Thursday, August 20, 2015

Track Walk: Pocono 2015

Round Two of Astor Cup August is at Pocono Raceway
The second race of Astor Cup August, the final oval of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the penultimate round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Pocono Raceway. The ABC Supply 500 is the final leg of the IndyCar Triple Crown. Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal split the first two legs at Indianapolis and Fontana and those two drivers sit first and second in the championship. Rahal won the most recent round at his home track of Mid-Ohio with Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud rounding out the podium. This will be the 22nd IndyCar race to take place at Pocono Raceway.

Time: Coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 23rd. Green flag at 2:46 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett (Townsend Bell is on IMSA duty) and Paul Tracy will be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Ten drivers enter Pocono mathematically eligible for the Astor Cup.

Juan Pablo Montoya leads with 465 points with Graham Rahal trailing him by nine points. Scott Dixon is third in the championship, 34 points behind the Colombian. Regardless of the results at Pocono, Montoya, Rahal and Dixon will be mathematically eligible for the title at Sonoma.

Hélio Castroneves is 58 points behind his Penske teammate Montoya with defending IndyCar champion Will Power 59 points back of Montoya. Eighty-six points behind Montoya is Sébastien Bourdais. Marco Andretti is seventh in the championship, one point behind Bourdais.

Josef Newgarden is eighth, 95 points behind Montoya. Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud are the final two mathematically eligible for the title and round out the top ten in the championship. Kanaan is 111 points behind Montoya and Pagenaud is 136 points back.

Numbers to Remember
The most points that can be scored at Pocono are 54 and the most points that can be scored at Sonoma are 104. If Montoya starts at Pocono, the most ground a driver could make up to him is 48 points as 24 cars are entered at Pocono and the least amount of points available is six points. All 24 cars entered for Pocono are tentatively scheduled to be entered at Sonoma as well as Mikhail Aleshin, who will make his IndyCar return for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. With 25 cars tentatively entered for Sonoma the least amount of points available for the season finale would be ten points meaning the most ground that could be made to the championship leader at Sonoma is 94 points.

To be mathematically championship eligible heading to Sonoma, a driver will need to be within 104 points of whomever the championship leader is after Pocono. However, in the very likely case the championship leader will start at Sonoma, a driver will need to be within 94 points.

Currently, only six drivers are within 94 points of the championship leader Montoya (Rahal, Dixon, Castroneves, Power, Bourdais, Andretti). Newgarden needs to score one more point that Montoya at Pocono to remain championship eligible heading to the season finale. Kanaan will need to score 17 points more than Montoya and Pagenaud will need to score 48 points to remain championship eligible. Since 48 points is not a possible point total, Pagenaud will have to win at Pocono. Should Pagenaud win, depending on how many bonus points he picks up, Montoya will have to score fewer than 9-12 points for Pagenaud to remain championship eligible. If Pagenaud scores the maximum 54 points, than Montoya needs to score less than 12 points. If Pagenaud scores 51 points, than Montoya needs to score less than nine points.

For the front-runners, a number to remember is 17 because if a driver is within 17 points of the championship leader after Pocono, a win at Sonoma will guarantee them the championship regardless of where the championship leader finishes. For example, if Rahal exits Pocono 16 points back of Montoya and Rahal wins at Sonoma with the minimum points for a victory (101) and Montoya finishes second with maximum bonus points (84), then Rahal would win the title by a point.

How Will The Championship Eligible Drivers Race?
Knowing all the numbers, it will be interesting to see how drivers in championship contention race at Pocono.

Graham Rahal was very aggressive at Fontana and arguably could have been penalized at least twice for blocking. If Rahal is as aggressive as he was at Fontana and knowing the unpredictability of IndyCar race control, a move that Rahal made at Fontana and wasn't penalized for might be a penalty at Pocono and that could ruin his championship hopes. Should Rahal and Scott Dixon be a little more conservative and race for Sonoma? Rahal could lose ten points to Montoya at Pocono but that would still leave him in a great position for the championship. Dixon is 34 points behind Montoya and while he isn't nearly as close as he would probably like to be, he could lose a little ground to the Colombian and could still be in a good position heading west to the season finale.

