(Written by INDYCAR)
LONG POND, Pa. — James Hinchcliffe exited before the first lap of the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco was complete. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s outlook for his second victory in the past three races crashed on a pit lane incident. Verizon P1 Award winner Marco Andretti, who led 88 of the 160 laps, was a non-factor late because of fuel conservation.
The Andretti Autosport front-row qualifying sweep for the return of IndyCars to Pocono Raceway after a 24-year absence didn’t produce a race victory — or even a top five — which left the door open for almost everyone else
Chip Ganassi Racing took the mantle, sweeping the podium for the first time ever. Scott Dixon earned his first victory since Mid-Ohio last August, while Charlie Kimball tied his career high of second and four-time series champion Dario Franchitti was third.
It was the 100th win in all forms of motorsports for Chip Ganassi Racing and the 200th in Indy car competition for engine manufacturer Honda.
Dixon, who earned his 30th Indy car victory (his first was at Nazareth, Pa.), is the eighth different winner in 11 IZOD IndyCar Series races this season. He crossed the finish line .4572 of a second ahead of Kimball in a race slowed by only two cautions for 12 laps. The average speed of 192.864 mph bested Danny Sullivan’s Indy car record 170.720 mph in the 1989 race on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
“Going into this morning, I was not thinking we could win,” said Dixon, who incurred a 10-grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change and started 17th in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. “The team definitely hasn’t given up, and you’ve got to hand it to Honda as well. I think fuel mileage was the key today. And we still had speed up front without having to save all the time.
“I love this place. Pocono, the fans, just everyone has been fantastic. It’s great to be back. It’s been a long drought, almost a year, so it’s fantastic to be back in winner’s circle.”
The last — and only — team to sweep a Triple Crown race was Sept. 2, 1979, at Ontario (Calif.) by Penske Racing’s Bobby Unser, Rick Mears and Mario Andretti.
“I actually forgot that the next win would have been our 100th; it’s been so long since we’ve had a win,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “It’s a really great place to do it. In Pennsylvania, in my home state. It’s great for the series to have a 1-2-3 (finish). Honda needed a boost, and they stepped up and did a great job.”
Honda began Indy car competition in 1994, which includes 100 wins in seasons with manufacturer competition and 100 in the six-year period (2006-11) when Honda supplied engines to the full IndyCar Series field. Its last victory on an oval was in June 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It’s a huge boost for the team and a huge boost for Honda,” said Franchitti, who started 20th because of an engine change penalty in the No. 10 Energizer car.
The last 1-2-3 team finish was by Team Penske (Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe) at Sonoma Raceway in August 2011.
Power placed fourth and Josef Newgarden matched his best finish of fifth at Sao Paulo in May.
Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan’s prospects of claiming the $1 million Fuzzy’s Triple Crown bonus vanished on Lap 107 when he moved to overtake Dixon’s car for the lead on the inside entering Turn 1. The right-front wing sustained damage when it clipped the rear of the No. 9 car, and Kanaan pitted three laps later.
Still, Kanaan remains eligible for the $250,000 prize — along with Dixon — if either wins the MAV TV 500 on Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway.
“I apologized to the crew several times,” said Kanaan, driving the No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” car for KV Racing Technology-SH Racing. “I made a mistake and it cost us big. I had a run on Dixon, but didn’t really think that I was closing that fast on him.
“We had a car that was capable of winning this race and putting us in a position to contend for the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown and the $1 million prize. We still have a chance to win in Fontana and collect $250,000, but I just feel bad for the crew because they worked so hard to give me a very competitive car.”
Castroneves, who finished eighth, stretched his championship points lead to 23 over Hunter-Reay heading to the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader July 13-14, which pays full points in both races. Andretti remains third and Dixon, a two-time series champion, jumped three positions to fourth with eight races remaining.
Hunter-Reay was running 2.5 seconds behind Andretti on Lap 61 when he turned the No. 1 DHL car onto pit lane for a routine service stop. On the outside, Takuma Sato in the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing struck Hunter-Reay’s car and spun it into the inside pit lane wall.
“I really think we had a great car to challenge for the win and I was really looking forward to the rest of the race. I love this racetrack,” the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion said. “Then we were just coming into pit lane, minding our own business, and we get creamed from behind. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve come from further back to win the championship and we’re determined to do it again.”
Hunter-Reay rejoined the race 22 laps later to salvage crucial points.
Andretti, who led four times, overtook Power on Lap 112 for the lead and held it until Lap 121 when Power and Dixon passed the No. 25 RC Cola car. Andretti pitted for the final time on Lap 127, but had to conserve E85 over the distance.
“I knew early (about our fuel mileage), but not early enough,” said Andretti, who topped the speed chart in the Open Test on July 4 and in practice. “I think we should have responded quicker, but it’s so hard to be reserved right now. I’m so frustrated for RC Cola and everybody; we were just so dominant and I’m just absolutely gutted.”