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Power Victorious On A Bizarre Day At Pocono

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 19 2019
Will Power got his first victory of the season on Sunday. It came on a crazy day at Pocono. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

LONG POND, Pa. – In the often-surreal world that defines open-wheel competition at Pocono Raceway, the Media Center became Victory Lane and vice versa as torrential rain forced an early end to Sunday’s ABC Supply 500.

Team Penske’s Will Power bounded onto a stage to be crowned winner of the NTT IndyCar Series race after completion of 128 of the scheduled 200 laps around Pocono’s unique/triangular 2.5-mile layout. Joined by runnerup Scott Dixon and third-place Simon Pagenaud, the impromptu ceremonies capped a day that saw two red-flag stoppages, Josef Newgarden pad his point lead and five drivers fail to make it through Turn 2 of Lap 1.

That wreck produced red flag stoppage No. 1, moments after the green flag fell at 2:47 p.m. (EDT). Red flag stoppage No. 2 for lightning at 5:35 p.m. eventually led to the race being declared official at 5:55 p.m., amid continued speculation this could have been the seventh and final INDYCAR-sanctioned event at “The Tricky Triangle.”

The post-race facts affecting the 2019 driver’s championship with three races remaining momentarily were overshadowed by Power’s first win of 2019. Power extended his streak of consecutive IndyCar Series seasons with at least one victory to 13 in a row, a run dating to the 2007 Champ Car World Series schedule.

“Big relief,” said Power, a winner at Pocono for the third time in four years. “Just one of those years that hasn’t flowed very well for me. I’ve been quick, I’ve been there. A few errors on my part, things not falling our way. Absolutely over the moon to finally win a race this season. Yeah, the guys working on the car, they’ve worked their asses off this year. Just had bad runs. Awesome, awesome. Great feeling.”

Team Penske drivers Will Power and Simon Pagenaud landed on the podium at Pocono on Sunday.

Power’s 13-year streak is second only to Dixon, the five-time/reigning series champion from Chip Ganassi Racing who has won IndyCar Series races in 15 consecutive seasons. Victory also gave Power sole possession of seventh place in career victories with 36, breaking a tie with Penske-ex Bobby Unser.

Power took the lead from Dixon on Lap 115 and pushed his advantage to 6.1-seconds before the caution waved for lightning and the impending downpour.

“Yeah, I was very determined today, especially knowing I had the car to do it,” said Power, who led 31 laps in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet.  “Kind of sat back and saved fuel a lot. Yeah, got the car right. The car was very fast, as well. When my spotter said, ‘The rain is coming,’ I just turned the fuel up and I went as fast as I could. Yeah, it was good, good day.”

Ditto for Dixon, who methodically has logged finishes of second, second, first and second over the past month to resurrect his shot at a sixth championship. Dixon’s finish here, coupled with Newgarden’s fifth-place result, re-tightened a title chase featuring four drivers within 52 points heading into the final three races.

Teams will next compete on the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Ill., on Saturday night. Portland International Raceway’s 1.964-mile/12-turn street course will host the series on Sept. 1, the second year of INDYCAR’s return to the Pacific Northwest. The season-ender is booked for WeatherTech Raceway-Laguna Seca’s 2.258-mile/11-turn layout in Monterey, Calif., on Sept. 22.

Team Penske’s Newgarden _ who started on-pole via entrant points after qualifying was (what else?) rained-out Saturday _ extended his championship lead from 16 to 35 points (535-500) over Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport. Rossi finished 18th in the 22-car field after getting swept up in the opening-lap, multi-car incident triggered by the ever-aggressive Takuma Sato. Rossi then sat through a 10-lap pit box penalty for unapproved work conducted by his crew under the red flag before returning to the fray.

“It was kind of an interesting day, but it could have been worse,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “It was sort of like where qualifying got rained-out but we started on the pole. We didn’t finish this race but we finished fifth. We’ll take it.

Josef Newgarden extended his points lead on Sunday.

