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IndyCar At Pocono Future In Doubt; Drivers Want To Return

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Chris Owens-IndyCar Series

LONG POND, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – This past Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway could be the last visit to the “Tricky Triangle” for the NTT IndyCar Series.  The IndyCar Series does not have an agreement to return to Pocono in 2020.

The hot rumor circulating around the garage area and paddock is that the race is going to be replaced on the schedule by Richmond Raceway.

The last few years the IndyCars have raced at Pocono have resulted in accidents and tragedy.  In 2015 Justin Wilson was struck in the helmet by a piece of debris from the car of Sage Karam, who had crashed.  Wilson died as a result of his injuries.

In 2018 Arrow Schmidt Petersen Motorsports Robert Wickens was left paralyzed after a first lap multi-vehicle crash.

This past Sunday, on the first lap, there was multi-car crash involving Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport teammates: Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Arrow Schmidt Petersen’s James Hinchcliffe and NTT Data Services Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist.  Rosenqvist was taken to a local hospital, checked out, released and cleared to drive in the next race at Gateway.

The outrage on Social Media was quick and included Wickens and Karam.

All three drivers that finished on the podium, who are also Series Champions, came to the track’s defense and placed some of the blame on the competitors.

“Honestly I feel bad for Pocono…” said Five-time Series Champion Scott Dixon. “Some mistakes that have happened on track, honestly they could happen anywhere. If you look at Justin or Robby, those can happen anywhere. I feel bad that it gets a bit of a bad taste in that scenario. I think the drivers in a lot of situations can do a better job to help that situation. Honestly, I hope we come back.”

Race-winner Will Power echoed those sentiments.

Three Rivers Karting

“It’s a great oval for us,” said Power.  “Obviously some unfortunate accidents here, like Scott said, that could happen anywhere.  (Pocono) Kind of got a bad rap for that.”

Pocono Raceway was designed in 1959 and each turn was designed after three classic IndyCar venues.  Turn 1 is a copy of the now-defunct Trenton Speedway. Turn 2 is designed after the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Turn 3 is designed after The Milwaukee Mile.

Hinchcliffe felt the accident could have been avoided with a little common sense.

“We were heading into turn two kind of three wide, I knew that wasn’t a good idea, so I backed out,” said Hinchcliffe.  “500-mile race man, I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people figure out you can attack all you want, it doesn’t give a change to win if you’re in the fence.”

Hunter-Reay was equally frustrated by getting taken out on the first lap for the second year in a row.

“This is ridiculous,” said Hunter-Reay.  “I thought we learned our lesson here.  Lap one of a 500-mile race.  I had a nice clean run on Rossi, almost three-quarters of the way up past him and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I’m backwards.

Power and Dixon hope to return to the track because they were seeing some positive signs.

“I felt the crowd today at the start of the race was fantastic,” said Dixon.  “It was gaining some really good momentum. Hopefully it gets to continue.”

“It’s a great oval for us,” Power said.  “The crowd us up 15-percent every year we come back.  It’s getting better.  The crowd was great today.  It’s a good racetrack, man.  A good track for racing.  I really hope we come back.  I think the guys do a great job.  A cool track for us.  It’s hard for us to find good ovals these days that suit our cars.”

Pagenaud believes having a race in the Northeastern United States is key and also hopes the race continues.

It’s a fun track to drive on,” said Pagneaud.  “It would be really unfortunate, because it’s close to New York, a great market for IndyCar. It’s an opportunity to bring people from New York to the IndyCar races.  Hopefully we can come back and hopefully we can keep working with the people at Pocono because it’s been a lot of fun.  As a driver, I really enjoy coming here.”

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou Wins NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – In just his first year with the team Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is your 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion.

Palou’s 4th-place finish in Sunday’s season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach guaranteed the 24-year-old native of Spain his first INDYCAR Championship in his second season and the Ganassi team their 14th title since 1996.

“This team is amazing,” said Palou. “I’m super proud to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing, all our partners. I’m super proud to be a champion and for the opportunity these guys gave me. What a race, what a year, what a season.”

“People win Championships,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “The driver, the team, and especially the people behind the scenes, leaving the shop in the winter when it’s dark out and snowing, that don’t get the notoriety.”

Palou started the race in tenth position in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda.  Palou’s closest Championship rival, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, started the race in eighth position.  Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden started on the pole position with Palou’s CGR teammate Scott Dixon alongside in second place in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.

