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 lose 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 game 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.