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.