Sunday, August 21, 2016

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.