Thursday, August 25, 2016

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule Provides Continuity

Three races remain in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season but the 2017 schedule was released today and it was a monumental feat for North America's premier open-wheel series.

All 15 events from the 2016 season will return in 2017. It is the first time IndyCar has retained 100% of the races from a previous season since the 2007 season. Along with all 15 events returning, Gateway Motorsports Park will return to the IndyCar schedule and the race will take place under the lights 366 days from today. Gateway hosted seven IndyCar races from 1997-2003, the first four were apart of the CART schedule with the final three being IRL events. Seven different drivers won at the track and they are Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Al Unser, Jr. Gil de Ferran and Hélio Castroneves. Team Penske won three of the seven races including the final two at the track.

There was one date shift that has created a very big break right after the season gets started. Phoenix moves from the first weekend in April to the final weekend in April after Barber on Saturday April 29th. With Phoenix moving, there will be a month-gap between the season opener at St. Petersburg on March 12th and the second round of the season at Long Beach on April 9th. While that isn't ideal for IndyCar, it is better than the series rushing and trying to find a stopgap solution. Perhaps in 2018 a well-planned event could fit into late-March.

Personally, I would love to see an oval dropped into that early spring gap. Homestead once hosted an IndyCar race at the end of March but I really wonder how many races the state of Florida can host in the first three months of the year. Think about it? There is the 24 Hours of Daytona at the end of January; two weeks later is the start of Speedweeks with the first weekend hosting Daytona 500 qualifying and then the Daytona 500 itself. After a week off, Daytona Bike Week starts. After another week off, IndyCar is at St. Petersburg and then the 12 Hours of Sebring takes place. Deep down, I would love to see IndyCar go to Darlington at the end of March because I want to see what it would look like and I think Darlington could be a surprise market. As much as we think the south in NASCAR country, Barber Motorsports Park has put on a great event each year and it is down the road from Talladega. I think Darlington could do well as it gives local race fans another event and there would be plenty of space between it and the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend.

Despite the early break, the IndyCar schedule has kept that fast paced start to the season. After successive weekends racing at Barber and Phoenix, the series will take a week off before starting three consecutive weeks of action at Indianapolis with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500 qualifying and then the Indianapolis 500. The Belle Isle doubleheader returns the week after the "500" and Texas wraps up a five consecutive week run of on-track action.

Road America rounds out the month of June. July has three races in a four week span with Iowa and Toronto in successive weekends before ending the month at Mid-Ohio. Just like 2016, there will be two weeks off between Mid-Ohio and Pocono but, just like 2016, Pocono will be the start of three consecutive weekends of racing from Pocono to the return to Gateway and Watkins Glen will stay on the schedule at Labor Day weekend. Two weeks after Watkins Glen will be the season finale at Sonoma.

One thing that hasn't been announced is start times for the 2017 races. We know Phoenix, Texas and Gateway are scheduled for Saturdays, so those will likely night races. If there is one thing we all could agree on is Pocono should not be scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET. That race should be scheduled to go green no later than 1:00 p.m. ET. There are 11 races scheduled for the same day as NASCAR Cup races but most of those are races that are scheduled to happen before NASCAR night races (both Indianapolis races, Watkins Glen), before NASCAR races in the Pacific Time Zone (St. Petersburg, Road America) or will be in the Pacific Time Zone (Long Beach, Sonoma). However, with most NASCAR races scheduled to start between 2:00 p.m. ET and 3:00 p.m. ET in 2017, perhaps an races, such as Mid-Ohio, could be run at noon ET before a NASCAR race starts at 3:00 p.m. ET (in this case Pocono).

We could see more venues added for 2018. Portland has been in the conversation of returning to the IndyCar schedule for the last few months. Portland use to take place during the Portland Rose Festival in June but with the already crowded June slate for IndyCar, the race would have to take place at another time. I doubt Portland could go in late March. Maybe it could fall in August. International races are apparently still on the table as Mark Miles mentioned a potential international race in February 2018. International is a broad term. It could mean Mexico City, which was a rumored destination for IndyCar this season in February. However, international could also mean a flyaway race to China or Dubai or somewhere else around the globe. We are at the point though where Mark Miles has been saying international races are going to happen since 2014 and they have yet to happen and it's not just one race that has failed to materialize, it has been China and Dubai and Brasilia.

Overall, I think IndyCar did a great job with the 2017 schedule considering it maintained stability from one year to the next. The one concern I do have is many events are contracted through 2018, which isn't a bad thing but my concern is what if a half-dozen events decide after 2018 not to renew? IndyCar could be in a dire situation come 2019. That probably won't happen but it's the doomsday scenario that none of us want to see happen. Maybe after 2017 a few races will sign another extension through 2019 or 2020 or maybe even further into the future.

