IndyCar: Montoya’s surge leads post-Pocono stats of note

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Just as we did post-Houston, here are some intriguing stats gleaned from digging into the numbers post-Sunday’s Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco for the Verizon IndyCar Series:

  • Pocono winner Juan Pablo Montoya is the eighth different winner in 11 races. Two more makes 10 to tie the 2013 mark, with seven races to go.
  • Montoya has also recorded four top-10 finishes in a row, the longest active streak in the series, as he’s up to fourth in the championship. He and Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves now have first, second and third-place finishes this year; Will Power is yet to finish third.
  • Here’s another Montoya stat: He’s the top-scoring driver in the championship since Round 6 at Detroit. Montoya has accrued 239 points in the last six races, with Castroneves second (226) and Power third (212) for a Team Penske 1-2-3 run. Simon Pagenaud (fourth, 191) is next up ahead of rookies Carlos Munoz (fifth, 180) and Mikhail Aleshin (sixth, 167). In the last six races, Indianapolis 500 champ Ryan Hunter-Reay has only the 16th most points scored (114).
  • Oval and road/street course championships aren’t awarded as they were for a couple seasons, but it’s still interesting to note who’s excelled at what discipline. Castroneves (222 oval points, 224 road/street course points) has the best points balance across the two disciplines; Power, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay have been more skewed towards the road/street courses (276, 246 and 227 to rank first, second and third there; they have 170, 156 and 161 points on ovals to rank fourth, sixth and fifth there). Castroneves (222), Montoya (220) and Munoz (186) are the top three points scorers on ovals; fittingly, they’re the only three with top-five finishes in both 500-mile races.
  • Ryan Briscoe became the 20th different driver to record a top-five finish in 2014 with fourth place on Sunday. There were 20 different podium finishers in 2013; thus far, there’s been 16 different drivers in the top three in 11 2014 races.
  • There was not much in the way of points movement on Sunday in terms of position changes. Briscoe gained four positions (13th to ninth), Aleshin three (16th to 13th). Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Justin Wilson, Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth all lost two spots.
  • Podium stats! After scoring seven of the first 15 available podium positions in five races, Andretti Autosport has just two of the last 18 available over six races. Munoz achieved both. Meanwhile Team Penske has gone from five podiums in the first five races to eight in the last six. No other team has more than two podium finishes over the last six races (last six races: Penske 8, Andretti 2, Ganassi 2, Schmidt Peterson 2, Herta 1, Coyne 1, Carpenter 1, Rahal 1).
  • Yes, Pocono offered double points, but Josef Newgarden still made up a bag of points in this one race. With 49 points for eighth place on Sunday, Newgarden scored only three points fewer on Sunday than he had in the previous four races – combined. Finishes of 17th, 11th, 20th and 20th netted him only 52 points in that four-race run from Detroit Race 2 through Houston Race 2.
  • How crucial have the double points races been? Just look at how the results have impacted the championship. The five drivers who have two top-10s at both Indianapolis and Pocono (Montoya, Castroneves, Munoz, Power and Marco Andretti) all sit in the top-10 in points. The drivers without a top-10 on either (Hinchcliffe, Wilson, Sato, Hawksworth, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Sebastian Saavedra, Graham Rahal and Carlos Huertas) all sit outside the top-10 in points.
  • Ganassi posted its second double top-five result of the season on Sunday. Through 11 races though, they only have one double top-five qualifying effort, and a single front row start (Kanaan second at St. Petersburg). Team Penske and Andretti Autosport don’t have many either, with each having three double top-five qualifying efforts this season.
  • Pagenaud outqualified Aleshin at Pocono, going back on top after Aleshin’s runner-up grid position at Houston Race 2. Pagenaud leads the head-to-head qualifying vs. his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate 10-1. But with the 11th place in Pocono qualifying, Pagenaud started outside the top 10 for the first time since Round 6 at Detroit Race 1.

