As the teams and drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series make their way to the Pocono Mountains region of Pennsylvania for the ABC Supply 500 at the two and a half mile tricky triangular layout founded by the Mattioli family, several parameters will be focused upon.
Of course, the question of whether or not Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud can be caught for the championship will be further answered after the twin checkered flags fly on Sunday. Also after posting lackluster results since his improbable Indianapolis 500 victory in May, can Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi return to contending form in what will be the next to last oval track race of the 2016 season. This fact is now a reality following the delay of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway to one week from now after persistent rains prevented on track action in June.
In terms of the first question, the scenario could be further extended to whether or not Team Penske sweeps the top three places in the championship standings following the final race of the season at Sonoma Raceway in California. In addition to Pagenaud, who currently holds a 58-point lead on the rest of the drivers on the list, teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves are the closest in pursuit to the Frenchman. The closest non-Penske entity is Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden in fourth, but trailing Pagenaud by 120 points likely means little to no chance at the title for the Tennessee-native minus the fact that Sonoma’s finale is worth double the normal awarded points.
If Pagenaud follows the path created by his efforts in the first three Pocono Raceway events since the IndyCars returned to the unusual layout for the first time since 1989, the ground gained on him by the pack should be limited. Although the Frenchman has not necessarily been a threat for victory in any of the Pennsylvania 500-milers to date, he has also placed no worse than seventh in his three starts.
Although Power has never been known as a fan of the high speeds oval tracks, earning most of his victories on road and street circuit venues, the Australian has a pair of fourth place efforts at Pocono, whilst finishing tenth in the other appearance. Not surprisingly, Castroneves the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion has also taken well to the similar long straightaway, low banked turn design at Pocono, having finished second here two years ago. However, the Brazilian did fail to finish the same event here last year.
As for the former winners of the ABC Supply 500, all three will be in action on Sunday, with fellow Team Penske pilot Juan Pablo Montoya among them. Despite starting the 2016 campaign with a win at St. Petersburg, Florida, the Colombian has endured a frustrating run since. In the last seven rounds of the championship, Montoya has only two top ten finishes, coupled with three did not finish runs, including a last place result in this year’s Indianapolis 500.
The recent trail has also been a rough ride for Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending champion of the ABC Supply 500. The 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series has placed no better than 12th in the past rounds, while 2013 Pocono race winner Scott Dixon of Chip Ganasssi Racing, like Montoya, has suffered three failed to finish efforts in the past seven events.
Among the dark horse picks for Sunday, included of course is this year’s Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi. As mentioned previously, the ex-Formula One racer and test driver has struggled since drinking the milk in May, placing in the top ten only two times in the six events since Indy. However, if the California-native can stretch out the fuel as he successfully did at the Brickyard, a clean sweep of the 500-mile races is certainly a possible scenario.
A maiden 500-mile race win is also possible for two-time Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz, a teammate to Rossi at Andretti Autosport. Although he earned his way to IndyCars via road course success, the Colombian has taken well to the high speed ovals. Along with his success at Indy, Munoz has a pair of top fives in the two Pocono races he has previously contested.
Of course, Sunday’s race will also have some memorial moments included as the event takes place one year removed from Justin Wilson’s fatal accident suffered in last year’s race. Sunday is also the first IndyCar Series race since three-time Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson was also killed in a USAC race accident in Belleville, Illinois two weeks ago. In Clauson’s memory, Dale Coyne Racing and 2016 Indy 500 teammate Conor Daly will carry the No. 88 on his car at Pocono, the same number used by Clauson this year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.