Outside of Rahal and Dixon, the other seven championship eligible drivers are probably looking to make up big chunks of Montoya's championship lead. Hélio Castroneves and Will Power are within 60 of their teammate and 60 points covers the difference between victory and the ten-place finisher but they can't enter Sonoma hoping that Montoya will have a bad race. While both Sébastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti would be championship eligible if they hold serve to Montoya after Pocono, they need to make up some ground so they don't need to win with a finish in the bottom three at Sonoma for Montoya.

Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud all need to make up points on Montoya to be championship eligible at Sonoma so they pretty much have to be all-in for the final two races if they want to win the title.

But what about Juan Pablo Montoya? Having watched him race for nearly two decades, Montoya is going to be all offense. He doesn't play defense and he knows that if he is running at the front, he is going to force his rivals to try and beat him and perhaps drive harder than they want to and make them uncomfortable. While his championship lead is down to nine points and despite coming off two poor results, the ball is still in Montoya's court. If anyone wants to take the championship from the Colombian, they are going to have to beat him on the track and not rely on a third bad result.

Driver Changes
There will be two driver changes for Pocono.

Ed Carpenter is back in the #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as he will make his final start of the 2015 season before Luca Filippi closes out the season at Sonoma. This will be Carpenter's sixth start in 2015. He has improved in each race this year as he is coming off a sixth at Iowa, his best finish of the season. The race before that at Milwaukee, Carpenter finished tenth. In Carpenter's previous two Pocono starts, he has finished ninth and 13th.

Pippa Mann returns in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. This will be Mann's sixth start this season. Her best finish this year was 13th at Fontana, which was also the first lead lap finish in her career. Mann's lone Pocono start came in 2013 when she finished 15th, one lap down.

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to occur on August 23rd and the first since 2009 when Dario Franchitti won at Sonoma.

This will be the ninth IndyCar race to occur at Pocono during the month of August. The final CART race at Pocono in 1989 was run in the month of August. Danny Sullivan took the victory in a Penske 1-2 with Rick Mears finishing second. Michael Andretti rounded out the podium.

Team Penske has the most victories at Pocono with eight. Penske won the first IndyCar race at the track in 1971 with Mark Donohue.

Americans have won 18 of 21 Pocono races. The three international drivers to win at Pocono are Teo Fabi, Scott Dixon and Scott Dixon.

Juan Pablo Montoya or Graham Rahal could win two 500-mile races in one season for the seventh time in IndyCar history. Montoya is the last driver to win two 500-mile races in one year. He won at Indianapolis and Michigan in 2000.

A.J. Foyt has the most victories at Pocono with four. Rick Mears won at Pocono three times. Al Unser and Danny Sullivan each won at the track twice.

Chevrolet has three victories at Pocono while Honda only has one.

Chevrolet has won the last 20 pole positions in IndyCar.

The average starting position for a Pocono winner is 5.09. The furthest back a Pocono winner has started is 17th, which occurred in 2013 by Scott Dixon. The pole-sitter has won at Pocono seven times, including last year by Juan Pablo Montoya.

The average starting position for a winner this IndyCar season is 10.214. Half of the first fourteen races have been won from outside the top ten. The only winner to come from the first row was Will Power, who won from pole position at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The average starting position for oval winners is 12.2 and three of the first five ovals were won from outside the top ten. The best starting position for an oval winner this year was seventh when Scott Dixon won at Texas.

The average amount of cautions in the previous 20 IndyCar races is 6.333 for an average of 35.904 laps. The most cautions in a Pocono race were 11 in 1988. The most caution laps were 68 during 10 caution periods in 1984. The last two IndyCar races have had two caution periods for 12 laps and one caution for six laps.

The average amount of lead changes at Pocono is 17.52. The most lead changes in a Pocono race is 29 was in 1973. The fewest lead changes in a Pocono race were seven in 1986. The last two IndyCar races have each had 16 lead changes.

Possible Milestones:
Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 72 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 68 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 98 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 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 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

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

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 18 laps to reach the 300 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan keeps his championship hopes alive with a victory and if Kanaan doesn't win than Marco Andretti gets a long awaited victory in his backyard. The winner will start inside the top ten. There will be at least 20 lead changes. Fewer than three Hondas will qualify in the top ten. A Penske driver will qualify in the top four but finish outside the top ten. At least one driver will have their race ruined by a pit lane speeding penalty. A rookie leads at least one lap. Sleeper: Ryan Briscoe.