixon in 2013.

Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Will Power are the only three drivers to have completed all 960 laps since IndyCar returned to Pocono in 2013.

The average starting position for a Pocono winner is 5.333 with a median of 3.5.

Since 2013, the average starting position for a Pocono winner is 7.8 with a median of five.

Since 2013, the driver that has led the most laps has not won at Pocono. Dating back to the CART-era, the last time the driver who led the most laps won at Pocono was Rick Mears in 1987 when he led 80 laps.

Eleven laps is the fewest laps led by a Pocono winner and it A.J. Foyt did it in 1973.

That 1973 race is the only Pocono race to have a pass on the final lap. Roger McCluskey ran out of fuel while leading allowing Foyt to take the victory.

The average number of lead changes in a Pocono race is 19.52 with a median of 17.

The average number of cautions in a Pocono race is 6.826 with a median of seven. The average number of caution laps is 38.608 with a median of 36.

Possible Milestones:
Chip Ganassi Racing is one victory away from tying Newman-Haas Racing for second all-time in team victories in IndyCar with 107 victories.

Sébastien Bourdais is one top five finish away from 75 career top five finishes.

Marco Andretti is one top ten finish away from 100 career top ten finishes.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead eight laps to surpass Tomas Scheckter for 31st all-time in laps led.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi needs to lead 45 laps to reach the 300 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 37 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Predictions
Alexander Rossi makes it two consecutive victories and Tony Kanaan finishes on the podium while Scott Dixon finishes in the top five. Rossi does not lead the most laps. A Penske car starts on pole position and both Ed Carpenter Racing entries start in the top ten. At least two drivers get their first top ten finishes of the season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has both cars start outside the top ten but one will finish in the top eight. Zach Veach finishes on the lead lap. At least one rookie retires from the race. Sleeper: Spencer Pigot.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Third Quarter Report

I did one after the first quarter and I did one after the second quarter, I mind as well remain consistent and offer a third quarter report for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Time is running out and the championship is starting to come into focus. We can envision only a few drivers that will be lifting the Astor Cup at Sonoma in September while others are already fairy tale scenarios. In the third quarter, IndyCar had four different winners from four different teams in four races and while three teams and drivers were repeat winners we did get a fresh team on the top step of the podium.

As with the first quarter and first half report, this third quarter report will subjectively ranks the full-time teams through the first nine races of the season.

1. Andretti Autosport
We have a new team on top and, while it is a matter for debate, somebody new has to end up on top eventually and after Team Penske has arguably been number one for two-plus seasons, it is Andretti Autosport's time to wear the belt.

Nobody stood out in the third quarter of the season. No team won more than once. No team had more than three podium finishes. In fact, six different teams had a podium finish in the third quarter of the season but Andretti Autosport gets the nod and recency bias might come into play. Alexander Rossi smoked the field at Mid-Ohio. He had three top ten finishes in quarter three. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a few tough races but he finished second at Road America and he finished seventh at Mid-Ohio. Marco Andretti's best finish may have only been tenth but Zach Veach finished seventh and tenth in the last two races.

This team has been stout in 2018 and after a few rough years with the Honda aero kit it has shed the weight and is running with the big boys each week. The team has at least two drivers in the conversation for victory at every race and it deserves its moment in the sun.

2. Team Penske
Team Penske isn't falling that far. If it weren't for a lackadaisical race from Iowa, Josef Newgarden would have won two consecutive races but he has only one podium finish and Team Penske has only have three podium finishes to show for quarter three. Newgarden did have three top five finishes and he finished in the top ten in all four races in quarter three, as did Simon Pagenaud, whose best finish was second at Toronto but that was his only top five finish of the quarter. Will Power finished third at Mid-Ohio but his other three finishes were 23rd, sixth and 18th.

An argument could be made for Team Penske retaining the top spot, especially considering the team had three pole positions and swept the front row twice, but the team has had its missteps. Nobody can be on top forever and second isn't that bad.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing
It is hard to think the championship leading team is third best but that is how IndyCar is at this current moment.

The top three teams are close and Scott Dixon has Ganassi on the heels of Team Penske. He had one bad race at Iowa but he finished third, first and fifth at Road America, Toronto and Mid-Ohio respectively. Dixon doubled his championship lead in quarter three from 23 points to 46 points with four races to go. The championship is his to lose.