I have said it before and I will say it again, the IndyCar schedule can't get much better. Outside of adding another two or three ovals, preferably Fontana, Milwaukee and/or one of Kentucky, Michigan, Richmond, Loudon or Chicagoland and adding Austin and maybe Laguna Seca, the IndyCar schedule is great. Road America is back. Phoenix is back. IndyCar should probably do all it can to revive Texas and Iowa and continue to cultivate Pocono. Mid-Ohio and Barber get great crowds. Long Beach is phenomenal. St. Petersburg has solid footing. Toronto's future is a little shaky considering how beat up the track is and the event doesn't grab the same amount of attention in Toronto that it once did. With all that said, if the 2017 IndyCar schedule were to remain for the next twenty years, I don't think many would complain.

Today's announcement was great for IndyCar. For the first time in a long time, there appears to be some continuity in IndyCar.

Hinchcliffe Leads Texas Restart

Rain shouldn't affect the conclusion to the Firestone 600
After over two and a half months, the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway will restart. With 71 laps already completed, the teams will look to complete the final 177 laps on Saturday night at 9:20 p.m. ET.

James Hinchcliffe led when the rain returned on that Sunday afternoon and the Canadian will restart from first place. The Canadian's best finish at Texas was fourth in 2012 and that was the only time Hinchcliffe has finished on the lead lap at Texas. The eight laps Hinchcliffe led in the 2012 race were his only laps led in his career at Texas prior to him taking the lead back in June. Hinchcliffe enters with four consecutive top ten finishes and three consecutive top ten finishes on ovals. Ryan Hunter-Reay is coming off a spectacular run at Pocono where he started 22nd, took the lead before 50 laps completed and then had to charge from 12th to third in the final 22 laps after over coming an electrical glitch that dropped him from the lead and put him a lap down. Hunter-Reay has three podiums this season, tied for the most podiums without a victory this season with Hélio Castroneves.

Mikhail Aleshin will restart third with the Russian coming off his first career podium on an oval and his first career pole position. Aleshin finished seventh in his only Texas start in 2014. Aleshin has led 120 laps this season, the most for a Honda driver. Will Power was victorious last week at Pocono and cut the gap in the championship to 20 points behind Pagenaud. Power has five top ten finishes in his career at Texas. Ed Carpenter will restart in the fifth position. Carpenter had a mechanical issue end his race at Pocono after starting in the top ten at the 2.5-mile track. Carpenter's average finish this season is 22.75. Gabby Chaves will restart in the sixth position. The Colombian driver has not competed since Iowa. His best finish this season was 12th in the first Belle Isle race. This likely will be Chaves' final appearance in the 2016 season.

Hélio Castroneves restarts the Texas race in seventh position, just ahead of Charlie Kimball, two of the three drivers who came together on the pit lane at Pocono on Monday. Castroneves has six consecutive top ten finishes at Texas. Kimball has two consecutive top ten finishes at Texas after his best finish in his first four starts at the 1.5-mile track was 17th. Carlos Muñoz was ninth at the time of the red flag. Muñoz was the pole-sitter when the race started back in June. It was the first pole position of his career. He finished sixth at Texas last year. Juan Pablo Montoya rounds out the top ten. Montoya has finished third and fourth in his two IndyCar starts at Texas.

Sébastien Bourdais picked up his first top five on an oval since his victory at Milwaukee last year last week at Pocono and the Frenchman will restart 11th. Bourdais had started the race in 18th position. His best Texas finish is 14th. Graham Rahal follows his former Newman-Haas teammate in the running order and Rahal has finished outside the top ten in the last three Texas starts. Alexander Rossi will restart 13th despite charging through the field early in the race only to have the tires fall off and drop him through the running order. Rossi currently holds fastest lap in the race at 211.666 MPH. Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan round out the cars on the lead lap. Dixon had started second. When the race restarts, Pagenaud's point lead will dwindle to three points. In 16 Texas starts, Kanaan has 13 top ten finishes.

Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti and Max Chilton are all one lap down while Jack Hawksworth will restart two laps down. Sato had started the race from fourth position. Andretti hasn't finished in the top ten in an even year at Texas since finishing third at 2010. Chilton's 13th-place finish at Pocono was his first top fifteen finish since finishing 15th at the Indianapolis 500. Hawksworth's 14th-place finish on Monday was his best finish on an oval since finishing 13th at Iowa last year. Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden will not restart the race after their accident on lap 42. Daly's best finish on an oval this season was 16th at Phoenix and Pocono. Newgarden had three top five finishes and four top ten finishes in his other four oval starts this season.

