NTT IndyCar Series: ABC Supply 500 Preview

Alexander Rossi leads the field at Pocono Raceway. © [Jamie Sheldrick / Spacesuit Media]

Alexander Rossi leads the field at Pocono Raceway. © [Jamie Sheldrick / Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

The chase for the 2019 NTT IndyCar championship is down to the final four races: two oval tracks and two road courses. Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway will separate the men from the boys as the high-speed 2.5-mile tri-oval is all about car set-up and endurance over the 500-mile chase.

Pocono Race Facts: This will be the 26th Indy car race at the “tricky triangle”. The first was back in 1971, a USAC event won by Mark Donahue for Roger Penske. The 200-lap/500-mile race on the 3-turn layout has corners ranging from 2.8 to 14 degrees of banking. In 2014 Juan Pablo Montoya set both the race record speed of 202.402 mph and the two-lap qualifying mark of 223.871 mph, again for Team Penske. Penske cars have won here a total of 10 times.

2018 Pocono Race: Alexander Rossi followed up his win at Mid-Ohio with a dominant performance at Pocono for Andretti Autosport Honda, beating Penske’s Will Power by almost five seconds in a race delayed for two hours after a grinding, early-race crash. Power, a two-time Pocono winner, led from his pole spot, but a two-car incident on Lap 5 slowed the field. On the restart a five-car crash resulted in the long delay as fencing in Turn 2 needed extensive repairs. Rookie Robert Wickens sustained major orthopedic injuries that ended his season as his car was launched into the fencing. On the restart Rossi led the field five times for 180/200 laps, scoring his fifth career Indy car win as the remainder of the race ran without a caution flag. Power hung on to second followed by Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and soon-to-be series’ champion Josef Newgarden.

2019 Season So Far: Four drivers, Josef Newgarden (504 points), Alexander Rossi (-16), Simon Pagenaud (- 47 ) and Scott Dixon (- 62) are still realistically involved in the chase for the series’          championship with four races remaining. Will Power is fifth with (-148), a deficit likely too large to remain a true contender. Remember, however, that the final race at Laguna Seca is worth double points.

The Field: Just 22 cars are scheduled to take the green flag on Sunday, the same number as last year. Charlie Kimball and Conor Daly will start for Trevor Carlin’s squad, while Ed Carpenter returns for the oval race, replacing his road course driver Ed Jones.

Notes: AJ Foyt has won four times at Pocono (1971, ’73, ’79 and ’81), the most wins of any driver at the track. Among current drivers, Will Power has won twice: 2016 and ’17…2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, sporting director for McLaren Racing, has been named to lead the team’s upcoming two car IndyCar effort in 2020…TV: NBCSN, Qualifying, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2:30 p.m. ET, (same day delay)…Race, Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, (Live)…Green Flag, 2:45…Since 2008, the driver who led the points chase with four races remaining went on to capture the crown. The first three oval races this season were all captured by Team Penske drivers. Will Power won the Indianapolis 500, while teammate Josef Newgarden won at Texas and Iowa.

Our Take: The announcement that McLaren will join the IndyCar Series with two full-time cars in 2020, coupled with the possibility that Chip Ganassi Racing could partner with another series’ team, providing technical support, has somewhat buried news regarding the current 2019 run for the championship. With a 500-mile race at Pocono Sunday, our attention focuses on the four drivers who will come up winning at Laguna Seca in September. We wonder if those teams will run a conservative race plan at Pocono in order to survive 500 miles and grab maximum points, or does Scott Dixon  go all-out to win and risk a race-ending incident early on? Conservative or aggressive will be the watch words Sunday. We think a combination of those plans will work and Team Penske usually makes the right calls. Two-time Pocono winner Will Power will win for Chevrolet in Penske’s home state, with Dixon as the Honda possibility.

Final Words: Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Pocono is really fast and produces great Indy car racing. It’s such a unique challenge to get everything right…It’s a long race and it’s now time to roll the dice and take chances. Race wins are all that matter at this stage in the season if you want to have a shot at defending this championship title.”

Next Race: August 24, Gateway Motorsports Park


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