Another Penske Party in Pennsylvania

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IMAG2067Roger Penske knows how to throw a party. He’s at it again this year at Pocono Raceway.

The driver of his No. 3 Chevy, Helio Castroneves, soared around the track on Saturday to capture his 45th IndyCar Series pole position. The happiness, honest joy and pure excitement that comes from this man is absolutely contagious. It’s nearly impossible to keep a straight face when he is in “his mode” – you will be smiling and likely laughing along with him before you even realize it. The Championship contender is looking to bring that title of Champion to fruition once and for all. It’s been a very long wait for Castroneves, and in so many seasons past he has missed taking possession of the Astor Cup by just a handful of points. It’s one of, if not the ONLY thing he still wants to accomplish in his IndyCar career, and it has remained stubbornly elusive. Two more races and we will know how the story turns out for 2015.

Castroneves’ teammate, Simon Pagenaud, nearly had the pole and I did mark him as a high probability for it Saturday morning. He held it provisionally through the first half of quals and the duration of the red flag that was waved due to Kimball’s gnarly accident in Turn 3 on his qualifying run. He eventually lost the Verizon P1 Award to Castroneves. Pagenaud will start on the front row for the 6th time this season. The rest of Team Penske will start from P3 (current IndyCar Series Champion, Will Power) and P19 (current points leader, Championship contender and defending race winner, Juan Pablo Montoya).

Backtracking for a moment, let’s talk about Ganassi driver, Charlie Kimball’s crash. The broadcast happened to be on the live in-car vantage point at the time of the accident. The view was scary to say the least, particularly when we were staring straight down at the ground. I was relieved as I’m sure everyone was that he landed upright and after getting a view of the wide shot, I realized how incredibly lucky he was to not end up helicopter-ing along the catch fence. From what I could tell, that initial impact with the SAFER Barrier absorbed the majority of the cars energy, so even though it did get tilted up, it didn’t have the momentum at that point to tangle and get pulled up along the fence.

Thank You, Dallara

If you’ll recall, last year around this same time, Kimball was in a crash in the last turn of Fontana during a night practice. He and Mikhail Aleshin collided, with the latter ending up airborne and twisting along the Turn 4 fence, leaving him hospitalized for weeks. (You’ll be seeing Aleshin make his return to IndyCar next weekend at the season finale in Sonoma). Thankfully yesterday’s incident left Kimball with only a cut to the chin and a possible scar with a story. He will start from the back of the pack this afternoon in a replacement car.

Every time we see this kind of wreck in the Verizon IndyCar Series, we remember to take a moment and thank Dallara. Their engineering and safety advancements are what keep our drivers safe and able to walk away from horrifying accidents. Most times, they walk away from the car immediately. But, in the cases where they are not able to do so under their own power like with Aleshin, Franchitti and Hinchcliffe – they are able to walk away eventually, even it’s from their hospital beds or therapy services after some time has passed. Regardless of how much it costs to produce them properly, that ability to walk away makes these racing vehicles absolutely priceless. So again, we thank you Dallara.

American Boys

Josef Newgarden is doing quite well this year, continuing that streak with a P4 finish in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500. His teammate and team co-owner Ed Carpenter, however… not so much. Being on the same team and sharing information, one would think their set ups would be relatively similar – particularly after the morning practice session with Josef running well and Ed at the bottom of the board. Is there a point where we have to ask… maybe it’s not the car, perhaps the issue with results is the driver?

I notice Ed more disgusted and angry than anything else the past couple seasons. This one in particular. Someone once told me that as soon as it (my work) no longer makes me happy, I should take it as a sign and start entertaining the idea of a career change, or a job change. Well the signs at CFH Racing seem glaringly obvious to me – Ed doesn’t appear to enjoy driving anymore. At least not the way he once did. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems to aggravate him and the application of logic to it doesn’t seem to make anything better. Logic, is of course needed in racing, but passion is needed too. Without the passion, you lose the joy of racing and without finding joy, you’re unlikely to find success. So why not make the sensible transition and focus on being the team owner? Get in the pit box, share your years of experience and priceless knowledge with the next generation – not only Josef, but another driver. CFH is a two-car team for the season, and it has the opportunity to do something amazing – be a fully American team:  owners and drivers. The obvious choice for the No. 20 to me, is JR Hildebrand… but I will get into that in more detail in an upcoming article.

Graham Rahal is another American driver on the grid and he, like Newgarden, is having the greatest season of his career. Rahal is currently second in the Championship battle, behind Montoya by a mere 9 points. Rahal was the highest qualifying Honda for today’s race at Pocono and he will be doing everything in his (Honda HPD) power to finish ahead of Montoya (starting P19) and preferably ahead of the entire field. It won’t be easy given the strength of Montoya on ovals and 500-milers, plus the fact that he won here last year. In the same breath, Rahal has been charging all season, only gaining speed and strength. Can Rahal continue his Midwest momentum and find the success today in Pennsylvania that he found in Ohio earlier this month? The only way to find out is to tune in this afternoon at 2:00 PM ET on NBC Sports!

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