Random Thoughts On Pocono

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As I said yesterday in my post-race wrap-up, from where I was in Turn Two – the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway was a very good race. I may have missed in my prediction that it would be the best race of the season, but the last ten laps were pretty special.

I’m not sure what was more spectacular; Will Power coming back from a lap to build a lead and eventually win the race for the second year in a row, or Josef Newgarden whittling down that commanding lead to where he almost won himself. In the end, it was Will Power doing whatever he could to hold off Newgarden. From where I was in Turn Two, I could see that going into Turn Three was the best place to pass yesterday. Power apparently knew that too, because I could see him weaving around going into Turn Three to block whatever move Newgarden might make to overtake him. It worked.

Being at the track is so unique. If television does any sport a disservice, it’s motor racing. When you are on your couch, you see what the director thinks you should see. When you are at the track, not only do you get that true sense of speed as cars go by – you also get to choose what you want to see. From my spot in Turn Two, I could see everything from the cars entering Turn One all the way to the exit of Turn Three. The only time I lost sight of any car was when they were on the main straightaway and the view was blocked by the structures on the inside of the front stretch. There were drivers I was interested in following and there were certain battles I was watching develop.

You can’t follow cars all the way around at Indianapolis, but you can at Pocono. Saturday, I went to watch practice at the top of the grandstands. From there, I could follow one car completely around the 2.5-mile oval. Unless you can find a way to watch the race from the top of The Pagoda, there is no way you can follow a car completely around the track at Indianapolis with your own eyes.

To me, this was a great race. There were major point-battle implications riding on it. There were battles within teams and drives that took a lot of guts. Less than twenty-four hours before the race started, many in the Media Center were debating who might substitute for Ryan Hunter-Reay after his big crash in qualifying on Saturday. Some said it would be Sage Karam, who was on the grounds, while others speculated it might be Spencer Pigot. Some even said that Sébastien Bourdais might get the nod, even though he wasn’t on-site. Most were in agreement that Hunter-Reay would not be able to drive. But I heard Robin Miller tell a few people in the paddock that Hunter-Reay was going to drive. Miller was right again.

But make no mistake, Hunter-Reay was moving slowly and was in a lot of pain. He started from the back of the field and quickly moved up. He was at or near the front of the field and should probably be disappointed that he finished as far back as eighth. I don’t know this, but I’m guessing that the race took its toll and Hunter-Reay was plain worn out. He deserves huge praise for even stepping into the car, much less for being a major factor in the race.

Helio Castroneves drove a good race to start twentieth and finish seventh. By Lap Two, I noticed that Helio had already moved from twentieth to eleventh. He spent most of the day running anywhere from ninth to sixth and should be happy with seventh even though he is now down twenty-two points in the championship battle with three races to go.

Carlos Muñoz also deserves some recognition. The Foyt team has struggled all season t0 come to grips with the Chevy engine and aero kit. This weekend appeared to be no better as Conor Day qualified seventeenth and Muñoz eighteenth. While Daly soldiered on to a fourteenth place finish, Muñoz was on fire late in the race and was sometimes in the Top-Five legitimately without the illusion that pit stop shuffles provide. Muñoz finished tenth.

But the drive of the race has to be from Will Power. He fell a lap down and appeared to be headed to a very disappointing day, when the yellow for Sebastian Saavedra’s crash on Lap 116 allowed Power to get back on the lead lap. From there, Power’s day turned to pure magic as everything fell in place and he built a huge lead over whoever was in second place and appeared to be coasting. Then Josef Newgarden showed up and made things very interesting to those of us in attendance and for those at home.

TV Coverage: Although I was obviously at the race, I did set my DVR. I will watch the coverage when I get home. If there is anything really good or really bad, I’ll be sure and comment about it later in the week.

Shame on NE fans: Pocono is said to be perfectly situated as a two-hour drive from New York City and Philadelphia. I don’t know the exact population of those two metropolitan areas, but suffice it to say that it is several million people. Supposedly, there are a ton of open-wheel race fans in this area – but they weren’t at Pocono yesterday.

Last year was understandable. The weather forecast was ominous and it delivered as planned in the form of a deluge on Race Day. This year, an ideal forecast was out there all week and it delivered. The weather could not have been better, yet there weren’t many fans in the stands. Maybe I’m wrong because the stands at Pocono are massive, but they looked mostly empty throughout the race.

