Al Unser reflects on the Triple Crown, now that it’s back in IndyCar

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Within IZOD IndyCar Series circles, chances are you’ve heard the legend “Big Al” Unser’s name more than normal the last several weeks.

Unser is the first – and thus far only – driver to have claimed IndyCar’s “Triple Crown.” He did so 35 years ago, and the focus is on his legacy and Tony Kanaan, in his quest to emulate Unser’s feat if he can win the second leg of the Fuzzy’s Vodka Triple Crown at Pocono Raceway this weekend.

Unser reflected on his record-setting season in a Fuzzy’s advance ahead of this weekend’s Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco.

“Winning them all was a great gift,” Unser said. “We thought we accomplished the world when we won all three. Jim Hall was really happy and the whole team was, too. In each one of those races I didn’t think I had a chance of winning. We figured we had a chance of competing up front. You know, winning, oh man. We were not happy with that Lola. Then all of all of a sudden, like at Indy, I looked up at the board and we were in the race. Ontario was the same way.

“I didn’t think we’d be all that competitive even though we won Indy and Pocono,” he added. “And we pulled it off between Jim (Hall), Huey (Absalom), Franz (Weis) and the whole team. At Pocono, we gambled by not changing tires. We took a big chance and it paid off. You never know for sure until that dang checkered flag falls who’s going to win. And we just did it the right thing time times that year. I got a ring that said I was a Triple Crown winner and USAC gave the team $10,000. I know for sure we didn’t get a million dollars.”

Unser can’t – but Kanaan can if he wins all three. Unser expanded on what it meant for IndyCar to bring back the Triple Crown for 2013.

“I give INDYCAR credit for bringing back the Triple Crown,” Unser said. “You know it used to be three 500-mile races and over the years the tracks and track distances changed. In the beginning it was three 2½-mile tracks. Then we lost Ontario and raced at Michigan that was 2 miles so we had to run 250 laps. I am glad it’s back and maybe in the future they can make Pocono 500 miles to keep it all 500-mile races across the board. This is a start, a positive start.”

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.