NBCSN's coverage of the restart of the Firestone 600 from Texas Motor Speedway will begin at 9:00 p.m. ET on Saturday August 27th with the restart happening at 9:20 p.m. ET. The field will have a warm-up session at 5:35 p.m. ET for the first half of the field and a session at 5:50 p.m. ET for the second half of the field. Kevin Lee will be in booth with Leigh Diffey on Formula One duty and Brian Till on sports car duty. Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy join Lee in the both and Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

Monday, August 22, 2016

First Impressions: Pocono 2016

Will Power takes the checkered flag
1. How did Will Power win this race? I am still not sure. He didn't work his way to the front early like Ryan Hunter-Reay did (more on him in a moment) but the Chevrolets had better fuel mileage in this race. The Hondas could do about 30 laps for a stint. The Chevrolets easily did 32-33 laps. That added up as the race went on. He also benefitted from a caution from the hands of his teammate, Simon Pagenaud. Twenty-three consecutive races Pagenaud had finished and contact exiting turn one has opened up the championship. Twenty points separate the two drivers with three races to complete and when Texas restarts next Saturday night, Power will be fourth and Pagenaud will be 15th. Power will be tentatively on 32 points from Texas while Pagenaud will be on 15 points. Pagenaud is ahead entering but will need to be making up ground as soon as the green flag falls.

2. Mikhail Aleshin dominated the first half of the race and then the fuel strategy game bit him. He had one stint that I think was only 28 laps because Hunter-Reay stopped two laps later and then the rest of the field started cycling in. It looked like he would settle in about fifth or sixth but he fought in that final stint and ended up second. He couldn't run down Power, which was interesting considering how Power didn't really look that strong in the sessions leading up to the race but Aleshin was at the front all weekend. This was a remarkable result and a great comeback after throwing away a victory at Mid-Ohio

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the darling of the crowd today. He went from 22nd to the lead in 50 laps and just after taking the lead on the penultimate restart, his car lost power and he coasted into the pit lane, only to regain fire but not soon enough to stay on the lead lap. However, he benefitted from the wave around on the final caution, got back on the lead lap and went from 12th to 3rd in the final twenty laps. It is stuff of legend. The crowd forgot about the leaders until about two to go and were focused on Hunter-Reay pick his way through the field. You can't help but feel he had a victory get away with him but he added a chapter to his lore and he restarts second at Texas on Saturday.

4. Josef Newgarden was up front all day. He could have been on the podium. Unfortunately for him, he is now a sitting duck in the champion. He trails by hundred but he is going to loses ground to everybody. Newgarden is on the cusp of being a challenger but barring him winning Watkins Glen and Pagenaud and Power both having terrible days, Newgarden will be on the outside looking in at Sonoma. He has had a really good season regardless but one too many incidents kept him from fighting for the title.

5. Sébastien Bourdais finished fifth after going fuel only on the final pit stop. It was a gamble that paid off. Some times you have to make your own results and that is what Bourdais did. Newgarden did it at Pocono in 2014 and that was a turning point for his career. Bourdais' career doesn't need a turning point but I bet he won't turn down a top five on a day when it appeared he was going to have to fight just for a top ten.

6. Scott Dixon finished sixth but was never a factor in this race. His car got better through out the race but never reached the level of the front-runners. Dixon likely won't retain the Astor Cup but he hasn't had a terrible season. Other than a mechanical failure at Road America and an odd accident at Mid-Ohio, Dixon has had a good season.

7. Carlos Muñoz ran in the top five all day but fell back to seventh. He is really impressive. If  Andretti Autosport doesn't retain him, he would be a big addition at KV Racing or A.J. Foyt Racing or he would be a great teammate for Graham Rahal at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

8. Juan Pablo Montoya finished eighth but he languished back for most of this race. I don't know why the Penske cars got stronger throughout the race but Montoya did and he ended up in the top ten after it appeared he wouldn't be close.

9. Tony Kanaan finally got his first career top ten finish at Pocono. It appeared he would challenge for a top five but he faded late. This has been a good year for Kanaan.

10. James Hinchcliffe, just like Aleshin, started well but he was bit by fuel strategy and fell back. He got a top ten but his day could have been much better.

11. Graham Rahal finished 11th and Marco Andretti finished 12th. Neither could get through the field.

12. Max Chilton finally has a good day and finished 13th. Jack Hawksworth finished 14th, which is a great day for A.J. Foyt Racing.

