Pocono Race Review: Delayed Gratification

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Photo from zimbio.com

NBCSN’s Brian Till described the racing at Pocono as “spectacular,” and on Monday it certainly was. Will “awesome” Power won thanks to a Penske perfect late race charge to the front, but Ryan Hunter-Reay ran the race of the day. He drove his burnt yellow DHL machine through the field – twice! – to a podium finish, racing a brand new, unfamiliar car after crashing his Indy 500 winner in practice. Failing even to attempt qualifying, he started dead last and still very nearly won.

After a washout on Sunday even the command to start engines was delayed, leading to an awkward pause during the beginning of the broadcast. Then a bomb was dropped on the audience as they revealed that Robin Miller was joining Till and Townsend Bell in the booth. A surreal quality instantly infused the broadcast as the news rippled across the land. Apparently Paul Tracy had important buffets to attend in Vegas.

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Photo from foxsports.com

The start was waived off after first time pole sitter Mikhail Aleshin jumped the gun, forcing another attempt. Aleshin again shot out to a lead coming to the flag stand, but Josef Newgarden quickly took the lead just before Takuma Sato snap spun into the wall in turn three, coming to a wrecked rest in front of the “what turn 4?” sign. It was yet another early exit for A.J. Foyt’s Japanese driver; happily everyone else managed to avoid the embarrassing hit’s aftermath.

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Photo from indycar.com

After getting checked out at the infield care center, Sato said he was “not sure what happened.”  Interestingly, Miller predicted change at AJ Foyt Racing next year – it’s about time – but not one involving Sato. What?! It’s true Jack Hawksworth’s been a non-entity driving for the legend the last two seasons, but at least the Englishman hasn’t totaled a bunch of Super Tex’s cars.

It was back to green flag oval ecstasy on lap nine as Aleshin and Newgarden battled for the lead. Having already advanced thirteen spots to ninth, by lap thirty RHR – or as Jon Beekhuis called him, “Ryan Hunter” – roared up to fifth before pitting under green. Aleshin and RHR fought it out up front as the field cycled through after stops. They were followed by Newgarden, Carlos Munoz and Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

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Photo from motorsport.com

RHR took the lead on lap forty nine while NBCSN nearly missed it, completing his impressive charge from last to first. After Aleshin retook the lead on lap fifty six, Ed Carpenter slowed amid a puff of smoke with engine problems, though to his credit the failure didn’t bring out a caution. The next round of pit stops turned out to be an eventful one. The top three cars – Aleshin, RHR and Carlos Munoz – pitted on lap sixty two handing the lead to Rossi, but only temporarily as the young American would bring out the second caution.

Scary moments accompanied a nasty looking crash in the pits. The kerfuffle was between Rossi, who was exiting his pit, and Kimball attempting to enter his. They collided, sending Rossi airborne onto and then over Helio’s car – and dangerously close to his helmeted head. Afterward Rossi said, “I was released, I know what happened,” calling it all “very unfortunate.” He went on to cite his concern for Helio, who fortunately walked away from his tire marred car.

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Image from racer.com

Helio joked about it immediately afterwards. “I just saw a car on top of me. I thought I was changing the Pennzoil oil. Ha ha.” Replays had Bryan Herta warning Rossi of Kimball’s presence repeatedly over the radio prior to the disaster that brought an early end to all three of their days.

On the lap seventy one restart, Penske cars went three wide making a Pags frog sandwich. The racing at Pocono provided plenty of action all day, with Graham Rahal making a late pass on Marco Andretti in a corner and then Newgarden doing the same on Munoz for third. At one point Miller rightly called the show “unbelievable.”

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Photo from motorsport.com

RHR retook the lead on lap ninety over Aleshin, who pitted from second on lap ninety four with Hunter-Reay and Munoz following next lap. After the stops, Hunter-Reay briefly occupied the lead before being passed by Aleshin. The racy Russkie was on a roll.

Aleshin, RHR, and Newgarden ran in the top three at the halfway point when Brian Till reported eighteen lead changes and an amazing two hundred-plus passes. IndyCar put on quite a clinic on the big oval with close, side by side racing all afternoon long. We particularly love how drivers at Pocono exit pit road directly into the entry of turn one and all that high speed traffic.

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Hunter-Reay again took the lead during NBCSN’s side by side coverage. Soon after Newgarden challenged and passed a suddenly fading Aleshin, who’d run strong all day. RHR then lapped Marco, who Katie Hargitt said had been “screaming” on the radio. Wah! Apparently the seldom happy legacy’s water bottle broke, spilling all over him in the car. WAH!

Soberingly, Mad Will Power was suddenly in second, setting a fast lap of the race. He soon led and then pitted several laps later than the other front runners, stretching his fuel out for longer runs. On lap one fifty nine Power’s Penske teammate and points leader Simon Pagenaud bottomed out, got high and walled it in turn three, pan-caking the right hand side of his machine. The points leader brought out the day’s third caution.

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The safer barrier appeared to be lit in yellow next to his Menards day-glo car as he rolled to a stop. “That one’s weird,” he later said, baffled. Weirder still, France leads the US and Brazil in IndyCar if the points were scored like the Olympics. Thankfully, they’re not.

The restart came five laps later and RHR passed Power almost immediately. Then out of the blue RHR slowed on the back straight, his car quitting in the middle of a fight with a pack of cars. “It has no power. It won’t go,” he informed his crew via radio. Forced to recycle the electronics, he lost a lap and with it the race. But he wasn’t giving up. On track Power and Aleshin continued to battle for the lead, before Newgarden stormed around the rapid Russian, the two swapping positions back and forth.

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The fourth and final caution was brought out by Tony Kanaan’s left rear winglet, which fell off landing in the middle of the race track. It was that kind of weekend for Ganassi’s team. The final pit stops saw Power, Sebastien Bourdais – who picked up five spots but no tires – Newgarden, TK, and Aleshin – who dropped three positions during the service – in the top five. A final shootout of a finish was set up nicely.

Restarting with twenty one to go, TK went low and past Newgarden to claim second before Aleshin passed both TK and Newgarden for second place. RHR again charged furiously towards the front racing back up to seventh with sixteen laps to go. Bourdais zipped under TK, who battled him back, and then around an extremely wide Juan Montoya. In a rare Ganassi highlight at Pocono, Dixon passed them both for sixth.

RHR raced to fifth and then up to fourth with under ten to go, passing the field – many of them twice. Incredibly, with two to go he flashed around Newgarden and into third. RHR followed Power and Aleshin to victory lane, the only two drivers he’d failed to pass multiple times.

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Photo from sports.usatoday.com

The ABC Supply 500 was an exceptionally exciting race despite the rain out and unlikable winner. The conclusion had Aleshin harassing Power in an SPM versus the mighty Team Penske showdown. Giving it his all, Mikhail very nearly brushed the wall with nine laps to go. Second was an exceptionally strong showing for Aleshin and his team. Appropriate mentions and tributes were made for both Bryan Clauson and Justin Wilson and the crowd looked bigger than expected for a postponed race. We’re already looking forward to Pocono in 2017.

Post race quotes –

Will Power: “Awesome.”

Aleshin, who led eighty seven laps: “I was on the edge. I almost crashed. . . . I like ovals. I like them even more than most, probably, road courses.”

RHR: “I had a lot of fun out there today, if it’s any consolation. It’s just one of those seasons, I guess. For the engine to shut off while leading it, . . . ”

 

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8 thoughts on “Pocono Race Review: Delayed Gratification

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