Pocono IndyCar Update: Andretti out in front at halfway mark

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Marco Andretti has maintained his weekend dominance so far in the first half of the Pocono IndyCar 400, but Triple Crown contender Tony Kanaan has been able to stay toward the front of the field as he seeks to continue his quest for a $1 million prize.

Kanaan is currently half a second behind Andretti at Lap 80 of 160, followed by championship leader Helio Castroneves in third, Simon Pagenaud in fourth, and Scott Dixon in fifth.

IndyCar’s first race at the “Tricky Triangle” since 1989 began inauspiciously when front-row starter James Hinchcliffe wiggled in Turn 1, then spun and slammed hard into the wall. The Canadian fan favorite, who won the series’ most race at Iowa Speedway, limped out of his car but after his release from the infield care center, he told ESPN that he had merely banged his knee inside the cockpit.

“The car just snapped loose on me,” said Hinchcliffe. “We went a bit aggressive on setup because we had an understeering car all week, and we didn’t want that in the race – maybe we overstepped it a bit; I’m not quite sure. We’ll have to go back and take a look.

“It’s really unfortunate. It’s a 400-mile race, so to go out on Lap 1 is just devastating.”

Andretti gave up the lead when he pitted under green at Lap 30, but regained it when the rest of the field cycled through their own stops. Ryan Hunter-Reay managed to leapfrog Kanaan for second when they pitted together on Lap 32, making for an Andretti Autosport 1-2 as the focus turned to disposing of lapped traffic.

But Hunter-Reay’s strong run was ended as he pitted along with Andretti on Lap 61. Takuma Sato, coming in from fourth on the track, locked up his tires while trying to slow down and skidded into the back of Hunter-Reay’s No. 1 car.

“Sato just ran into me,” Hunter-Reay spat over his team radio as the yellow flag came out. “What an idiot.”

To his credit, the former Formula One driver admitted fault for the crash, saying he “misjudged” the entrance to pit road.

“I was trying to kill speed but I was in the middle of the corner and I lost the back end and slid into Ryan,” Sato told ESPN.

Shortly after halfway, Hunter-Reay and his machine were spotted rolling out of the Pocono garage and will likely return to the track in an attempt to salvage championship points. But his incident with Sato will still likely impact his bid for a second straight IZOD IndyCar Series title; he had entered the day just nine points off of Castroneves in the standings.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.