Three-wide starts on tap for upcoming IndyCar races at Pocono, Fontana

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Excitement and anticipation have been building for this weekend’s return of Indy cars to Pocono Raceway after a nearly quarter-century absence.

Wednesday, that excitement level jumped up several more notches as officials of the IZOD IndyCar Series announced that three-wide starts would be implemented in Sunday’s race, as well as the season finale in October in Fontana, Calif.

“After having the opportunity to test at Pocono and a successful event at Auto Club Speedway last season, we were able to analyze track data and compare to our current start procedure for the Indianapolis 500,” IZOD IndyCar Series race director Beaux Barfield said in a story on IndyCar.com. “Given the speeds of our starts, the location of accelerations zones, the spacing between rows and the length of the frontstraights at each track, we have decided to move forward with a three-wide lineup for the initial starts.”

Part of the decision to add three-wide starts is due to the Fuzzy’s “Triple Crown” promotion, where one driver can win a $1 million bonus if he wins the Indianapolis 500, as well as Sunday’s Pocono 400 and the season-ending MavTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway on Oct. 19.

Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500 and is among the favorites in Sunday’s race.

The IndyCar series typically only uses three-wide starts at Indianapolis, a long-standing tradition of the Indy 500 that began nearly 100 years ago in 1921.

However, the three-wide premise will only be used at the start of the Pocono and Fontana races. On green flag restarts, cars will be in their traditional single-file formation.

At 73 feet, Pocono’s frontstretch is the widest of the three tracks that will utilize the three-wide starts. Auto Club Speedway’s frontstretch is 53 feet wide, while Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s frontstretch is 50 feet wide, according to IndyCar.com.

Penske won’t discuss if Castroneves returns to Indy in 2020

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – NBC Sports.com asked Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Roger Penske if three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves would return to the team in 2020?

Penske immediately brushed off the question.

“We’re not going to talk about that right now,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “I’m just not going to talk about it. We’re going to have a meeting about it before we decide, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

“Simon won the race and that is what I’m focused on right now.”

Simon Pagenaud, gave Penske a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win on Sunday. Penske confirmed that Pagenaud will be back with the team in 2020 after he scored his first win in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Castroneves was an NTT IndyCar Series regular at Team Penske from 2000 until the 2017 season. After that, Castroneves was shifted over to the team’s Acura IMSA Sports Car program, but the three-time Indy 500 winner was given a ride at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years.

The popular driver from Brazil is trying to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But the whispers in Gasoline Alley indicate his future with Team Penske at Indy remain uncertain.

“I’ve heard the rumors, too,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com on pit lane after his disappointing finish in the Indy 500. “I will definitely give it a good, hard think about coming back in 2020. I want to be the rest of the season, here.”

But, will Castroneves run the Indy 500 again?

“Who knows?” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “Let’s see what happens.”

Castroneves’s bid for a fourth Indianapolis 500 was derailed in a pit road incident after his first pit stop when he ran into James Davison’s Chevrolet on the team’s first pit stop on Lap 30.

The front wing of Castroneves’s Chevrolet was damaged and INDYCAR officials gave him a “Drive Through” penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Castroneves would ultimate drop three laps down but finished one lap down in 18thplace.

Castroneves explained what happened to him earlier in the race and how it affected the rest of his Indy 500.

“The accident that happened in the pits hurt us for sure,” Castroneves explained. “We had a problem with the fuel mapping, and I couldn’t go over 200 miles an hour for four or five laps. We lost 35 seconds. There was a bug in the system.

“Then, we went back out and that was it. I wasn’t able to recoup after that. I was excited. The car was very, very good entering the race.”

Castroneves spoke with second-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who was furious with the driver from Brazil earlier in the race for not moving out of the way, even though he was three laps down at the time.

The two drivers hugged, and Castroneves walked back up pit lane.

“I did what the team told me to do, and they told me to go as fast as I could,” Castroneves explained after talking to Rossi. “It’s racing and everybody is upset they didn’t win.”

Castroneves hopes his walk up pit lane is not the final time as an Indy 500 competitor.

But it could be.

“I hope I can come back next year,” Castroneves said. “I’m really upset as a competitor, but extremely happy for Team Penske and for Simon Pagenaud for winning the race.

“The good news is I go back to the Acura sports car, but I will be dreaming about coming back here again.”