At Pocono, fastest IndyCar event ever

ASSOCIATED PRESS Juan Pablo Montoya gets a kiss from his wife, Connie Freydell, after he won the Pocono IndyCar 500.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Juan Pablo Montoya gets a kiss from his wife, Connie Freydell, after he won the Pocono IndyCar 500.
Posted: July 08, 2014

LONG POND, Pa. - Rarely have so many been so happy to see a caution flag waved at a race.

Yesterday's Pocono IndyCar 500 went 159 laps, a record for a 500-mile open-wheel race, before a caution period occurred. Graham Rahal's spin brought out the yellow flag. Until then, there were few passes for the lead in the 200-lap race at Pocono Raceway and no drama that restarts create.

When the race resumed, Juan Pablo Montoya damaged the front wing on his Chevrolet-powered car passing Penske teammate Will Power. Despite the damage, Montoya led 25 laps late in the race (45 total) to win the fastest IndyCar event ever. The average speed for the 2 hour 28 minute 13 second race was 202.402 mph.

Montoya finished 2.34 seconds ahead of Helio Castroneves, another teammate.

Montoya, the polesitter with a track-qualifying record 223.871 mph clocking, gained his first victory since returning this year after 7 years racing in NASCAR. Two years ago, Montoya also won the pole for the August NASCAR race at Pocono. Maybe he should be renamed Juan "Pole-o" Montoya, or "Mountain Man" Montoya.

Asked if his NASCAR experience at Pocono was any advantage, Montoya replied, "No, the cars are so different. We go over 10 seconds a lap quicker [than stock cars]. The only way it helped is I knew where the [three] corners were when we came here and tested."

As expected, Montoya's return to IndyCar took some adjustment. Prior to NASCAR, Montoya, 38, raced Indy cars and Formula One.

"It takes time; it's a lot harder than people realize," the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner said. "Driving open wheels is so different from what I was driving the last few years."

Montoya agreed that he is a smarter driver now than when he was as a younger out-of-my-way racer.

"NASCAR really showed me to look at the bigger picture," the Colombian said. "Ninety percent of the open-wheel guys never look at the bigger picture, and I probably lost Formula One championships by not looking at the bigger picture. It's a shame you can't turn back to be 20 again with this experience."

Regarding his contact with Power two laps following the restart, Montoya said, "It was my only shot of passing Will: I had to take it. It was a win move."

Power was not pleased with a drive-through penalty he was assessed with 25 laps to go for blocking Castroneves as they sped into Turn 1.

"I actually let him go and went wide on the brakes," Power said after leading the second-most laps (69). Power finished 10th.

With double points awarded for the 500-mile races in the Verizon IndyCar series, Montoya is now fourth in the standings, 55 behind co-leaders Power and Castroneves. With seven races remaining on the schedule suddenly Montoya is thinking championship.

"At this point we've got to step it up and work a little harder because I think we're in position now to win the championship," he said.

Tony Kanaan led the most laps (78) yesterday, but had to pit with four laps remaining as the leader for a splash-and-go fuel stop and finished 11th. Kanaan, last year's Indy 500 winner, was seeking his first victory of the season.

"I think it shows a lot about what this team and I are capable of when we get the [car] setup right," he said. "It's obviously frustrating to dominate a race like that and not win. It's heartbreaking, but that is racing."

One reason for the single caution period was only 21 cars started the race. With less traffic there is a reduced likelihood of contact. The traditional starting field for 500-mile IndyCar races is 33 cars.

Following a Saturday crash in practice, rookie Jack Hawksworth sustained a myocardial contusion and was not cleared to race. Hawksworth stayed overnight at an Allentown hospital and was released yesterday.

Attendance drops

Attendance for the race wasn't the disaster that Brandon Igdalsky, Pocono's president and CEO, warned it might be. The crowd was in the 15,000-20,000 range, but it was at least 5,000 fewer than last year. Igdalsky indicated if support for the race isn't better it might not return next year.

Pit stops * 

Scott Dixon, last year's Pocono winner, climbed through the field to finish fifth. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay encountered early suspension problems on his Honda and finished 18th.

* Marco Andretti finished ninth. He ran fifth early in the race, then faded to 18th before recovering.

"The race for us was blown from the beginning [with] the pit-lane penalty [for speeding on lap 31]," the Nazareth, Pa., resident said. "I'm not sure where they got me speeding. We never really rebounded after the penalty, making for a really frustrating 500 miles."

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