Matty Brabham working towards IndyCar comeback

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Australian American young gun Matty Brabham is hoping to work towards a comeback in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Brabham, 23, was along with RC Enerson the two top young guns who raced a handful of 2016 races but didn’t get a proper encore in 2017. Brabham has instead specialized in racing in Robby Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks series, where he leads that championship and hopes to win it this weekend in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

While his PIRTEK Team Murray deal was announced two years ago in December in a technical partnership with KV Racing Technology for 2016, Brabham didn’t get the chance to build on that beyond the two races he did at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Indianapolis 500 itself. An impressive qualifying run at the road course saw him nearly make Q2, while he fought an ill-handling race car in the ‘500 all month to finish his debut.

Being out of the cockpit hasn’t meant a lack of work, with Brabham having kept his face present at a number of IndyCar races working to put together meetings, occasionally driving two-seaters and then staying active in the trucks.

“All the racing stuff comes naturally as I’ve grown up in it around my dad (Geoff), and from my grandfather (the late Sir Jack) as well, that’s been the easy part,” Brabham told NBC Sports. “It’s the off-track stuff, finding sponsorship and the money to continue racing, that’s been the hardest battle to get into IndyCar or any motorsport.

“It’s been challenging but I’ve learned a lot on the business end. What a lot of people forget is that I went straight from high school straight into racing, so I don’t have a ton of business experience to learn about how to find sponsorship. It’s been a lot of learning as you go.

“Obviously you have to work on business deals and try to find companies. I’m involved with a lot of traveling, and I’ve been at a lot of the shows, PRI and SEMA and the main ones. The biggest thing is networking and talking to people, and learning from them, and go about doing it.”

As the Verizon IndyCar Series is riding a tidal wave of young talent gathering either part-time or full-time rides, Brabham is one of a handful that sticks out as being absent.

The 2018 field includes recent Indy Lights graduates Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Spencer Pigot and Gabby Chaves – each of the last four champions – along with other drivers Max Chilton, Zach Veach, Matheus Leist and Jack Harvey who’ve all graduated within the last three years. That number could grow if either or both of Zachary Claman DeMelo and/or Santiago Urrutia find seats.

Brabham, Enerson and Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion, are probably the three drivers most deserving of a full-time IndyCar shot for 2018 with recent MRTI experience that hasn’t got it yet. None has driven more than 15 races in the series, Karam only having had a partial 2015 campaign with three other one-offs at the Indianapolis 500.

Seeing the success his counterparts from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires have had hasn’t angered or frustrated Brabham, as it’s shown how capable the ladder is of preparing drivers for IndyCar. A switch to the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit next year is also key to note.

“When there’s a big change, you’re seeing guys with the guys I’m racing with in MRTI,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to show what they could do next year. I’d love to be a part of it. Envious of the guys testing so far. Everyone’s said it’s like a real race car that’s a bit more challenging to drive.

“But it’s really cool to have that going along, and be a part of. For the young guys, it’s quite difficult for them to jump in for one race, and compete against veterans for some time. It takes them a couple years to show results and win races. There’s plenty of young guys who could do so with the right environment, step into the series.

“It’s great seeing Jack, Spencer, and all these guys I competed with on MRTI do well – and I won championships – so it’s a little frustrating, but it’s great to see them get in and do well because I feel I could do just as well.”

Brabham was close to stepping into the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda last year when Sebastien Bourdais was injured, but didn’t quite have the funding to make it happen. Such an opportunity would have seen him filling in for his 2016 teammate, who he had nothing but high praise for.

“I think there were a couple of us in conversation – but it’s a sad thing when it happens and you never want to see it; plus, Bourdais was my first teammate,” he said. “He was great and very helpful. You hate to see it. Lots of conversations went on in the background, certain people put my name forward and my name was in the mix.”

Alas, his talent is still there, and it’s worth remembering past Team USA Scholarship recipient Brabham beat Pigot to the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title when the two were teammates at Cape Motorsports and then he followed up with a crushing performance en route to the 2013 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title.

It’s a common story for young drivers that talent isn’t the lone qualifier for an opportunity, but Brabham is hopeful he hasn’t faded from the radar.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations and in constant talks with the team owners and with sponsors as well. There’s nothing set in stone but I am working towards things,” he said.

“I’m kind of right on the edge of getting in there, will just take that last little bit of funding – which is the same for everyone else. I just need the lucky break to get in there for a couple races, show what I can do. I’m hungry and will work extremely hard. I know I can do it – it’s just a matter of getting that chance.”