Newgarden took the lead in turn one with Dixon in tow as the field took the green flag.  The race wasn’t even 2-laps old when Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan’s Ed Jones made an ambitious attempt to pass James Hinchcliffe, but made contact with O’Ward with Palou right behind Jones!

Three Rivers Karting

O’Ward brought out the caution flag a short time later on lap 20 when the right rear driveshaft failed on the front stretch.

The caution flag shuffled the field as some cars went to pit road for service while other cars stayed out to gain track position, giving the lead to Helio Castroneves, who took a turn at the front of the field until he went to pit road on lap 34, giving the lead to Colton Herta.

Herta earned his turn at the front as he was making moves through the field throughout the race and following the last restart, it was Newgarden and Dixon giving chase.  Palou was behind Dixon in fourth doing what he needed to get the car to the checkered flag in one piece.

Herta pulled away in the end to a .5883-second victory, his ?? win of 2021.  Newgarden finished second to jump O’Ward for second in the Championship, 38-points behind Palou.

Dixon finished third followed by Palou in fourth. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud rounded out the Top 5.

Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Sebastian Bourdais, Takuma Sato and Will Power made up spots 6 through 10.

Honda claimed the Engine Manufacturer’s Championship for the fourth straight year.

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Josef Newgarden wins pole position for INDYCAR Acura Long Beach Grand Prix

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Chris Owens/INDYCAR

LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Newgarden’s fast lap of 1-minute, 8.2241-seconds around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit was .2181-seconds faster than Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon’s best lap in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.

The pole position and valuable Championship point is exactly what Newgarden needs to do to win his third series title.  Newgarden enters the race in third position in the standings, 48-points behind leader Alex Palou, and must win, lead the most laps and hope Palou finishes 25th or worse.

“It’s very improbable for us to win this championship,” Newgarden said. “So, our goal is to win the race tomorrow. Let’s finish our season on a high note, and we’ll see what happens. I think it’s pretty unlikely, but you never say never in this sport.”

The only other driver with a shot at the Championship is Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who will start eighth in the 28-car field.  O’Ward also needs to win and hope for Palou to finish 25th or worse.

Three Rivers Karting

“Our car has been good,” said O’Ward. “We didn’t roll off the best, but I think we made some really good changes, just kept improving. We had enough for the Fast 6.”

Palou will start 10th in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.  Palou and O’Ward were on flying laps when they were forced to slow for a local yellow for Will Power, costing both valuable lap time which eventually cost both the ability to advance to the final round of knockout-style qualifying.

“That yellow flag didn’t help us at all,” said Palou. “I think we were going to be easy through, but racing stuff, right?  I’m happy because the car’s good, a bit better than yesterday and this morning.”

“Kind of sucks to get hosed by a very odd call,” added O’Ward. “We should have been in the Fast 6.”

Palou must finish 12th or better – or 13th or better if he leads a lap – to clinch his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship and CGR’s 14th title since 1996!

Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 30-minute warmup starts at noon (ET), live on Peacock Premium.

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Colton Herta goes back-to-back at Laguna Seca

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Joe Skibinski

MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta won Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey giving him back-to-back victories two decades after his father accomplished the same feat.  Herta beat Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou by 1.9747-seconds to pick up his second victory of 2021 and fifth of his career.

“Alex, really the whole race, was right there,” said Herta. “Then Grosjean at the end pressured Alex, therefore pressured me. To go two-for-two so far (at Laguna Seca) is great. We were fast all weekend, and I’m glad we could pull it off in the race.”

Palou continued his march towards his first series title with a second place after last week’s win at Portland, which gives Palou and the No. 10 NTT DATA team a 35-point lead ahead of second place Pato O’Ward.

“Unfortunately we didn’t have the pace that Colton had,” explained Palou. “I think in reds and blacks he had a bit more. As soon as I tried to catch him, which we tried, I would just cook my tires. Yeah, I couldn’t go as fast as him without losing my tires.”

Three Rivers Karting

Palou, O’Ward and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden are the only drivers eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup at the season finale. Newgarden is third in the standings, 48 points back.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson were eliminated from contention at this race after finishing 13th and sixth, respectively.

“All weekend we didn’t have it,” O’Ward said. “I truly feel like we used every single ounce of energy and pace that this car had. We pulled off a near-miracle in qualifying to start in the first three rows. In the race, honestly, that was as much as I had.

“All we can do at Long Beach is win, and then let everything else fall. I’ve got faith in myself. I know I’m pretty handy around a street course, so let’s see what we can pull off next week.”

Herta’s victory clinched the Manufacturers Championship for the fourth consecutive season.

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