13. Charlie Kimball finished a lap down in 15th, which is remarkable considering Alexander Rossi climbed over Kimball. IndyCar either needs to look for a way to reduce the chance of contact on the pit lane or have a severe punishment for contact on the pit lane. There is no reason contact should ever take place on the pit lane. I suggested on Twitter that IndyCar have a volleyball referee stand behind each pit box so teams would have a better viewpoint for a crew member to see if someone is coming. The other thing that I don't get is IndyCar doesn't use the first half-dozen of pit stalls at Pocono, nor does the series use the final half-dozen pit stalls. The pit lane is built to hold 43 stock cars. There is plenty of room for 22 IndyCars. The series should spread them out a bit and maybe even consider making pit lane speed a little slower. Even worse was Hélio Castroneves was taken out in the incident and he got the worse of Rossi's underbelly.

14. Speaking of Rossi, he had a really good race going until that incident. I honestly thought he would win the first two 500-mile starts of his career. I would love to see him get a sophomore year in IndyCar.

15. Dale Coyne Racing just doesn't have it on ovals. Conor Daly finished 16th, two laps down and Pippa Mann was 17th, three laps down. I feel it is mostly the team lacking the resources to succeed on ovals. We have seen Daly have success this year on road and street circuit. Mann has never really shown she has that special something. I wonder how many chances she will get.

16. Ed Carpenter can't get a break and had another mechanical failure. Takuma Sato qualified third and it all looked promising for him in front of ABC Supply delegates... and then he spun exiting turn three on lap one. I think that straw has broken the camels back. Sato must be a lame duck driver for these final three races.

17. Despite the rain and the postponement, this was a great weekend. The crowd today was better than I expected. I thought it would feel like a high school football I would go to growing up with about 3,000 in attendance. It was bigger than that. I don't think it broke 10,000 but if you said 7,500 people were there, that is a good showing for IndyCar on a Monday.

18. Now the teams head to Texas and the championship has been revived.

Musings From the Weekend: Pitching A Tent

It rained at Bristol, Brno and Pocono. Two races were delayed a day. One takes place this afternoon. Cal Cructhlow won a MotoGP race. How about that? And Crutchlow wasn't the only British winner this weekend. There were a handful of first time winners this weekend. A champion ended a winless drought. More manufacture shenanigans are taking place in DTM and Martin Tomczyk is involved again but this time he is the offending party. Let's hope they don't repeat Barcelona 2007. Chris Buescher finally cracked the top thirty. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Pitching A Tent
IndyCar has had some really good race weekend attendance this year at road courses. Barber had another stellar crowd. The return to Road America was better than expected and Mid-Ohio was another packed house. Many credit the success of these races to the camping friendly facilities. People can stay at the track all weekend. They can bring a tent or a mobile home. They can walk around the track and not be far from shelter in case the weather changes for the worse. Fans can sit out at night around a fire pit. People can mingle.

While camping may contribute to the success of road course weekends, it hasn't helped IndyCar oval races. Other than Indianapolis, the other events are staggering. Phoenix just came back and let's see what year two brings but Texas is a shadow of what it once was. Iowa is good but not as great as it was in the early years. Pocono is doing well enough to stay on the schedule but the event didn't take off like we all hoped it would after 2013.

While ovals aren't as picturesque as road courses, they are still good for camping. NASCAR races prove that. While the IndyCar oval races might not draw campers, you can't help but notice the packs of RVs crammed into infields at each NASCAR race. It has become a selling point to NASCAR events. You can spend three days at the track, park your RV, fly your flag and call it a weekend. Places like Talladega have become famous for its infield culture.

Why hasn't IndyCar had the same success in terms of camping for its oval races? People clearly do camp at IndyCar races but I highly doubt the reason why people don't camp for IndyCar oval races is the lack of elevation changes. Could it be that camping for an IndyCar race isn't emphasized enough? Or could it be that the race fans that camp out for the NASCAR races are tapped out and can't afford an additional weekend taking the RV to the track? Camping at races isn't cheap and while places such as Barber, Road America and Mid-Ohio, where IndyCar is the premier race weekend for race fans to camp at, for the ovals the IndyCar race is in some cases third in the pecking order, unless its Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If IndyCar and the tracks can figure out how to attract campers, it would improve attendance of the races and possibly turn IndyCar oval races into a money-making enterprise, which it turn would increase the secure of these races long term.

Batting 0-for-3
Brandon Igdalsky couldn't have had a worse year for Pocono Raceway. Zero of the three major race weekends at the track took place on the schedule date. He had three Monday races. What are the odds of that? It shouldn't be a cause to panic. You can't control Mother Nature but it is astonishing nonetheless. It makes you wonder if Igdalsky and Pocono Raceway would donate money to Goodyear and Firestone to start developing a wet weather oval tire. Or maybe he will consider putting up lights. Pocono might look good at night but that might end up costing a fair amount of money. 2017 can't get any worse for Pocono Raceway

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Cal Crutchlow but did you know...

