Pocono Preview

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Later today, Susan and I will be boarding a northbound flight for the Poconos to attend this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Unlike our grueling flight to Road America, which left Nashville at 5:30 am and routed us through Kansas City before eventually landing us in Milwaukee; our flight today leaves Nashville at a leisurely 1:00 pm and lands in semi-beautiful Newark, NJ at 4:00 (losing an hour). Assuming Friday rush-hour traffic isn’t too bad heading west out of New Jersey, we should get to our hotel around 6:30 or so. We may eat dinner along the way, or after we check in. It really doesn’t matter since there is no scheduled IndyCar track activity until 9:30 tomorrow morning. Leisurely travel days are nice when there are no looming deadlines.

I love going to Pocono. I first went in 2016. I liked it so much, I went back in 2017. Both times were part of a “guy’s trip”, when Paul Dalbey (Fieldof33.com) and I would meet up in Indianapolis and leave one car there. Then we would ride together the rest of the way, across Ohio and three-quarters of the way across Pennsylvania. This year, Paul and I are both going, but this year we are taking our spouses, and this will be the first time at Pocono for both of them. Susan and I are flying, while Paul and Kelli are driving up. Since I just changed jobs, I have no vacation time built up and I’m having to take this trip and next week’s trip to Gateway as “Time without pay”. Ouch! That’s why we’re flying – to save time.

There are many things I like about Pocono, one of which is that it seems very quaint. That’s a polite way of saying that it’s somewhat dated, but in a good way. Facilities like Fontana and Sonoma have new buildings everywhere and appear to be continually updated. Pocono Raceway reminds me of Road America in that aspect. The facilities all have a 1970s feel to them, mainly because it first opened in 1971. Their website claims that constant improvements have been done to the track and facilities since 1990, If that’s true, they did a good job of retaining the 1970s feel – but again, I don’t say that as a bad thing. I like the feel of old things. I almost feel like I’m stepping into a time-machine when I go to Pocono and I like that. Their facilities have a lot more character and personality than some of the cookie-cutter tracks that opened in the 1990s and 2000s.

I will say that the Media Center at Pocono seems to have undergone a facelift recently. Other than IMS, it has one of the most spacious Media Centers I’ve been in. At some Media Centers, they reserve seats for the top IndyCar writers, but the rest of us underlings have to fight for the few remaining seats left – sometimes relegating the latecomers to folding chairs in the lobby or off to the side. Not at Pocono. Everyone has an assigned seat and on IndyCar weekends, less than half of the Media Center is occupied.

Just next door to the Media Center at Pocono is the “Wives and Girlfriends Lounge”, which is literally what it says on the door. I guess it is a by-product of the early seventies when women in the pits and garages were still considered taboo. I went in there a couple of times to use the restroom when the one in the Media Center was full. It was like stepping into a 1968 funeral home, with pinkish lighting and lace everywhere. But while using their restroom, I noticed that the place was always bustling with people – I just don’t really know who they were.

There is one tunnel that connects the pits and garage area to the stands across the track. You enter the tunnel through a stairway in a little white house on the pits side. The stairway takes a few turns and dumps you out into a dimly lighted tunnel that has an unmistakably musty smell. And for some unknown reason, the floor is always wet. Unlike going under the tunnels at IMS, there is no daylight visible at the other end. It seems to go on forever. But when you emerge on the other side, you have complete access to the vast twin-spire grandstands along with the concession area. Despite the dampness along the way, it’s worth the journey.

Pocono Raceway was built with Indy cars in mind. It is a two and a half mile tri-oval, known as The Tricky Triangle with three distinct turns, supposedly built to replicate turns at other famous race tracks. Turn One is a sharp, almost hairpin-like turn that was built to resemble the now-defunct Trenton Speedway, with 14° banking. Turn Two, also known as the Tunnel Turn because it goes over the access tunnel for transporters to enter the infield, was built with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in mind. It is a 90° turn with 9° banking. Turn Three is modeled after the Milwaukee Mile, with it’s 6° of banking. There is no Turn Four.

IndyCar ran there from 1971 through 1989, before the track was deemed too rough for Indy cars. For twenty-four years, there was no IndyCar racing at Pocono until the series returned in 2013.

There is some question if IndyCar will return to Pocono after this weekend’s race. Attendance has not been good, but it has improved slightly in recent years. I’ve seen where some fans don’t want Pocono on the schedule anymore, since it was the site of Justin Wilson’s fatal accident in 2015 and where Robert Wickens had his frightening crash last year that has left him a paraplegic for now. I don’t buy into that logic. While those were both tragic circumstances, I feel they were isolated cases. You can’t remove venues from the schedule every time there is a fatality or serious injury, so long as there is no inherent design flaw in the track.

Unlike most of the tracks that have dropped off of the IndyCar schedule in recent years, Pocono wants to continue. With NASCAR going to one double-header weekend next year – Pocono needs events and they want the NTT IndyCar Series to return. But apparently, Pocono and IndyCar are having trouble getting together on a sanctioning fee to continue. On Tuesday, Adam Stern of The Sports Business Journal reported that word in the IndyCar paddock says Pocono is unlikely to be on the IndyCar schedule.

