If the Verizon IndyCar Series asks its fans to forgo a sunny Sunday afternoon to watch a race on television, it better be some pretty gripping stuff.
Happily for the series, those fans who gave up the distractions available on a warm August day to take in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway certainly couldn't be disappointed with their choice.
The 500-mile tilt at the “Tricky Triangle” served up just about every kind of excitement possible in an auto race.
There was the incredible performance by 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power to come back from being a lap down early due to a broken front wing and put himself in position to win. Amazingly, the Team Penske driver also needed to have a damaged rear wing assembly replaced after contact with another driver before his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was in any shape to battle at the front.
In the end, Power used a combination of clever strategy and speed to get to the front and then skillfully fended off charging teammate Josef Newgarden in a tense final-laps showdown to score his second consecutive win in Pocono.
“That's textbook INDYCAR racing, where the fact that we got off that sequence and so we had more fuel, so we could go longer and have some clear air and pump out some really fast laps. That's what allowed us to win,” said Power who moved into sole possession of ninth overall in Indy car career wins.
“Pretty satisfying going a lap down, coming back and winning, I have to say. That was something else.”
In addition to Power's recovery, Ryan Hunter-Reay drove a gutsy race in the No. 28 DHL Honda after only being cleared to drive Sunday morning due to a heavy crash in Saturday qualifying. He started next-to-last in 21st place, battled up the leaderboard and even took the lead at the halfway mark.
Although Hunter-Reay faded in the final stretch and ended the day in a well-earned eighth place, his determination to battle hard despite obvious pain was nothing short of astounding.
“I’m just beat after this one,” he said after the race. “It was a test today; it was a mental test, no doubt, and a physical one as well. I was really glad to roll back into pit lane after the race and see the crew here with smiles on their faces.”
A hold-your-breath moment came just past the halfway point when No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda driver James Hinchcliffe ventured onto the marbles at the edge of the racing line and fought desperately to keep his wobbly car from careening into the wall in Turn 1. His heart-stopping save left even the most seasoned fans' jaws scraping on the floor as he miraculously avoided complete disaster.
“I had an unbelievable sideways moment coming out of Turn 1,” Hinchcliffe said.
“I was at Grandview Speedway on Thursday night and I was learning some tips from those guys (Sprint Car drivers), so thank God I did that.”
Lost in the excitement was another excellent race for sophomore driver Alexander Rossi, who took home his second podium in the past three races with a solid third-place finish. The No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda driver has been coming on of late, and continues to raise eyebrows with his consistent speed.
Rossi might have challenged for the win had not his fuel mixture knob broken at the two-thirds point.
“We didn't have full power there at the end,” he said. “It's a really good result, but when you come so close to a win, it's sometimes difficult to swallow.”
Individual heroics aside, the race featured exhilarating back-and-forth action up and down the field for the entire 500 miles, with a record number of passes in a Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono, including 42 for the lead. Ten different drivers took the point in the race at one point or another and confidently calling the winner remained impossible even until the final sprint to the finish line out of Turn 3.
All-in-all, the ABC Supply 500 gave fans a perfect excuse to sit inside, ignore the chores, shopping and whatever else, and watch some terrific racing served up by the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Graham Rahal, who had a brilliant mid-race duel with Tony Kanaan in which they swapped the race lead 15 times in a 17-lap span, summed it all up on Twitter. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ace hinted that fans might want to plan to stay indoors during next year's stop at Pocono Raceway to watch the drivers race in the new universal aero kit for 2018.
“Wow, so much fun with the man Tony Kanaan! Hell of a show today, just wait till 2018 when the cars will allow even more passing!” he tweeted.
Wow, so much fun with the man @TonyKanaan! Hell of a show today, just wait till 2018 when the cars will allow even more passing! @indycar