“I wish we could have been a little bit higher, but I think Will was going to be tough to beat today. He looked very strong. Certainly towards the middle of the race I thought he was looking very good. Coming out of here with a decent finish allows us to now focus on the last three events.”

Pagenaud set the early pace in his No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet en route to leading four times for a race-high 64 laps. The reigning Indianapolis 500 champ ended his day with 495 points, 40 behind Penske teammate Newgarden.

“It’s good to be in it,” said Pagenaud, who like Dixon and Newgarden is a former series champion. “There’s three races to go, all the chances in the world for our team. We’re going to keep pushing; that’s what we’ve been doing. Just keep pushing, doing what we do, try to win races. That’s going to be the name of the game until the end. I love it.”

Dixon sits fourth in the championship with 483 points, or 52 behind Newgarden, as he mounts yet another late-season charge for team-owner Ganassi.

“I think that’s kind of the team’s M.O., to be honest,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Honda overseen by race strategist Mike Hull. “Last year, we took the lead of the championship at Texas and carried it through, which was very different, felt a lot different. It’s a lot more stressful that way. The team, even Dario’s (Franchitti) championships were similar to that scenario. The start of the year, midway you’re kind of there, but really came on in the latter parts of the year.

“Sometimes that down part creates determination not just in yourself but also in the team. It also allows you a little bit of difference, maybe in strategy can you take more risks, you can go for race wins. If you get on a roll, it just starts to feel good for everybody and it kind of continues a little bit longer. There’s been many championships won many different ways. Josef took the lead for the championship the first race, so we’ll see.”

Dixon and Pagenaud were trailed by sensational American rookie Santino Ferrucci, who tied a career-best fourth in his fourth oval-track start after avoiding the massive Lap 1 crash. Sato was racing three-wide and on the high-line alongside Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay only seconds after the start. Sato suddenly darted left and into Rossi’s car, which collected RHR’s to his left and sent all three into the spin cycle at over 200 mph.

Team owner Roger Penske had a successful day at Pocono.

Sato’s car rebounded onto and up the track, where it whacked the car of rookie Felix Rosenqvist _ lifting it onto the Safer Barrier wall. The Swede’s No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda rode the white wall for several hundred yards before slamming to the tarmac right-side up. Sato’s No. 30 Honda, however, landed upside down and resting on the wreckage of Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Honda. The melee also collected the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda driven by James Hinchcliffe, who was attempting to slow down and avoid the unfolding mess.

Rossi, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe and Sato were checked and released from the infield care center, while Rosenqvist was transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital for further evaluation of non-life-threatening injuries. Tests proved negative and Rosenqvist later was released.

“First of all, it’s good to see that I’m cleared from the medical checks,” said Rosenqvist, competing in his fourth career oval race. “Just with minor back pain and some headache. Hopefully I should be back to normal in a couple of days. A big thanks to the INDYCAR track staff and medical staff, did an awesome job looking after everything. Luckily the other drivers are OK as well, I think that’s the main thing. A shame that we were caught out already on Lap 1.”

The race was red-flagged for 45 minutes to clean debris and repair the fencing in Turn 2. Meanwhile, the crews for Rossi, Hinchcliffe and RHR were penalized by race stewards for unapproved repairs performed during the red flag. All three drivers were handed 10-lap pit box penalties, beginning when their cars were presented for competition.

Sunday’s carnage reintroduced “the elephant in the Media Center” this weekend _ the grinding, multiple-car crash last Aug. 19 here that paralyzed Robert Wickens from the waist down. Wickens,  driving for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, suffered a thoracic spinal fracture, a neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion. The native Canadian continues a rigorous rehabilitation program with the goals of walking and racing again.

Pocono also was the site of the fatal crash on Aug. 23, 2015 involving Justin Wilson, who was struck in the helmet by a large piece of debris off the car of race-leader Sage Karam. Wilson, of Great Britain, suffered a traumatic brain injury and died the following day.

