Ten with Townsend: Pocono Debrief

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Following Sunday’s Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco on NBCSN, won by Juan Pablo Montoya, MotorSportsTalk checks in with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for the latest installment of “Ten with Townsend.”

Between commentary, his Indianapolis 500 race experience and his regular commitments in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, it’s been a busy year for Townsend, and we thank him for his time and insights post-Pocono. For an archive of all “Ten with Townsend” posts, click here.

 

-You’d said earlier this year Juan Pablo Montoya was methodically coming back to form but not there yet. Did you think when he did get back on form it would be at this point in the year, or more toward the end of the year?

It seems like a reasonable point based on his experience and world-class talent.  Now the question is when can he perform like that on a street circuit, short oval, or permanent road course.  He was patient, precise and aggressive at all the right times today.  Wins on the other disciplines are probably not far off.

-How does Will Power keep his head in the game given this series of penalties he’s triggered? Does he have anyone but himself to blame?

He’s fun to watch because he’s so committed to winning every lap, every session, but that is also what seems to trip him up so frequently.  At this point he needs a dramatic re-think in his approach so as to minimize his exposure to penalties.  I think Tim Cindric is an important part of coaching Will out of the hole he’s in. It’s an interesting challenge to harness the greatest talent in the series right now.

If I look at others to take the blame…the more I think about it, it’s really all Paul Tracy’s fault.

-Were you surprised he came after you guys in the booth post-race, or do you think that was just heat of the moment frustration knowing he’d lost the points lead and shot at another win?

Weird but a good laugh at the same time!  I’m only 32nd in points but in his dome.  How cool is that!?

-Did you like Tony Kanaan’s strategy this race of going for it every stint rather than opting to fuel save?

Well he started off going for it, then tried to nurse it but that wasn’t working so he had to go for it again but it was too late. Sometimes those strategies just don’t work out.  I’m sure TK wishes he and his engineers could have a re-do. He had the outright pace to beat anyone at Pocono.

-Did Helio Castroneves’ bounce back this race impress you after his Houston accident? 

Not really.  He’s a contender year in and year out, race in and race out.  Total pro.

-Who do you think has the mental edge between Power and Helio at Team Penske? Do you think JPM is getting to either or both of them? 

Helio is super focused (always) under that bubbly exterior and not nearly as rattled as Will when things go wrong.  JPM is simply having fun with none of the pressure the other 2 are dealing with – he could very well be in the mix at Fontana too!  The other question is…with all 3 of his drivers in the top 4 in points right now…can RP finally see a championship delivered this season?

-The rest of the field: Surprises and disappointments at Pocono. 

My surprise was (rookie Mikhail) Aleshin racing superbly on a track he had never seen…after just 2 short practice sessions.

Disappointments:  I was feeling for (Jack) Hawksworth and (Bryan) Herta after a tough hit in practice.

-Having had the chance to race Indianapolis, but then watch/call Pocono, how differently do you think Pocono played out in terms of the race flow? 

It was more ‘strategic’ than Indy with everyone cruising for the first 150 laps to save fuel.  Watching the final restart though with everyone fanning out (Aleshin was almost in the paddock!) was pretty wild.

-You hadn’t been to Pocono previously. What did you make of the facility, crowd, event atmosphere and race itself? 

I thought the track was super unique (this was my first time there).  The crowd and event atmosphere has plenty of room to grow.

– How did you enjoy calling the race with Bob Varsha and Paul Tracy? How has PT developed in just a few races in the booth this season? 

I really enjoyed it with Bob and PT.   Bob is so polished and effortless with his delivery.  My first U.S. broadcasting job (F1 on SPEED) was under his command so it was nice to work with him again.

PT has more winning expertise than anyone to ever sit in that chair so I try to listen and learn as much as I can.  He also makes me laugh in so many ways he doesn’t realize.  I particularly enjoyed watching him squirm as I learned Pocono with the Z28 in a single flying lap after dealing with his mild culinary freak-out when I ventured into the hood Saturday night in search of good food.

source:
Townsend Bell (center) flanked by Bob Varsha and Paul Tracy.

Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: