Sunday, August 20, 2017

Power Surge: Penske Takes Pocono

The final superspeedway race of the DW12 era may have cemented the car's legacy of putting on some tremendous oval racing. It was a thriller, boiling down to an intense finish and a winner that made one of the most impressive comebacks of the season to vault himself into the championship picture.

Coming into Sunday's ABC Supply 500 at Pocono, the main story was the razor thin points battle. Josef Newgarden had just a 7 point lead over teammate Helio Castroneves, with only 8 points separating him from Scott Dixon. Dixon was one of the favorites to win, as the Hondas have shown more speed than Chevy on the long ovals this season, and one was on the pole as Indy 500 Champ Takuma Sato took the P1 Award on Saturday.

So too a major story was the concern looming over crashes earlier in the weekend. 2012 Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay spent part of Saturday night in a hospital after a 138 G crash in qualifying. He was cleared to race but obviously reeling, speaking of pain in his hips before the race.

Free agent Tony Kanaan got off to an early lead, proving himself a factor yet again on ovals. He led the first 25 miles before being passed by Alexander Rossi.
Josef Newgarden was slicing through the pack like a hot knife through Velveeta when Esteban Gutierrez pancaked the wall on lap 22.

On the ensuing restart, Kanaan made a bonzai move around Rossi and Will Power for the lead. Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe emerged as factors as nobody could seem to gap another driver. This provided for excellent competition.

During the first green flag stops, Scott Dixon and crew began to empliment a risky strategy, pitting 2-3 laps before most of the other leaders. It seemed to pay off as he cycled out with the lead. Dixon would remain in or near the lead for most of the race.

A few laps later, at around the 1/3 mark, Will Power made an unscheduled stop to replace the front wing. It put him a lap down and looked to put him out of contention for the win.

As halfway approached, Ganassi's stronghold began to fade and the Andretti Autosport team began to shine. The injured Hunter-Reay took the lead on lap 100 with teammate Rossi in tow.

One of the most tense moments came on lap 102, with James Hinchcliffe, stuck in traffic after he overshot his stall on pit road 15 laps prior, slid high in turn one and was a breath away from disaster, correcting the car from turning sideways. Seconds later, Power made a save of his own. It just wasn't his day, or so many thought.

One lap into a restart on lap 124, disaster struck. James Hinchcliffe clipped JR Hildebrand and sent both blasting into the turn one wall. Both were okay, however. Hinch summed it up as "just a racing deal."
The safety of the DW12 just may be its legacy thanks to some of the crashes this weekend.

The ensuing restart would go on to be a captivating battle for the ages. Graham Rahal lurked around the top 5 for most of the day and finally got to the lead. Between lap 133 and 150, Rahal and TK traded the lead 16 times, breaking the Pocono 500 lead change record of 33 in the process.

A sequence of pit stops followed, and afterwards Will Power cycled out with a big lead, having 4 seconds over TK with 35 to go.

The final set of stops came with just over 20 to go, and the only team to make changes to the front wing was that of Will Power. Hoping to catch a caution for track position, Marco Andretti's team kept him on track. It did not pay off.

With 15 to go, Kanaan seemed as if he were on rails as he blistered through traffic to catch Power. But he suddenly dropped off in speed. The major players fizzled out and The Penske Games took on a whole new meaning.

Josef Newgarden had caught Power with 9 to go, working him over to make a pass to win his third race in a row. You couldn't fit a strip of bacon between the two cars as they snaked down the frontstretch.

Then, with 6 to go, Power lays down the law and shows why he's the defending race winner, breaking the draft and shutting down Josef's momentum before he even had a run coming out of turn two.
Newgarden held back and mounted a charge but was again denied with 2 to go. Then, coming to the checkered flag, Newgarden decided to go low before Power could cut him off. They ran each other all the way to the inside wall, kicking up dust in their pursuit for victory.

However, Power's move was enough to keep his teammate behind and win the ABC Supply 500. The 32nd win of his career tied him for 9th on the all time list with Paul Tracy and launched him into the championship picture. Despite being lapped for part of the race and almost spinning later on, he defied the odds, telling NBCSports "You can never give up in IndyCar because you never know what can happen."

Josef Newgarden told NBC he "can't be disappointed" with his day, and for good reason. He now holds an 18 point lead in the standings over Helio Castroneves.

But the points battle is still tight. Next week, the series returns to Gateway Raceway in St. Louis for the first time since 2003, where Helio Castroneves is a former winner, and as Will Power said, you never know what can happen.

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