There’s something about Pocono Raceway that always has Carlos Munoz in contention.
The 24-year-old Colombian driver exudes confidence about returning to the three-turn, 2.5-mile oval track for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 in Long Pond, Pa. (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
Munoz won his first race at Pocono while driving in Indy Lights for Andretti Autosport, then finished third and fifth in the past two Verizon IndyCar Series starts in the Keystone State.
“I love that track,” Munoz said. “It’s one of my favorite tracks of the year. I have great memories there. I’m pretty strong on that oval. I really love that oval. I’m looking forward to it.”
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Many of Munoz’s best races have come where the cars are turning faster laps at speedways. Although his only series win came on a street course in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle last year, he’s been strong in the Indianapolis 500, where he’s finished second twice as well as fourth.
So what is it about Pocono that works for him?
“It’s kind of weird because there are three different corners, all of them totally different, so the car behaves differently,” the driver of the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda said. “I don’t know. Since Indy Lights, I’ve been really quick there. From the first time, I’ve been really quick. It’s hard to explain why. I’ve always had great cars every time, which always helps.
“Last year was a real competitive race, everyone was really close and we were able to pass. I think this year the race will be about the same, hopefully a nice show for the people.”
The Pocono stop has added importance for his race team, considering owner Michael Andretti is from 30 miles away in Nazareth, Pa.
Munoz has been Andretti’s best driver this season as well as one of the strongest competitors with a Honda engine and aero kit. He’s eighth in points, one point behind James Hinchcliffe – the top Honda driver in the standings. Munoz’s closest teammate in the championship is Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who sits 11th in his Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian No. 98 Honda.
Munoz credits teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, for some of his success.
“Ryan has helped make it simple,” Munoz said. “I’ve been really close to him when they show the speeds in qualifying. We’ve been really close. The bad thing is on the road course, we haven’t always had a good car. The team has had to work really hard to find a good setup for the car. We’ve lost a little bit.
“If you put Ryan and me in a good car, we’re going to be in one of the top spots. For me personally, it’s been a good season.”
Munoz finished eighth in points in 2014, his first full-time season in the series. After dropping to 13th in the standings last year, he suggests he’s now driving as well as he ever has in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I personally feel like I’m getting better in everything,” he said. “Experience makes a lot of difference. I’ve been to a lot of tracks, driving-wise, so technically I’ve been able to have the car the way I like it more. Everything has been much better for me this year.
“There’s still work, there’s still four races to go. It’s really important for me to finish the year good.”
Action at Pocono Raceway begins Saturday with opening practice (9-10:30 a.m. ET), Verizon P1 Award qualifying (1:30 p.m.) and a final practice (5-5:30 p.m.). All will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, with NBCSN’s delayed qualifying telecast airing later that night (midnight ET).
Coverage of the 200-lap race starts at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.