Jonas Folger won the Moto2 race at Brno. John McPhee won his first career Moto3 race.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race at Bristol. Austin Dillon won the Grand National Series race on Friday night. Ben Kennedy won his first career Truck race on Wednesday.

Robert Wickens and Marco Wittmann split the DTM races at Moscow Raceway. Wickens took the championship after his Saturday victory and Wittmann retook the lead with his victory on Sunday.

Sébastien Ogier won Rallye Deutschland, his first WRC victory since Rally Sweden in February.

Yuhi Sekiguchi won the Super Formula race from Twin Ring Motegi. It was Sekiguchi's first career victory and he won the race from his first career pole position in his fourth career start.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Texas to hopefully finish the Firestone 600.
Formula One is back in action at the Belgian Grand Prix.
NASCAR returns to Michigan.
The Suzuka 1000km will keep you up after the IndyCar race.
GTLM and GTD will do battle at Virginia International Raceway.
ELMS will run four hours around Circuit Paul Ricard.
Supercars will be at Sydney Motorsports Park.
Blancpain Sprint Series is in Hungary.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Tale From A Rainy Day

Wet socks weather
I didn't want to go to Pocono today. I knew it was going to rain. It was 100% chance of thunderstorms last Sunday. I knew the race wouldn't be started.  All I could think of all week was the car getting stuck in the muddy parking lot.

This race couldn't have been scheduled for a worse time. Actually, the scheduling wasn't the problem. This race had been scheduled for months. I couldn't have started a new job and relocated at a worse time. I am exhausted. I have been on trains, touring apartments and trying to learn new names, faces and bus schedules. I wanted a day off and attending a race isn't a day off. It is a chore. Make sure you have the tickets, pack your bag/cooler, charge your cellphone, get in the car, drive over an hour or two, find a parking spot, try to remember that parking spot despite no markers and no distinguishing landmarks, have the bag checked and then try and fill the time before green flag and then try and find your seat. And then you have to rush the exits with the 15,000-20,000 other people you attended the race with and navigate traffic. It sucks. Why do people do it? Why do I do it?

The parking lot wasn't full. I am not sure I have ever parked that close to the front door. I walked in and the place wasn't a ghost town but I breezed through the line to get validated for paddock access. Inside, it felt more like an NASA regional event. A couple hundred people were hanging around but it wasn't as suffocating as last year.

Drivers are magnets. One gets noticed and two fans go over for autographs. Then another four notice and go over for autographs. Then two-dozen people scamper over and the driver is heading for his hauler doors. Some drivers have a stronger attraction than others. People swarm the colorful haulers of Andretti, Penske and Ganassi and the teams put up barricades to create a buffer zone. The teams on the end, Foyt and Coyne, don't put up barricades. While Graham Rahal stands on the steps and preaches to the congregation, Conor Daly is chatting with two blonde women. A few approach for handshakes but they move along. Gabby Chaves is sitting on a golf cart and no one bothers him. If he were entered in the #19 Honda would it be any different?

The bright side of this rainy day was I got a lot of nice photos of drivers and cars, preparing to race and those of years yonder. I actually like that Pocono has had vintage IndyCars at the race the past two years. I almost feel it is something that could help the race if it could be coupled with historic cars. I know the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca was happening simultaneously with the Pocono race but perhaps Pocono could become a destination for those on the east coast who couldn't make it out west. Probably not though.

It was a beautiful day at 8:00 a.m. ET and it was nice until about noon. Some were in denial trying to talk away the rain even when it spat on their camera lens. The pavement darkened. Green flag time approached. I was waiting by the exit. I knew it was going to be called. The driver introductions just kept providing some with false hope. Others saw through the attempt to act like everything was going to plan when it was clear conditions weren't getting any better. I knew they were going to wait to 3:00 p.m. ET. They were waiting for the television window. It is aggravating for attendees. If IndyCar was going to wait until 3:00 p.m. ET to decide whether or not to postpone the race, just tell the people that. Simple communication, like a quick announcement over the public address system, is all attendees want and it goes a long way. People don't want to be left in the dark or in this case pouring rain.

I headed to the car at 2:45 p.m. ET. I figured I would wait there until hearing the announcement and then I would go. I checked my phone at 3:00 p.m. and there was the confirmation of what I expected for over 24 hours. I started the car and headed home. Tomorrow I will repeat the steps just a few hours earlier and while negotiating the throngs of people heading to work and dreading another Monday.

