PREVIEW: 2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Pocono

by Jordan Groves

This weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series returns for the latest round of the 2019 championship; the 2019 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Just four races remain until the champion is crowned next month, with four drivers realistically still in the hunt for the title. Here is everything you need to know ahead of another potentially crucial race in the 2019 IndyCar season.

What happened in 2018 at Pocono?

In qualifying for last year’s race at Pocono Raceway, Team Penske ruled the roost by locking out the front row of the grid. Will Power beat team-mate Josef Newgarden by just two-tenths of a second over the course of the two qualifying laps to take pole position, with the Andretti Autosport duo of Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay taking third and fourth on the grid ahead of the third and final Penske of Simon Pagenaud in fifth place.

Pole-sitter Power would lose the lead early to Alexander Rossi after the first caution of the race on the opening lap. The race would soon be neutralized once again on lap seven after a horrifying multi-car wreck at the fastest corner of the three-turn oval. Robert Wickens had been attempting an overtake on Ryan Hunter-Reay at turn two when the pair made contact. Wickens was sent spearing into the catch fence on the outside of the corner, with the force of the impact sending his #6 Honda into a violent mid-air spin back across the race track.

Robert’s team-mate, James Hinchcliffe, was also involved in the ensuing pile-up along with the likes of Pietro Fittipaldi and Takuma Sato. Everyone else was able to escape the accident with no major injuries, but Wickens would be airlifted to hospital where it would be later confirmed that he had been paralysed from the waist down. His amazing recovery from this horrible accident still goes on to this day.

Two hours would pass whilst repairs were made to the outside catch-fencing at turn two. When the race finally got back under-way, Rossi would begin to pull away from the field. The Californian built up an advantage of over nine seconds during the middle stages of the race, but Penske’s Power began to reel him back in as the race drew near to it’s end.

Power re-took the lead of the race during the penultimate pit-stop sequence, whilst Rossi was held-up by team-mate Zach Veach who was unlapping himself. Rossi would soon find his way back into the lead, however, when Power was dealt a similarly poor hand with the lapped traffic. The pair remained closely matched heading into the final pit-stops of the race, but Power would lose ground just before his stop after being stuck behind the lapped car of Max Chilton.

Ultimately, Rossi would emerge from his final stop with a six-second lead over Power; a lead that would not decrease by too much over the final laps of the race. Rossi would take the chequered flag to secure his third win of the second, with Power coming home in second place just over four seconds later.

Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Scott Dixon would take the final spot on the podium in third place, but he would finish forty-seconds behind Rossi and Power. Such was the pace advantage displayed by Rossi and Power, fourth-placed Sebastien Bourdais would be the final driver to finish on the lead lap of the race.

You can read the full qualifying and race report from last year’s race at Pocono by following the link below: 

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

What should I look out for this weekend?

With just four races remaining until the champion is crowned, the focus heading into this weekend’s race at Pocono will once again be on the main protagonists in the title battle. Penske’s Josef Newgarden remains the championship leader, as he has been for a vast majority of the season so far, but he now holds just a sixteen-point advantage over second-placed Alexander Rossi after spinning out on the final lap of the last race at Mid-Ohio.

If the past is anything to go by, there is a high chance that Newgarden’s advantage over Rossi could be trimmed even further. As mentioned above, Rossi put on a strong showing twelve months ago to win the race with the most laps led, with only Will Power able to match him. In fact, Rossi and Power were able to put Newgarden a lap down by the end of the race.

Of course, past performances do not mean everything. For example, Rossi utterly dominated at Mid-Ohio in 2018 but was never in contention for the win this year. Newgarden will be hoping that history does not repeat itself this time around as he tries to hold on to his advantage in the standings in order to secure his second championship victory.

Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon are the other two drivers that are realistically still in contention for the crown. Other drivers are technically in mathematical contention, but it would take a miracle for them to come out on top.

Pagenaud currently trails championship-leader Newgarden by forty-seven points, with Dixon further back with a sixty-two point deficit to Josef. Both gained solid ground on Newgarden after his mistake at Mid-Ohio, but both are still reliant on strong finishes in the next few races, as one poor result could see them knocked out of the hunt. Dixon will be hoping to be in contention for his second win at ‘the tricky triangle’, whilst Pagenaud will try to take his first win at Pocono in order to sweep both Superspeedway races this season.

For the drivers not in the championship hunt, the focus for the remaining four races this season will be on finishing as strongly as possible to build momentum heading into 2020 or to just secure themselves a seat on the grid.

Perhaps the driver with the most pressure on themselves to win is Penske’s Will Power. It is fair to say that 2019 has been a torrid season for the 2014 champion. If Will is not able to take a victory in the remaining four races, he will snap his streak of winning at least one race a season that stretches all the way back to 2007. Power was the only man who could challenge Rossi for the Pocono win twelve months ago. He will be hoping to go one better than second place this time around.

Other drivers currently in the midst of a somewhat disappointing season so far include the likes of veterans, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais. All of these drivers, except for Sato, have yet to pick up a win this season. All have stood on the podium at least once, but not with the regularity that they would have hoped for entering the year. A win right now would give a much needed shot in the arm to any of these drivers.

Finally, as always, we turn our attention to the battle for supremacy amongst the rookies in the field. After his second-place finish last time out at Mid-Ohio, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist now holds a sizable gap in the rookie of the year standings. The Swedish driver is in ninth place in the overall standings with a lead of thirty-seven points over fellow rookie Santino Ferrucci in thirteenth; with Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson just behind Ferrucci in fourteenth and fifteenth respectively.

The next two races, in particular, could be pivotal for Rosenqvist’s hopes of securing the rookie of the year honours. Felix has struggled to find his feet in the oval races that have taken place so far this season, having finished outside of the top ten at the Indianapolis 500 and the races at Texas Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway. By contrast, Ferrucci has taken to ovals like a duck to water, having finished in seventh place at Indianapolis and a superb fourth place at Texas. If things stay the same, Ferrucci could find himself much closer to Rosenqvist after the final two oval races of the season at Pocono and at Gateway Motorsports Park the following weekend.

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Saturday 17 August

9:30 ET / 14:30 GMT – Practice one
12:30 ET / 17:30 GMT – Qualifying
16:00 ET / 21:00 GMT – Practice two

Sunday 18 August

14:30 ET / 19:30 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2019 ABC Supply 500?

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to the Pocono Raceway website for more information.

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway will be shown on NBC Sports.

Further coverage of practice and qualifying will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to Pocono for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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