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Montoya’s Cool As Rahal Triangulates In On Lead

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 21 2015
IndyCar points-leader Juan Pablo Montoya denies feeling the heat as the series heads to Pocono this weekend for the season's penultimate event. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

IndyCar points-leader Juan Pablo Montoya denies feeling the heat as the series heads to Pocono this weekend for the season’s penultimate event. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Juan Pablo Montoya’s once-formidable Verizon IndyCar Series point-lead over Graham Rahal is running on Sunoco E85R fumes. But in typical Juan Me Worry? fashion, JPM says he’s not sweating the season’s final two races.

bugindynotesMontoya will take a tenuous nine-point advantage (465-456) over Rahal into Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 around the triangular, 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway. JPM’s lead took a massive 42-point hit on Aug. 2, when Rahal scored a popular hometown victory on the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course while Juan Pablo finished 11th.

“Yeah, I’m doing pretty good,” Montoya said during a national teleconference on Wednesday featuring the top five contending drivers. “To be honest, I don’t think about it until we go there and do what we need to be doing, and that’s it.”

After exiting Eastern Pennsylvania, series teams will trek cross-country for the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Calif.) on Aug. 30, where double-points could produce a dramatic swing in the championship.

Pardon JPM while he shrugs-off the pre-Pocono angst.  “We won at Pocono last year, and we should run pretty good going to the next races as well, so I don’t know,” Montoya said. “We tested in Sonoma last week, did some laps there and learned some stuff. I think we’re in good shape. You can’t really know what’s going to happen. I mean, we’ve done a really good job all year, like everybody else, had ups and downs, and we’ll see what it brings.”

Montoya has held the point-lead since winning the season-opener on the

Graham Rahal can overtake Montoya at the Pocono triangle this weekend. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Graham Rahal can overtake Montoya at the Pocono triangle this weekend. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Streets of St. Petersburg (Fla.) on March 29. His largest margin over second place was 54 points following Race No. 12, the ABC Supply Co. Inc. Wisconsin 250, at The Milwaukee Mile on July 12.

The current nine-point edge Montoya holds over Rahal is the narrowest since the Colombian led reigning series champion Will Power of Team Penske by five points following the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, fifth race of the season, on May 9. The nine-point margin also is the fourth-closest with two races to go since 2007. In addition, the 34 points separating Montoya and third-place Scott Dixon, a three-time series champion with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, is the closest margin between first and third since 2009.

Fifty-nine points separate the top five drivers _ JPM, Rahal, Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Power _ with 158 points up for grabs in the final two races. The championship will be decided in the last race of the season for the 10th consecutive year.

Montoya said his victory in the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24 easily stands as his season highlight, unless and until he can clinch his first IndyCar Series championship. Montoya theoretically has an edge at Pocono, where he won from the pole last year after qualifying at 223.871 mph. Montoya led 45 of 200 laps en route to a victory over Penske teammate Castroneves.

Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, has a best finish of 18th in two appearances on Pocono’s “Tricky Triangle.” A two-time winner this season, the son of 1986 Indy 500 champ Bobby Rahal moved to second in the point race after a fourth-place finish around the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway on July 18. Montoya crashed-out of that event and finished 24th.

In 10 previous 500-mile races during his Indy car career, JPM has scored four wins, led in all 10 and posted an average finish of 3.3. The pace of Last year’s Pocono race was interrupted by a single caution period en route to an Indy car record 500-mile average winning speed of 202.402 mph.

“I don’t think there’s anything magic (to running Pocono),” said Montoya, driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “I think I’m really good at setting up the car on the ovals. I do a really good job at understanding what the car needs to be good, and I think that makes a big difference. If we can find what I want out of the car, then we’re definitely going to be strong, and if we don’t, then we’ll be OK. You know what I mean? But I think that’s one of the key things why I’m good on the ovals is understanding what the car needs and what I want out of the car.”

JPM won his first Indy 500 as a rookie in 2000, one year after he claimed the Championship Auto Racing Teams title for team-owner Chip Ganassi. Similar to this season, Montoya led the CART championship in 1999 with two races to go and went on to win the title in a tie-breaker over Dario Franchitti.

Montoya rated this season as “maybe an 8 or so…not a good year” during the teleconference and downplayed his experience from competing in Formula One and NASCAR after exiting CART.

“To be honest, you don’t think about it. You just do what you need to be doing, and that’s it,” JPM said. “I either like it (his car) or I don’t like it, you know what I mean? You can either hustle it or you can’t. There’s never a happy medium. You can either drive the hell out of the car and you’ll be OK, or you can’t and you’re going to struggle.”

 

Ten drivers remain mathematically eligible for the Astor Cup _ the Verizon IndyCar Series championship trophy _ with two races remaining. Charting Indy car championship chases under various sanctioning bodies over the past decade with two races left:

2014 (INDYCAR) _ Leader: Will Power (602 points); Second: Helio

Will Power is the defending series champion. (File photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)

Will Power is the defending series champion. (File photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)

Castroneves (-39); Third: Simon Pagenaud (-92). Final margin and champion: 62 points, Power.

2013 (INDYCAR) _ Leader: Helio Castroneves (513); Second: Scott Dixon (-8); Third: Simon Pagenaud (-50). Final margin and champion: 27 points, Dixon.

2012 (INDYCAR) _ Leader: Will Power (422); Second: Ryan Hunter-Reay (-26); Third: Helio Castroneves (-41). Final margin and champion: 3 points, Hunter-Reay.

2011 (INDYCAR) _ Leader: Dario Franchitti (507); Second: Will Power (-5); Third: Scott Dixon (-77). Final margin and champion: 18 points, Franchitti.