Morning Warm-Up: Pocono 2016

Mikhail Aleshin stunned everyone Saturday and won pole position
Mikhail Aleshin was the surprise pole winner for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. The Russian driver ran a two-lap average of 220.445 MPH. This is Aleshin's first career IndyCar pole position but this is his the second front row start of his career. He started second in second race of the Houston doubleheader in 2014 and he finished second in that race to then-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Simon Pagenaud. This is Aleshin's first pole position since 2012 in Formula Renault 3.5 at Barcelona. He finished second in that race. Aleshin finished seventh in his only Pocono start in 2014. Josef Newgarden was just over two-tenths of a mile per hour behind Aleshin and will round out the front row. This is Newgarden's third front row start of the season. He won at Iowa from second on the grid and finished third in the Indianapolis 500 from second on the grid. He finished second last year at Pocono from fourth on the grid.

Takuma Sato was the only other driver to break the 220-MPH barrier in qualifying and he will start third. This is Sato's best starting position of the season and his best starting position on an oval since Iowa 2011 when Sato won his first career pole position. Joining Sato on row two will be Hélio Castroneves. This is the first race since this year's Indianapolis 500 where no Penske car has started on the front row. Castroneves' best finish at Pocono was second in 2014. Castroneves has not won a 500-mile race since the 2009 Indianapolis 500. All of Castroneves' 500-mile victories have been at Indianapolis. Carlos Muñoz qualified fifth, the top Andretti Autosport entry. Muñoz has finished in the top five in both his Pocono starts. His average finish in 500-mile races is 8.667 with three runner-up finishes including this year's Indianapolis 500. James Hinchcliffe has yet to finish on the lead lap in a Pocono race and he will start sixth. Hinchcliffe hasn't even completed 500 miles in race laps at Pocono. He failed to complete a lap in 2013 and finished a lap down in 2014. He missed the 2015 race due to injury.

Alexander Rossi will start a career-best seventh on an oval and this is his first career top ten starting position in his IndyCar career. He has finished in the top ten in his last two oval starts. Rossi could become the first drier ever to win his first two starts in 500-mile races. This is his first time competing at Pocono. Will Power joins Rossi on row four. Power's only 500-mile race victory was Fontana in 2013. Power's best finish at Pocono was fourth in 2013 and 2015 He is currently second in the championship. Tony Kanaan has been a factor in all three Pocono races since it returned to the calendar in 2013 but he has never finished in the top ten at the track. Kanaan's most recent victory was the 500-mile race at Fontana in 2014. Ed Carpenter rounds out the top ten. He hasn't had a top ten finish since Iowa last year. His only 500-mile race victory was Fontana 2012.

Graham Rahal qualified 11th with Jack Hawksworth joining him on row six. Rahal has failed to finish the last two Pocono races. He scored his first career 500-mile race victory at Fontana last year. This year's Pocono race is scheduled to come 28 years to the day Bobby Rahal won at Pocono. This will be Hawksworth's best start on an oval in his career. His previous best was 13th in the 2014 Indianapolis 500, his first career oval start. He finished 20th in that race. Hawksworth missed the 2014 Pocono race due to injury and had a loose wheel and contact with Charlie Kimball knock him to a 22nd place finish last year. Marco Andretti will start his home race from 13th on the grid. Andretti has not started in the top ten since starting eighth in last year's season finale at Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud will join Andretti on row seven. This is the first time Andretti out qualified Pagenaud since Mid-Ohio last year when Andretti started 12th and Pagenaud 15th. Pagenaud has finished 23 consecutive races dating back to last season. His last retirement was the 2015 Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Juan Pablo Montoya will start 15th, his worst starting position this season since starting 17th at Indianapolis. He has finished on the podium in both his career IndyCar starts at Pocono including a victory from pole position in 2014. He finished third last year. Charlie Kimball joins Montoya on row eight. Kimball finished second at Pocono in his first start at the track in 2013, when the race was 400-miles. He finished fifth in this year's Indianapolis 500. Kimball has led five laps this season. Max Chilton will make his debut at Pocono from 17th on the grid. Sébastien Bourdais starts 18th and he looks for his first top ten at Pocono. Scott Dixon qualified 19th, his worst starting position at Pocono. Ironically, Dixon has never started in the top ten at Pocono. Conor Daly rounds out row ten and he looks for his first lead lap finish on an oval. Pippa Mann and Ryan Hunter-Reay round out the field. Hunter-Reay did not make a qualifying attempt after an accident in first practice.

