One-hundred more miles in the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway and 100 more championship points equals an exciting July 6 at “The Tricky Triangle.”
Forty laps (100 miles) were added this year for the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco to match the distances of the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale at Auto Club Speedway to cast a version of the Triple Crown that was run from 1971-80 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway. When Ontario closed in 1980, it was replaced by Michigan International Speedway and the Triple Crown stretched to 1989.
This year's Triple Crown races offer double points (100 to the winner, 90 to runner-up, etc., to 16 points for 22nd place). Bonus points are available for the Verizon P1 Award (one point), leading a race lap (one point) and leading the most race laps (two points).
With eight races left, every point is crucial.
“It’s a huge swing and it can happen that easily, especially at a double-points weekend like Pocono,” said Hunter-Reay, who started in the middle of an Andretti Autosport front-row sweep last July at Pocono. “If one of your rivals has a bad day and you have a good one, all of the sudden you’re right back on top of it. Anything can happen very fast. I saw that first-hand coming off Indy. Pocono will carry a lot of weight.”
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The Indianapolis 500 victory vaulted Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 DHL car, to the top of the standings by 40 points over Team Penske’s Will Power and 54 ahead of Helio Castroneves. Finishes of 16th and 19th in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit the next weekend, followed by 19th place on June 7 at Texas Motor Speedway dropped him 60 points behind Power.
Sixth- and seventh-place finishes last weekend at Houston helped Hunter-Reay rebound to within two points of Castroneves and the front-running Power by 41 points.
Last year, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing rode the victory at Pocono and a sweep of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader the following week to move from seventh in the standings to second (29 points behind Castroneves).
“Adding 100 miles to Pocono and more points is going to be important,” said Castroneves, who will drive the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car. “So we’re going to focus on having a good setup. It’s going to be a long day, probably five to eight pit stops.”
Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter, who won the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway last month, said an extra 40 laps would have helped him gain on the front-runners last July.
“The biggest difference is that it allows for more time to improve your position, more time for other people to make mistakes, more time for alternate strategies to play out,” said Carpenter, who finished ninth at Pocono last year. “I just think it makes it more intriguing to the teams to have the longer races.
“I feel like our ECR/Fuzzy's team has a good foundation for the ovals right now. And we will need that during the long race at Pocono. Conditions will change throughout the race.”