2010 (INDY RACING LEAGUE) _ Leader: Will Power (552); Second: Dario Franchitti (-17); Third: Scott Dixon (-83). Final margin and champion: 5 points, Franchitti.

2009 (IRL) _ Leader: Ryan Briscoe (550); Second: Dario Franchitti (-25); Third: Scott Dixon (-33). Final margin and champion: 11 points, Franchitti.

2008 (IRL) _ Leader: Scott Dixon (576); Second: Helio Castroneves (-43);

Scott Dixon is still in the hunt. (Chris Jones photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Scott Dixon is still in the hunt. (Chris Jones photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Third: Dan Wheldon (-124). Final margin and champion: 17 points, Dixon.

2007 (IRL) _ Leader: Scott Dixon (560); Second: Dario Franchitti (-4); Third: Tony Kanaan (-62). Final margin and champion: 13 points, Franchitti.

2007 (CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES) _ Leader: Sebastien Bourdais (301); Second: Justin Wilson (-58); Third: Robert Doornbos (-68). Final margin and champion: 63 points, Bourdais.

2006 (IRL) _ Leader: Sam Hornish Jr. (418); Second: Helio Castroneves (-7); Third: Dan Wheldon (-24). Final margin and champion: Tie, Hornish and Wheldon; Hornish won championship by virtue of most race victories.

2006 (CCWS) _ Leader: Sebastien Bourdais (338); Second: AJ Allmendinger (-58); Third: Justin Wilson (-69). Final margin and champion: 89 points, Bourdais.

2005 (IRL) _ Leader: Dan Wheldon (570); Second: Tony Kanaan (-102); Third: Sam Hornish Jr. (-114). Final margin and champion: 80 points, Wheldon.

2005 (CCWS) _ Leader: Sebastien Bourdais (310); Second: Oriol Servia (-67); Third: Paul Tracy (-94). Final margin and champion: 60 points, Bourdais.

Open-wheel veteran Tony Kanaan will seek to complete a career “Triple Crown” for 500-mile races at Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Kanaan, driver of

Tony Kanaan looking for a 500 slam. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Tony Kanaan looking for a 500 slam. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, won the 2013 Indianapolis 500 on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 2014 season-finale at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Kanaan, who also won the 1999 CART race at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway, could become the first driver to win 500-mile races at four different superspeedways. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion, Kanaan also is aiming to extend his record streak of consecutive starts to 248. The Brazilian is scheduled to reach 310 career Indy car starts _ eighth all-time _ at Sonoma Raceway on Aug. 30.

Indy car icon/team-owner A.J. Foyt Jr. underwent surgery Aug. 10 for a staph infection in his right artificial knee, and will be unable to attend the season’s final two races.

The knee prosthesis was removed and, in its place, an antibiotic-infused cement spacer was inserted to aid in clearing the infection. Once doctors are satisfied the infection has cleared _ expected to be about six weeks _ Foyt will undergo another surgery to have a new artificial knee implanted. That surgery will require an additional six weeks of recovery time.

Foyt, whose 67 race wins as a driver are the most in Indy car history, suffered a similar infection in his left artificial knee in January 2012.

“Well, this is one of the worst things I’ve gone through in my life, knowing I have five or six weeks dealing with this and then having to get operated on again to take the spacer out and put in a new knee,” said Foyt, 80. “This staph infection, it’s the second time I’ve had it and it’s really beat me down. I don’t know if I’ll ever be like I used to be, but I’m sure hoping, so I’m fighting awful hard.”

Honda Performance Development celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first Indy car win on Thursday. Andre Ribeiro of Brazil drove his Honda-powered Tasman Motorsports Reynard to victory in the New England 200 on Aug. 20, 1995 at what is now the New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval.

HPD had failed to qualify a car for the 1994 Indianapolis 500, then nearly won the race in ’95 with Scott Goodyear _ until Goodyear was penalized for passing the pace car during a late caution period.

“The Ribeiro win was bound to happen,” said Steve Eriksen, HPD’s chief operating officer/vice president, who was a Honda associate at the time. “We got pole position in July (’95) at the Michigan 500 and I was (working) on Parker Johnstone’s car when he got the first pole. You could see the power was there.”

Honda recorded its 200th victory in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway.

NBCSN’s same-day broadcast of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 2 drew an average viewership of 666,000, making it the most-watched Verizon IndyCar Series race on the network since NBC Sports Group acquired INDYCAR cable exclusivity in 2008.

It also marked the first time that four consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series race telecasts on the network each surpassed 500,000 viewers, continuing the trend of growth in viewership and ratings compared to 2014. Viewership also was up over 2014 for the races at Iowa Speedway (22 percent growth), The Milwaukee Mile (66 percent) and Auto Club Speedway (83 percent).

Average viewership for all Verizon IndyCar Series telecasts this season is up nearly 10 percent and represents a continuation of growth from 2014.

Viewership of the NBCSN broadcast of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio eclipsed coverage of the Edmonton street race in 2011 (642,000) and was the most-watched Verizon IndyCar Series telecast on cable TV since the 2008 race at Sonoma Raceway (685,000 on ESPN2).

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio was broadcast live earlier in the day on CNBC. In total, the Aug. 2 telecasts on CNBC and NBCSN drew 838,000 viewers. This provided the largest single-day viewership for INDYCAR since the broadcast of the second race of the Dual in Detroit on May 31, 2015. That ABC broadcast of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix delivered 1.2-million viewers and a Nielsen rating of .78.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 21 2015
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