NBCSN's coverage of the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled or 3:09 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 200 laps.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Track Walk: Pocono 2016

After two weeks off, IndyCar returns to action at Pocono
The ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway marks the penultimate oval race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. This is the first of three consecutive weeks of racing for IndyCar with the completion of the Texas race set for next Saturday and Watkins Glen the Sunday after that. Eighteen drivers enter the 13th race of the season with the mathematic possibility of winning the Astor Cup. Team Penske has won eight races this season and has won eight times at Pocono Raceway, leading all teams. Team Penske is the only team that has won multiple times this season and is one win away from matching the team's second-most victories in a season. If the team sweeps the final four races, it would match the team's record for victories in a season at 12, set in 1994 with Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 21st. Green flag is at 3:09 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Brian Till (Leigh Diffey is on Olympic duty), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. ET (90 minutes).
Qualifying: 1:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped delay coverage at 12:00 a.m. Sunday)
Final Practice: 5:00-5:30 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race: 3:09 p.m. ET (300 laps).

Championship Picture
Simon Pagenaud leads the IndyCar championship with 484 points after the Frenchman picked up his fourth victory of 2016 at Mid-Ohio almost three weeks ago. Pagenaud has doubled his career victories after entering the 2016 season with four victories. He has yet to win on an oval with four victories coming on permanent road courses and four on street circuits. Pagenaud has three top tens in all three of his Pocono starts with two sixth-place finishes and a seventh. He led 30 laps in last year's race from second on the grid.

Will Power is second in the championship on 426 points and the Australian has the second-most victories this season with three. Power enters with five consecutive podium finishes and six on the season. Only Pagenaud has more with seven podiums. Hélio Castroneves makes it a Penske sweep of the top three for Team Penske and the Brazilian sits on 373 points. Castroneves has not won this season and has only three podium finishes. He has not finished in the top ten on an oval this season with his best finish being 11th at Phoenix and Indianapolis.

Josef Newgarden trails Castroneves by nine points in the championship table. While having eight top ten finishes from 12 races, three of Newgarden's other four finishes have been outside the top twenty. Newgarden finished second last year at Pocono. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are tied on 357 points with the tiebreaker belonging to Dixon as the New Zealander has a victory while Kanaan's best finish is second at Road America. Kanaan has not finished ahead of Dixon in the championship since 2005 when he was runner-up to Dan Wheldon and Dixon was 13th.

James Hinchcliffe is the top Honda driver in the championship on 329 points. The Canadian is one-point ahead of Carlos Muñoz and five points ahead of Graham Rahal. All three drivers are coming off top five finishes at Mid-Ohio. Hinchcliffe has three consecutive top ten finishes. Charlie Kimball rounds out the top ten in the championship with 318 points. Only Kanaan, Pagenaud, Dixon and Power have more top ten finishes this season than Kimball.

Alexander Rossi is two points behind Kimball in the championship and he looks for his third consecutive top ten finish on an oval. Juan Pablo Montoya has 299 points and has failed to finish in the top ten in the last three races, just like Ryan Hunter-Reay, who sits on 294 points. Sébastien Bourdais is the lowest race-winner in the championship on 283 points. Takuma Sato rounds out the top fifteen on 257 points. Mikhail Aleshin, Conor Daly and Marco Andretti are the final drivers mathematically eligible for the championship with six points cover Aleshin (243) and Andretti (237).

A Chance For Honda's Revival?
Alexander Rossi's Indianapolis 500 victory is the only time Honda has found the top of the podium in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and even if Honda sweeps the final four races, the Japanese manufacture will have fewer victories than last season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won last year's Pocono race after starting eighth and leading 29 of 200 laps. The American driver is coming off of three consecutive finishes outside the top ten and last year Hunter-Reay won at Iowa after four consecutive finishes outside the top ten. His victory last year came after two retirements at Pocono. One after being hit from behind by Takuma Sato while entering he pit lane and the other because of an electrical issue.

Carlos Muñoz enters Pocono with the best average finish at Pocono among Honda drivers. His third and fifth gives him an average finish of 4.0 in two starts at the 2.5-mile track. Muñoz scored his first podium finish on a permanent road course at Mid-Ohio and he has three podiums on 2.5-mile tracks in his career. He has never had consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career but if Muñoz could return to the podium in the final four races, it would match his career-best podiums in a season.

Marco Andretti has had a rough 2016 season and has had misfortune at this home track. In 2013, a miscalculation in fuel strategy cost him a victory despite leading 88 laps from pole position. The following year Andretti would start fifth but an early pit lane speeding infraction forced him to the back and he charged to finish ninth. Last year, Andretti started 22nd and made it into the top five before an accident ended his race with 62 laps to go.