On the other hand, Ed Jones hit a summer slump. His best finish was ninth at Road America and he has finished outside the top ten in the last three races. He has dropped to 13th in the championship. He does have two podium finishes this season but he has only qualified in the top ten twice this season.

4. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
You win a race, you cement yourself in fourth and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports did that.

James Hinchcliffe drove to the front at Iowa, hunted down Newgarden and caught him napping on his way to victory. On top of Hinchcliffe's victory, he had three top ten finishes in quarter three, including a fourth at Toronto.

While Hinchcliffe won a race, Robert Wickens has been stellar. He had top five finishes in all four races of quarter three including a third at Toronto and a second at Mid-Ohio and he has started in the top ten in 12 of 13 races. Wickens is sixth in the championship, his highest championship position. He is knocking on the door for that first career victory.

5. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
There is a bit of a gulf from the top four to the rest of the field but if there is one team firmly in the middle it is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It hasn't been quite as good as the top four but nobody is challenging the team for fifth.

Graham Rahal remains in the top ten of the championship and he had three top ten finishes in quarter three. His 11 top ten finishes are tied for most this season with Dixon. While Rahal had three top ten finishes, Takuma Sato had two top five finishes, including a third at Iowa.

However, Rahal has not had a top five since the second Belle Isle race and his only podium finish remains the season opener at St. Petersburg. The good news is the team has been righting its qualifying woes. Sato has started in the top ten in five consecutive races and Rahal started in the top ten twice in quarter three after having only three top ten starts in the first nine races.

6. Ed Carpenter Racing
It is amazing what one podium finish can do but Ed Carpenter Racing has jumped to sixth.

Spencer Pigot finished second at Iowa, he finished eighth at Road America and while the last two races weren't great, Pigot has been much better in quarter three than the first half of the season. Jordan King has yet to score a top ten finish but in quarter three his finishes were 12th, 11th and 12th and he started eighth at Toronto. Ed Carpenter picked up a top ten finish at Iowa despite brushing the wall and causing the final caution.

7. Dale Coyne Racing
It was a rough third quarter but it ended up a high note for Dale Coyne Racing.

Sébastien Bourdais had an impressive drive from 24th to sixth at Mid-Ohio but that was Bourdais' only top ten finish in the third quarter and his starting position progressively got worse over quarter three from sixth to 15th to 17th to 24th. He has gone from third in the championship after quarter one to tenth at the end of quarter three.

Zachary Claman De Melo's season with the team came to a close. His only top fifteen finish of the quarter was 14th at Toronto and his best starting position was 17th. Pietro Fittipaldi made his return at Mid-Ohio but a still battered Miami-born Brazilian could only manage 22nd on the grid and 23rd in the final results.

8. Carlin
Charlie Kimball finished fifth at Toronto and that vaults Carlin up a position. While Kimball only finished in the top fifteen one other time in quarter three, he did complete all but six laps. His qualifying record is still something that needs to improve with 15th at Mid-Ohio being his best starting position.

Max Chilton earned the team its first Fast Six appearance at Mid-Ohio but a penalty for spinning Sato ended any promising result. His prior best starting position in quarter three was 18th while his best finish was 15th at Iowa.

9. A.J. Foyt Racing
Things are still not looking good for the Texas-based team.

Tony Kanaan may have finished sixth at Toronto but that was his only lead lap finish of quarter three. He started outside the top ten in all four races. Rookie Matheus Leist best finish in quarter three was 15th and while he started 12th at Toronto, he started 20th or worse in the other three races.

10. Harding Racing
Gabby Chaves and Conor Daly split the third quarter for Harding Racing. Chaves finished a lap down at Road America and he suffered the second retirement of his career at Iowa after handling issues.

Daly was a late substitute for Toronto and he qualified 11th and finished on the lead lap in 13th. He qualified 14th for Mid-Ohio but ran out of fuel late and finished 22nd.

Who Is Already Out?
It is easy to say who is still in and it seems like the Astor Cup will be going home with either Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Will Power or Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Since 1947, only twice has a champion not had a victory after 13 races in a season and those occurrences were with Al Unser in 1985, who did not win until the 15th race, and Gil de Ferran, who did not win until the 17th race in 2001. However, while it took those two drivers nearly the entire season to be victorious they were consistently on the podium and in the top five. Unser had five podium finishes, eight top five finishes and nine top ten finishes prior to his first victory while de Ferran also had five podium finishes, the Brazilian had seven top five finishes and ten top ten finishes prior to his first victory.