That would be a shame. Pocono is a great track in a beautiful part of the country. It’s a great destination race; otherwise I wouldn’t be going there for the third time in four years. We’ve lost Fontana and Michigan and the series needs another large super-speedway and another five-hundred mile race besides Indianapolis on the schedule. If Pocono falls off of the 2020 schedule, I blame IndyCar for failing to get it done.

One thing that always puzzled me about Pocono’s IndyCar weekend was the lack of track activity. There are no support races. No level of the Road to Indy goes to Pocono. Those that travel great distances on Saturday are treated to a morning IndyCar practice, qualifying two hours later and then another practice more than three hours after the end of qualifying. During the down times, there are at least some vintage race cars that will parade around the track. Then after the final practice on Saturday, there is TQ Midget Racing at the end of the pits. To be honest, that’s better than the other two years I went when there was hardly anything when Indy cars were not on the track.

But before we get too far ahead worrying about next year, there is still a race to run. Conor Daly will be back in the No. 59 car, vacated by Max Chilton on ovals, for this weekend at Pocono as well as next weekend’s race at Gateway. He will be teamed with Charlie Kimball in the No. 23 Tresiba car. The only other oddity of note is that Simon Pagenaud will be carrying sponsorship from Penske Truck Rental. While I love the resemblance to Al Unser’s 1987 Indianapolis 500 winner, am I the only one that thinks it odd that the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner cannot get sponsorship outside of his own car-owner. I know it is touted as the 50th anniversary for Penske Truck Rental and they are a Pennsylvania company, but I always considered it a not-so-good look when a car-owner had to put sponsorship from one of his own companies on the sidepods. Alexander Rossi will not be in his usual NAPA livery. Instead, he will be carrying the colors of MilitatyToMotorsports.com.

Since the NTT IndyCar Series returned to Pocono in 2013, there have been six races, Honda has won three, Chevy has won three. Team Penske won three of them, Andretti Autosport won two and Chip Ganassi Racing won the first one with Scott Dixon in 2013. No driver has dominated at Pocono since IndyCar’s return like Alexander Rossi did last year. The box score shows that Rossi won by about four and a half seconds, but it seemed much greater than that. Rossi led 180 of the 200 laps of the race that was marred by the aforementioned crash of Robert Wickens.

So who will win this year’s race and possibly the last IndyCar race at Pocono for a while? The engine comparisons at Pocono don’t tell us anything, and all of the Big-Three have all won there. But Will Power is the only multiple winner at Pocono since the series returned in 2013. Will Power has also won every time I’ve been to Pocono. So instead of using advanced analytics to predict a winner, I’ll just go off of that piece of trivia to predict that Will Power will win Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

As usual, Susan and I will both be posting through the weekend from the track. But with no track activity until Saturday, this will be it for today. You may follow us on Twitter. Follow me at @Oilpressureblog and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Practice One gets underway at 9:30 am EDT Saturday and can be seen on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying takes place at 12:30 pm EDT. There seems to be some discrepancy on the schedules. According to the IndyCar website, qualifying can be seen live on NBCSN. However, a check of my Comcast channel guide shows qualifying being shown two hours delayed at 2:30 pm EDT, but if you have NBC Sports Gold, you can watch it commercial free live at 12:30 pm EDT. The final practice begins at 4:00 pm EDT and will be available on NBC Sports Gold. The race broadcast begins Sunday at 2:00 pm EDT on NBCSN, with the green flag flying around 2:45 pm EDT. Check back here tomorrow and through the weekend.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Pocono Preview”

  1. Look at George, weekending in the Poconos. This blogging gig must be paying off! 🙂

    I have mixed thoughts on Pocono. I believe it was 2017 that had a really great race but most of the others since they returned have not been memorable. And I agree with Robin Miller, 500 miles is too long with only 22-24 cars on such a big track. With the lack of activity it’s not one I would consider traveling to.

    Speaking of traveling, I’ve gone to the last two Gateway races but I’m undecided if I’m going this year. I’ve already been to four IndyCar races this year and the budget is a bit tight, but I can do Gateway for pretty cheap so I’m considering it. Lots of on-track activity there, and I think they added a race with one of the NASCAR feeder series for this year, K&N series maybe?

  2. We’ll be looking for you guys! Bringing my 5 y/o for her first Indycar race. See you Sunday

  3. I don’t fly and perhaps one reason is that you had to go to Kansas City to get to Milwaukee. And having to fly to New Jersey to get to PA seems like punishment for some past sin.

  4. JShellabarger Says:

    Brandon if you’re considering Gateway – Paddock Passes for race day are $40 or for the weekend are $50, and tickets are still available (good tickets) at all price points. Next Saturday will be a full day of racing – there are four races going to take place in the afternoon-evening… Indy Pro 2000, Indy Lights, K&N Nascar and Indycar under the lights. Gateway is a fun place to spend the day, and it’s a short car ride into St. Louis, Mo.

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