Pocono officials did a great job promoting this race, but the fans didn’t seem to care. I’ve been to Pocono twice, but I really have nothing to compare it to. Last year’s race was run on Monday, which predictably had no one attending. I was expecting a better crowd than what I saw. It concerns me that what is supposedly a hotbed for open-wheel racing doesn’t show up to see a good race at a great venue on a beautiful day.

Great venue: Speaking of great venues, put Pocono Raceway on your to-do list right up there with IMS and Road America. It is very unique in a lot of ways. I say this in the most complimentary way, but it is like stepping into a time warp. What other race track has a Wives and Girlfriends Lounge. I don’t think it is used for that at all, but I’ve been in it and it is decorated like something out of the early seventies.

The stands have an old-school feel to them as well. The restrooms under the grand stands are still tended to by an old-fashioned restroom attendant – complete with a tip jar.

But the track is something to behold. The layout, the width and openness are like no other track. That’s why fans and drivers love it.

Plus, it’s a beautiful drive to the area. Coming from Ohio, it’s like your drive suddenly gets scenic when you cross the Pennsylvania state line. There is one section through the mountains that is marked as the highest point n the US east of the Mississippi, and I believe it. There are a lot of breathtaking views once you enter the state from the west.

I’m hoping to go back next year and bring my wife, Susan. She has chosen to sit this race out for the past two years. She doesn’t know what she’s missing. I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t been to this race to get there soon.

All in All: I thought the race was great and was further enhanced by the fun time I had in my two days at the track. Although I’ve been called an IndyCar apologist, I don’t say that about every track – I couldn’t stand NOLA for instance and had already decided we wouldn’t go back long before it was announced it was one and done.

Susan and I are going to Gateway this coming weekend. I’ve not heard the greatest things about that track, but I’m going to go there with an open mind because I’ve heard they’ve done a lot of work there to spruce it up since IndyCar last went there in 2003.

But for pure old-school racing fun – it’s hard to beat a weekend at Pocono.

George Phillips

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7 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Pocono”

  1. Correct George, Pocono is a time warp for myself. The restroom attendant with the tip jar, the double spires similar to Churchill Downs, and the 3 various turns are all unique characteristics I love. I just wish it was a little closer to central Indiana.

  2. “Slick Willy P” proved once again that he can be pretty slick on a race track. He did a masterful job of denying Newgarden opportunities to pass without blocking him during the last ten exciting laps.

    While wishing won’t get Pocono any closer to Milwaukee, I am seriously considering making the trip for all the reasons that George has mentioned here and to watch the drivers manage the Milwaukee Mile turn.

  3. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Having also been to Pocono, I agree totally with George’s assessment.

    Since Pocono returned to the schedule, I honestly feel it’s the duty of Indycar fans to make this trip at least once (once done, however, it will likely become an annual trek). Acres of camping space or hotels or AirBnBs for your lodging needs.

    Either that or don’t ever complain about the lack of ovals or historic tracks or great venues to see a race. It was built with Indycar in mind and has rededicated itself to hosting Indycar and deserves our patronage, even if it requires we make a road trip longer than others we may have.

    PS See you all Gateway this weekend!

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Why did Power go and have to ruin a good race like that?
    I’m kidding, of course. This was an excellent race, Power just happens to be near the bottom of my list of rooting interests.

    What he and his strategy (and luck) did do was turn what I thought was going to be a late race shootout into a chase, which is plenty compelling as well. I was amazed that his weave heading into turn 3 worked lap after lap, I thought for sure it would slow him down at some point and Newgarden would be able run around the outside. Rahal and Kanaan’s mid-race battle for the lead was the big highlight for me, good action.

  5. The Pocono promoters and IndyCar need to give the fans more on-track activity. If Indy Lights won’t be competing, or ARCA or the Truck Series can’t be paired with the Pocono 500, make it a one-day show. Practice, qualifying, and the race all on Sunday (or Saturday).

  6. Mark J Wick Says:

    I just finished watching the replay of the race and still have no idea how Power got in front. He was a lap down, then at the end of the field, then suddenly he has the biggest lead anyone had had all day.
    And I really wish all the announcers would stop referring to the “front nose.”
    Other than that, it was an entertaining race and well covered.

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