One other thing to consider is Unser was never outside the top five of the championship in the 1985 season. De Ferran was as low as seventh in 2001 but he was in the top five for the final ten races of the season including for the six races prior to his first victory. Unser took the championship lead with his first victory in 1985 while de Ferran was second in the championship but only five points behind Kenny Bräck after he won at Rockingham.

Who fits the Unser/de Ferran mold?

Robert Wickens is close. He has four podium finishes, seven top five finishes and ten top ten finishes. However, Wickens has not been better than sixth in the championship this season and he is currently sixth. Simon Pagenaud has only two podium finishes and his two runner-up finishes at Texas and Toronto are his only top five finishes this year. Graham Rahal fits in when it comes to top ten finishes but his lack of podium finishes and top five finishes takes him out of the discussion.

While Wickens, Pagenaud and Rahal might all be out because of the lack of a victory, current championship position could rule out another few drivers.

Since 1979, in 38 out of 52 seasons the driver leading the championship with four races to go has come on to win the title. Eight times has the champion been second with four races to and three times has the champion been third with four races to go. Only three times since 1979 has the champion been outside the top three with four races remaining and all three of those champions came with significantly shorter schedules. George Snider was sixth in the championship with four races to go in the 1981-82 USAC Gold Crown Championship but that was a much different circumstance than today. Kenny Bräck was fourth with four races to go in the 1998 Indy Racing League season, which only featured 11 races. The following season Greg Ray was sixth in the IRL with four races remaining in a ten-race schedule.

There is a hole in this argument as championship positions change between four to go and one to go. Dixon was second with four races to go in 2015 but he was third heading into the finale and still won the title. In fact, with four races to go he was second, 54 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya but he was 47 points back in third heading into the finale. In 2003, Dixon was third with four to go, 12 points behind Tony Kanaan but he dropped to fourth and 42 points behind Hélio Castroneves after the following race.

Looking at a smaller sample since reunification, only once has the champion been outside the top two with four races to go and that was Dario Franchitti in 2009. Five times has the championship leader with four races to go won the title while second in the championship with four races to go has won the title four times. Once again, this is not a perfect measuring stick. Ryan Hunter-Reay led the championship with four races to go in his championship season of 2012 but he dropped to second in the following race and entered the finale second to Will Power. The same goes for Dario Franchitti in 2011. He led with four races to go but dropped to second after Motegi and would re-take the championship lead at Kentucky, the final classified race of the season.

Of the five champions since 2008 who led the title race with four races to go only Dixon in 2008, Simon Pagenaud in 2016 and Josef Newgarden in 2017 did not lose the championship lead before the final checkered flag of the season.

It would be easy to cast aside Power and Hunter-Reay as being too far on the outside to win the championship and it is easy to say Dixon has this in the bag but recent IndyCar history tells us we should not be surprised if this things end up flipping at least once or twice in the final four rounds.

Where Do We Stand With the Universal Aero Kit?
I think everyone is happier than after quarter two when the Indianapolis 500 left people frustrated.

Road America might have been the worse of the four races but while the passing wasn't happening at the front the middle of the field saw Simon Pagenaud go from 14th to seventh and James Hinchcliffe went from 16th to tenth. Josef Newgarden appeared he was going to lap the field at Iowa and while only five cars finished on the lead lap the podium finishers Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot and Takuma Sato started 11th, tenth and 18th respectively. There were nearly 1,000 passes at Iowa. Nobody should be complaining.

Cautions may have allowed for strategy shake ups at Toronto but there was movement with Alexander Rossi and Newgarden both making up positions and getting back into the top ten after contact with Will Power and the barrier respectively. Pigot was also making up ground before a brush with the barrier ended his day. Another notable mover was Robert Wickens, who went from tenth to third.

Then there was Mid-Ohio, the race people are still talking about and many think it was the best IndyCar race held at the historic road course.

I think we are hopeful heading to Pocono and Gateway. Pocono should have much cooler conditions than the Indianapolis 500 and the front wing extensions should help the teams when it comes to the push cars were feeling in traffic. Gateway is kind of a toss up as it falls between Phoenix and Iowa in terms of size, shape and width. If it falls slightly more toward the direction of Iowa then the race could be really good but it would not take much for it to go in the other direction and more closely resemble Phoenix.