Rossi, who took the green flag alongside Newgarden in Row 1, admittedly did not make a good start in his No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda and blamed himself for sliding backward. “But we were three-wide; Ryan was on the inside, I was in the middle and Takuma was on the outside,” Rossi said. “I can’t even begin to understand how after last year Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable. To turn across two cars, at that speed, in that corner at a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and may have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting.

“This team works too hard to have something like that happen. The whole team worked tirelessly to get the No. 27 car back on track. Once we got out there, the car just didn’t have the handling we needed so we held on to make up as many points as we could. Unfortunately, the weather came and the race was called one lap before we could gain another spot. We have a couple days to rebound and go for race wins now _ that’s all that matters.” 

An apologetic and sullen Sato was penalized for avoidable contact; INDYCAR also announced his conduct was subject to post-event review. Sato expressed concern for Rosenqvist, then added, “I am sorry for all the guys fighting for the championship. Ryan and I were obviously racing at the exit of Turn 1 and it looks like Alexander had a slow start. We both went right and left (of Rossi) and I thought it was all clear. All the (track) seams also are putting the car really easy to get the lane change and everybody gets close. Unfortunately, it looks like we made contact for that.”

Power also alluded to the track surface seams and their effect on these cars, but didn’t totally absolve the popular “Taku” from blame.

“Looking at the replay, I don’t know what happened there, whether Sato got a seam or something,” Power said. “Man, I mean, you just can’t do that. Yeah, the seams down the back there, you’ll see cars move around a lot. Maybe that’s what happened. Being three-wide, pretty tough going into there. Being close, like it will move half-a-foot, six inches either way when you’re on it.

“Yeah, it really sucked to see the yellow in Turn 2 on the first lap. I feel bad for the guys that were taken out that were in the championship hunt, too, especially Rossi. Man, you just got to respect these places in every situation.”

That narrative only added to pre-race speculation that INDYCAR officials were planning exclude Pocono from the 2020 schedule. INDYCAR returned open-wheel racing to Pocono in 2013 after a 24-year absence. But an industry source said the 2020 schedule will drop the facility and add Richmond International Raceway’s 0.75-mile oval in Virginia.

However, an IndyCar Series source said Saturday negotiations were continuing this weekend between INDYCAR officials and the management of Pocono International Raceway, Inc.  The track’s interest was represented by Nick Igdalsky, Pocono Raceway CEO, Director of The Mattioli Foundation and a grandson of facility founders Dr. Joseph and Dr. Rose Mattioli. Ideally, the 2020 schedule will be ready for release around Sept. 1, the source said.

Those rumors likely played into the homage paid to Dr. Rose Mattioli by drivers during pre-race introduction ceremonies.  Dr. Rose and her late husband, “Doc” Mattioli, have owned Pocono Raceway since 1968, forging an enduring relationship with NASCAR’s France Family as well as the U.S. Auto Club, Championship Auto Racing Teams and INDYCAR in the open-wheel world.

Seated in a wheelchair under sunny skies and ambient temperatures in the mid-80s, Dr. Rose greeted each driver with a hug and/or kiss and the drivers responded in-kind _ chatting briefly perhaps for the last time. Those emotions were not lost on Sunday’s podium finishers after another bizarro weekend.

“Honestly, I feel bad for Pocono,” said Dixon, who won the 2013 return race here. “The group of people here that work, they work extremely hard. I felt the crowd today at the start of the race was fantastic. It was gaining some really good momentum. Hopefully it does continue.

“But down to weather, some mistakes that have happened on-track, honestly they could happen anywhere. If you look at Justin or Robby, those can happen anywhere. I feel bad that it gets a bit of a bad taste in that scenario. I think the drivers in a lot of situations can do a better job to help that.

“Honestly, I hope we come back. I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everybody here at Pocono, the fans and everybody that come out, because it’s definitely a tough place. Will can tell you how rewarding it is to win here just because it is so difficult to get it right.”

Pocono’s list of open-wheel winners began with Mark Donohue on July 3, 1971 and includes A.J. Foyt Jr., Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Hunter-Reay and Rossi. Power’s first two wins here were scored back-to-back in 2016-17.

