IndyCar – Pocono 500: A Second Time For Firsts

indycar-2014-pocono-montoya-victory-laneWhen he was dropped from Formula One by McLaren, many people thought that Juan Pablo Montoya was done in motorsports. His prime was behind him and he was going from the pinnacle of motorsports to stock cars, a discipline that he never run before in his life. Naturally, that run wasn’t as successful as his time in CART or F1.

After his NASCAR contract expired at the end of last season, it looked as though Montoya was going to spend the rest of his careers in sportscars. Instead, Roger Penske snapped up the long-time Ganassi driver to run in IndyCar and what an inspired move it was. It started something of a career resurgence for Montoya capped off (thus far) with a win in the Pocono 500.

It was Montoya who led the field from the pole but he didn’t make it very far in the lead. In fact, he didn’t make it through the first turn before teammate Will Power took the lead of the race.

From there, things quickly settled down as the first 158 laps of the race were run under green. Apart from pitstops, the field spaced out and the cars ran single-file with only mistakes causing on-track action. Interestingly, despite leading the first stint, Power didn’t have the worst fuel mileage. That honour belonged to Tony Kanaan whose speed came at the expense of mileage.

The lead was traded between Montoya, Kanaan and Power during the race with Kanaan leading the majority of the way and Montoya taking the lead during the pitstop exchanges. The whole complexion of the race would change when Graham Rahal spun to bring out a caution on Lap 158. While most of the field had pitted within the 10 previous laps, Kanaan pitted and topped up on fuel in the hopes of stretching it to the end of the race.

On the restart, Montoya pulled a power move around Power for the lead. Despite a block from Power resulting in JPM losing the left endplate of his front wing, Montoya still held the lead without losing any speed. Power ran near the front until throwing a block on Helio Castroneves that earned him a drive-through penalty for blocking.

While everyone was making their splash-and-goes to get to the end of the race, Kanaan stretched his fuels with laps that were under 200 MPH at one point. However, it was only good enough to get him within four laps of the finish before pitting. That strategy miscue handed the race to Montoya.

Montoya’s win was the first of his comeback, the second of his IndyCar career (including the 2000 Indy 500) and twelfth of his American open-wheel career. Helio Castroneves pulled into a tie atop the standings by finishing second. Carlos Munoz put in another stellar oval run by completing the podium.

While the Ganassi cars swept the podium last year, the best they could managed was Ryan Briscoe’s 4th followed by Scott Dixon in 5th. The two Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports cars came next with Pagenaud leading Aleshin home in 6th and 7th. Josef Newgarden was the last of those who didn’t stop under yellow to stop for a splash-and-go and finished 8th. Marco Andretti came back from a pit speeding penalty to cross the line 9th. And Will Power rounded out the top ten after his penalty.

Missing from this race was rookie Jack Hawksworth and the #98 car of Bryan Herta Autosport. That’s because of a heavy crash that Hawksworth suffered in Saturday practice for the race.

indycar-2014-pocono-hawksworthHawksworth spun in Turn One and slammed hard into the SAFER barrier at the exit of the turn. The impact left the rookie with a heart contusion (formally called a myocardial contusion) and he was refused clearance to race this weekend and will have to be reevaluated before Iowa next weekend.

BHA also declined to continue this weekend. The crash cracked the tub of the primary #98 car and the team didn’t attempted to find a substitute for the backup car. Hopefully, we’ll see both driver and team back in action next weekend.

After the second Pocono race of the post-pre-split era, it may be the end of the line for the IndyCar series at the Tricky Triangle. Despite being in the second of a three-year contract to host IndyCar at the track, track boss Brandon Igdalsky told the AP that he plans to ask IndyCar CEO Mark Miles to let the track out of the final year of its contract.

The problem Pocono brass is having with its IndyCar deal is that they brought in the series after asking fans if they would be interested in attending. While the response to the survey was positive, sales were not what track officials were expecting with last year’s race day attendance estimated at between 30,000 to 35,000.

Brilliantly, though, Igdalsky is spinning this to blame the fans rather than IndyCar. He’s suggesting that losing money because no one is attending is the reason why he’s considering dropping the IndyCar race. The fact that the IndyCar race is the second of three major race weekends in the span of seven or so weeks isn’t helping matters. The AP also reported that ticket prices for IndyCar is higher than NASCAR which doesn’t help matters.

So while it’s nice for IndyCar and Pocono to have each other, it all comes down to money and that’s the biggest problem that Indy has had lately. There seems to be only a finite amount of money in American motorsport and the money seems to be going to NASCAR, though even it’s going through a relatively slim period. I don’t think that IndyCar has done a great job of promoting itself as the best racing in America but Pocono doesn’t seem to have a good job either.

Well, maybe the loss of Pocono will open up the schedule for another great race. A return to Michigan would be pretty exciting. I think that IndyCar on Road America would be pretty awesome. And since fans are going to the Milwaukee race, let’s give them the Independence Day race. Why not?

indycar-2013-iowa-startYou don’t even have to wait a whole week for the next round of the 2014 IndyCar Series season. It’s a Saturday night under the lights for the stars of IndyCar as the teams return to Iowa Speedway for 300 laps under the lights for the Iowa Indy 300.

This year, the heat races have been removed. Instead, it’s a two-day show at the short oval with practice and qualifying on Friday and the race on Saturday.

Considering how strong the Penske cars have been on ovals this season, I would think that they’ll be at the head of the field when they turn left. Given that Andretti Autosport has won the last four races in Iowa and five of seven, they are your darkhorses. Considering how the rookies have been getting a lot of praise lately, I think this might just be Munoz’s weekend to shine.

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