Portland will be an unknown while Sonoma is a lame duck event and if the original DW12 aero kit and the manufacture-specific aero kits didn't change much why should we expect the universal aero kit to produce a magnificent farewell to the track in wine country?

What To Watch For In The Final Quarter?
The championship! It is go time. It is a five-horse race. Can anyone beat Scott Dixon? Nobody thinks Scott Dixon is going to blow it, so who is going to win it? It will likely require a driver winning at least two races and likely having to finish in the top five in all four races.

Can Robert Wickens get a victory? He is by far the Rookie of the Year but he deserves a victory. I don't like saying a driver deserves anything, especially victories, but no other winless driver has come this close so many times this year.

What teams end on a high note? What teams end on a decline? It seems like Dale Coyne Racing picked the right time to get back on track but there were two weeks off between Mid-Ohio and Pocono and that easily could kill all the momentum. Ed Carpenter Racing seemed to be making strides and Pocono and Gateway are two great opportunities for the team to get results especially at Pocono when taking into consideration the team's pace at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Silly season is going to pick up. Scott Dixon is staying at Ganassi. We are waiting to hear if McLaren is coming. Who else will enter the series? We think Colton Herta is coming to IndyCar in 2019 regardless if he wins the Indy Lights championship this year but if he doesn't, will that allow current teammate Patricio O'Ward to make a promotion? Will Santiago Urrutia finally make that final step up? There is always a few names from outside the Road to Indy system that end up knocking on doors. You never know who will be looking to make a move Stateside.

Finally, can Honda close out the manufactures' championship? Honda has won eight of 13 races and it has had multiple cars on the podium in 12 of 13 races. This success has Honda holding nearly a 100-point lead over Chevrolet. Honda needs to win just one of the final four races to secure more victories in a season over Chevrolet for the first time since Chevrolet rejoined the series in 2012. The good news for Chevrolet is it won at Pocono, Gateway and Sonoma last year. With Team Penske in Chevrolet's corner, the manufactures' championship isn't over by a long shot.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Is IndyCar's Summer Not Busy Enough?

Brad Sweet won the Knoxville Nationals ahead of Donny Schatz and his future brother-in-law Kyle Larson. It appears Scott Dixon will remain at Chip Ganassi Racing. The truck race had an impressive last lap pass and a photo finish. Sunday's race from Michigan was a runaway. A Spaniard got a long awaited first career victory in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters but the Brits did not leave the home fans at Brands Hatch disappointed. Champions were decided in Utah. MotoGP continues to be lost in the airwaves for some American viewers. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is IndyCar's Summer Not Busy Enough?
The last few years have seen IndyCar have a slight summer break at the start of August and it has been pretty well received.

The teams are pretty much working non-stop from the start of May through the middle of June with a doubleheader weekend in the middle of it all. July has three races. It is a pretty busy period until this two-week period and afterward comes a hectic end to the season, three consecutive weeks of racing from Pocono to Gateway to Portland with a week off before the Sonoma finale.

But is IndyCar's summer not busy enough?

When going back and watching previous Portland races the 2003 race was the second of nine races in 12 weeks. The 2007 Indy Racing League season had the final ten races take place over 12 weeks with a period of five consecutive weeks of racing to start that stretch and three consecutive weeks of racing to end it. The 2008 season was the year of reunification, which saw races squeezed into the few off weeks during the summer with final ten races occurring in 11 weeks. The following year had nine races in 11 weeks. In 2010, both July and August had three races while 2011 had ten races in 13 weeks thanks to the Twin 275s at Texas from the middle of June to Labor Day.

Things have been quite different since the start of the DW12-era. A race in China did not come off and the series had only five races from the Fourth of July to Labor Day. The following season had a busy period from Indianapolis to Toronto with nine races in eight weeks thanks to two doubleheaders but afterward the series had only five race weekends from August to the end of the season in the middle of October and that included a month off from Baltimore on September 1st to the first Houston race on October 5th.

IndyCar decided to attempt to end the season by Labor Day starting in 2014 and that created jam-packed schedules with three doubleheaders in eight weeks and a total of nine races in that period. The  last three seasons have seen the summer break fall in August and the seasons have ended two weeks after Labor Day.