James Hinchcliffe is the top Honda in the championship but the Canadian has never had good fortune at Pocono. In 2013, he started third but didn't make it through turn one on lap one and in 2014; he would finish a lap down in 12th despite starting sixth. His teammate Mikhail Aleshin made one start at Pocono in 2014 and he finished seventh after running in the top ten for most of the race.

Graham Rahal's title hopes were ruined last year at Pocono after a poor pit stop and then being run into by Tristan Vautier. He has yet to finish on the lead lap at Pocono and he has regressed each year at the track having finishes of 18th, 19th and 20th in each of the last year respective years. He finished fifth at Phoenix but 14th and 16th in the other two oval races at Indianapolis and Iowa.

Dale Coyne Racing hasn't had a top ten finish on an oval since Justin Wilson finished seventh at Pocono in 2013. The team's last top five finish on an oval was Wilson's fifth in that year's Indianapolis 500. Conor Daly has yet to finish on the lead lap in his previous four oval starts and he has only finished once on an oval, his IndyCar debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Daly will drive the #88 Jonathan Byrd's Honda this weekend in honor of the late-Bryan Clauson. Pippa Mann returns for her second start of the season in the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Mann was the top Dale Coyne Racing finisher in the Indianapolis 500 by finishing 18th, one lap down.

Since returning to Pocono in 2013, A.J. Foyt Racing has had at least one car finish outside the top twenty in each race but Takuma Sato did finish sixth last year, his only top ten on an oval last season. The team hasn't had a top five on an oval since Darren Manning finished fifth in the inaugural Iowa race in 2007. The team's last oval podium was Airton Daré's victory at Kansas in 2002 and the team hasn't had multiple top ten finishers since Homestead 2002 when Eliseo Salazar finished fifth and Daré finished tenth. 

Fast Facts
This will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on August 21st and first since 2005, when Dan Wheldon won at Pikes Peak. It was the final IndyCar race held at Pikes Peak.

This will be the 166th 500-mile race in IndyCar history.

Bobby Rahal won at Pocono on August 21, 1988.

Team Penske has won at Pocono eight times.

Only three other active teams have won at Pocono: A.J. Foyt Racing (four times), Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

A.J. Foyt won both rain-shortened Pocono IndyCar races. The 1975 race ended after 170 laps and the 1981 race after 122 laps.

Alexander Rossi could become the first driver to win multiple 500-mile races in a year since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000. Rossi could become the first American to win multiple 500-mile races in a season since Rick Mears in 1991. Rossi could become the first driver in IndyCar history to win the first two 500-mile races in a career.

The last driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono in the same season was Al Unser in 1978. Unser won the Triple Crown that season.

Teo Fabi, Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya are the only foreign drivers to win at Pocono.

Juan Pablo Montoya holds the Pocono track record with a 223.871 MPH two-lap average. He has finished first and third in his two Pocono starts.

Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott Dixon are the four drivers to have three top ten finishes in three Pocono starts. Newgarden and Dixon have the best average finish for drivers with three Pocono starts at 5.0.

Power has the best average starting position at Pocono at 3.0 but the Australian has never won a pole position at Pocono. Pocono is one of four tracks on the IndyCar schedule Power has not won a pole position at. The others are Phoenix, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and Iowa.

Power and Tony Kanaan are the only drivers to lead in all three Pocono races since 2013.

With his retirement at Mid-Ohio, Scott Dixon has two finishes outside the top twenty this season. Only once has Dixon had more than two finishes outside the top twenty in a season. That was 2005 when he finished outside the top twenty at Motegi, Indianapolis, Richmond and Kentucky.

Max Chilton's average finish in his three oval starts this season is 13.667. His average starting position in oval races is 11.333.

The average starting position for a Pocono winner is 5.227 with a median of three.

The average number of lead changes at Pocono is 18.13 with a median of 16. Last year's race saw a race record 33 lead changes.

The average number cautions at Pocono is 7.142 with a median of seven. The average number of caution laps is 40.523 with a median of 39. Last year's race set a record of most cautions in race history at 12 and caution laps at 74. 

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 19 laps to pass Bobby Unser for sixth all-time in laps led.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 6 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 46 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 38 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 59 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 49 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 96 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti wins the race, surpasses 1,000 laps led in his career and he has two other teammates finish in the top ten, one of which will be Ryan Hunter-Reay. Juan Pablo Montoya will be the top finishing Penske entry. The driver who leads the most laps will lead at least 45 laps. Ed Carpenter gets his first top ten finish of the season. There will be fewer than seven cautions. Pippa Mann finishes at least three laps down. Honda leads more laps than Chevrolet. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.