“I agree. It’s a great oval for us,” Power said. ”Obviously some unfortunate accidents here, like Scott said, that could happen anywhere. Kind of got a bad rap for that.

“The crowd is up 15 percent every year we come back. It’s getting better. Like Scott said, the crowd was great today. It’s a good racetrack, man. A good track for racing. I really hope we come back, I do. I think the guys do a great job. A cool track for us. It’s hard to find good ovals these days that suit our cars.”

In addition to being a “fun track to drive on,” Pagenaud pointed to the demographics involved for INDYCAR in courting the combined Philadelphia and New York City markets for potential corporate sponsorships and fans. The NYC metro market is ranked No. 1 in population; Philly is No. 8.

“Close to New York, a great market for INDYCAR,” said Pagenaud, whose post-Indy 500 victory tour in May featured an extra day of media visits in The Big Apple. “It’s an opportunity to bring people from New York to the Indy car races. Really enjoy that.

“I love personally superspeedways. I think it’s been the best, like they said. Obviously when you’re traveling at such high speed, you know a crash is going to be a big crash.

“Hopefully we can come back and hopefully we can keep working with the people at Pocono because it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been racing here since 2012 in the series. I’ve enjoyed it more and more every year. So we’ll see what happens next.”

Round 15 of the schedule is the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis. NTT P1 Award qualifying will be held Friday at 6:15 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (XM 209, Sirius 217, Internet/App 970). The 248-lap race is scheduled for Saturday with NBCSN’s coverage beginning at 8 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 8:45 p.m., with the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network available on all affiliates plus XM 209, Sirius 98 and Internet/App 970.

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Results of Sunday’s rain-shortened ABC Supply 500 NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, entrant/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any). All cars compete with the Dallara IR-18 chassis and Firestone tires:

1. (5) Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, 128, Running

2. (4) Scott Dixon, PNC Bank Honda, 128, Running

3. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Penske Truck Rental Team Penske Chevrolet, 128, Running

4. (13) Santino Ferrucci-(R), Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda, 128, Running

5. (1) Josef Newgarden, Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 128, Running

6. (15) Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, 128, Running

7. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, SealMaster Honda, 128, Running

8. (19) Tony Kanaan, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet, 128, Running

9. (8) Graham Rahal, TOTAL Honda, 128, Running

10. (21) Charlie Kimball, Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet, 128, Running

11. (22) Conor Daly, Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet, 128, Running

12. (16) Marcus Ericsson-(R), Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 128, Running

13. (18) Zach Veach, Gainbridge Honda, 127, Running

14. (20) Matheus Leist, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet, 127, Running

15. (17) Marco Andretti, U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda, 126, Running

16. (14) Colton Herta-(R), Capstone Turbine Honda, 72, Contact

17. (12) Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, 39, Contact

18. (2) Alexander Rossi, MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, 39, Running

19. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, DHL Honda, 25, Contact

20. (10) James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 19, Contact 

21. (7) Takuma Sato, Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda, 0, Contact

22. (9) Felix Rosenqvist-(R), NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, 0, Contact

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed:  168.771 mph

Time of Race: 1:53:45.8296

Margin of victory: Under caution

Cautions: 4 for 23 laps

Lead changes: 12 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders

Pagenaud, Simon 1 – 36

Dixon, Scott 37

Newgarden, Josef 38

Power, Will 39 – 40

Pagenaud, Simon 41 – 47

Power, Will 48 – 50

Pagenaud, Simon 51 – 70

Power, Will 71 – 77

Dixon, Scott 78 – 105

Pagenaud, Simon 106

Power, Will 107 – 111

Dixon, Scott 112 – 114

Power, Will 115 – 128

NTT IndyCar Series point standings _1, Joseph Newgarden, Team Penske, 535; 2, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 500; 3, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 495; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 483; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 407; 6, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 344; 7, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 334; 8, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 331; 9, Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 304; 10, Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan, 300.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 19 2019
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