It seems summer is full but with the series not thrilled to go beyond the middle of September when it comes to races and with unpredictable climates for venues across the country in spring, the only option for expansion would be the summer.

Richmond is one track floating around as a potential returning venue but it may have no option but to squeeze into a summer date. The weather of late-March is quite unpredictable. It could be in the 70s one weekend and 38º F and dreary the next. There is a Cup race in late-April and late-September with next year's September Richmond race scheduled for the day before the 2019 IndyCar season finale from Laguna Seca. With IndyCar's May taken care of and most of June accounted for, the most likely spot for Richmond would have to be July or August.

On top of Richmond, Watkins Glen president Michael Printup said he hopes to have IndyCar back by 2021. Watkins Glen is in the same boat as Richmond. A March race isn't happening and a race could be held in early Autumn but in all likelihood IndyCar would not want to end the season there and the series would probably not like to push Laguna Seca back further into the year. This leaves summer as the only option but once again there is limited real estate, not only for the series but for Watkins Glen as well with the track hosting the 6 Hours of the Glen at the end of June or early July and the NASCAR race in the middle of August.

If there is one positive to adding races to the summer would be more racing for IndyCar. There is a portion of the fan base that wouldn't mind 20 or 22 IndyCar races a year and it would mean more of everything, oval and road/street courses. It would mean more chances for people to tune into the series and more chances for people to follow along. A person could tune into a race and instead of having a week off or two before the next chance to see a race, IndyCar would be back on track the following week. It would become a weekly soap opera to see how the championship plays out. IndyCar isn't as close to the level of over-saturation of NASCAR. Even with 20 or 22 races there would be more down time than on track action, the length of the offseason would still be quite lengthy for teams and while there would be an increase chance of fan fatigue, a season would still fly by. However, while more sounds good, I am not sure the series can handle it.

IndyCar is not in a place where it should be racing every week during the summer, nor would it likely be the best thing for the series. These breaks are necessary. Everyone needs a recharge. Teams are beat and teams have tested at Road America, Iowa, Portland and Indianapolis during the summer between races. The new teams to IndyCar have entered with a 17-race schedule to budget for. The series is not at a place where teams can start budgeting for another three to five races. Maybe in three years after the first contract with NBC the series could be in that position but right now IndyCar cannot be NASCAR-lite. Heck, NASCAR can't be NASCAR anymore but it is in a position it cannot get out from.

Certain tracks coming onto the schedule may not be as simple as IndyCar having its cake and eating it too. It may require current events falling off the schedule for certain venues such as Richmond and Watkins Glen returning to the schedule. IndyCar cannot become a weekly circus touring the country and visiting all the places the series wants. The series might have a few difficult decisions to make in the near future.

Champions From the Weekend
The #61 R.Ferri Motorsport Ferrari of Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina won the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX GT championship after the team swept the weekend at Utah Motorsports Campus.

The #14 GMG Racing Audi of James Sofronas and Alex Welch won the SprintX GTS championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Brad Sweet, Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won MotoGP's Austrian Grand Prix, his third victory of the season. Francesco Bagnaia won the Moto2 race, his fifth victory of the season and he retook the Moto2 championship lead. Marco Bezzecchi won the Moto3 race, his second victory of the season.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race from Michigan. Justin Allgaier won the Grand National Series race from Mid-Ohio, his third victory of the season. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race from Michigan by 0.025 seconds over Johnny Sauter, Moffitt's fourth victory of the season.

The #50 Panoz of Ian James and Matthew Keegan and the #69 SIN R1 of Harry Gottascker split the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX GTS races from Utah Motorsports Campus.

Daniel Juncadella and Paul di Resta split the DTM races from Brands Hatch. It was Juncadella's first career victory in his 67th start. It was di Resta's second victory of the season and third DTM victory at Brands Hatch. Gary Paffett finished second to di Resta and he leads di Resta in the championship by 29 points.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar is back for 500 miles at Pocono.
NASCAR has its night event at Bristol.
The FIA World Endurance Championship has its first race in two months at Silverstone.
The European Le Mans Series will also be at Silverstone.
IMSA's GT classes will be at Virginia International Raceway.
Super Formula will be at Motegi.
The World Rally Championship holds Rallye Deutschland.