Preview: Pocono provides the penultimate challenge in IndyCar’s 2015 campaign

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This weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, the penultimate round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, carries arguably more weight than next weekend’s season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Even with double points at Sonoma, you say? Yes.

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The reasoning? You can position yourself as best as possible for Sonoma by way of banking a big result at Pocono this weekend. And you don’t want to lose more ground by virtue of a tough Pocono result that leaves you needing a double points-aided miracle in order to make things happen next week.

Heading in, Juan Pablo Montoya leads Graham Rahal by nine points (465-456), with Scott Dixon (431), Helio Castroneves (407) and Will Power (406) all in striking distance.

While Rahal has been on a roll of late in 2015, Pocono has been a bogey track for both he and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team the last two years since it has returned to the schedule.

A look at Rahal’s Pocono results in comparison to the other four main title contenders shows a clear disparity:

Driver 2013 2014 Average
Montoya 1 1.0
Rahal 18 19 18.5
Dixon 1 5 3.0
Castroneves 8 2 5.0
Power 4 10 7.0

So Rahal needs a turnaround at the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” in order to keep his roll of results going. But given how he and the team have performed of late, and especially considering he won the most recent 500-mile oval race at Fontana, don’t put it past them.

On the subject of 500-mile races, here’s how the title contenders have done at Indianapolis and Fontana this year:

Driver Indianapolis Fontana Average
Montoya 1 4 2.5
Rahal 5 1 3.0
Dixon 4 6 5.0
Castroneves 7 23 15.0
Power 2 19 10.5

The poor results for Castroneves and Power at Fontana were due to accidents largely not of their own doing. Otherwise, the five championship contenders have been some of the strongest runners at the superspeedways.

Who else could play a major role at Pocono this weekend?

The easy pick is Tony Kanaan. Kanaan dominated last year’s race, also won the last 500-miler last year at Fontana, and has been well positioned on speed to win both of Indianapolis and Iowa. Neither event saw him finish though, Indy due to a crash and Iowa a mechanical failure. If the racing gods feel like it, Kanaan will get his this weekend, although his – and for that matter fellow Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Sage Karam and Charlie Kimball – must focus first on ensuring Dixon scores maximum points.

Josef Newgarden is another to watch, having finished fifth and eighth in two Pocono starts. Newgarden’s future is a hot topic of late but in the present, he’ll look to become the first of five possible drivers (along with Montoya, Dixon, Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais) to reach three wins on the season.

Both of their respective teammates – Sage Karam (Ganassi) and Ed Carpenter (CFH Racing) – enter Pocono with something to prove in their final scheduled starts of 2015, before handing their cars over to Sebastian Saavedra and Luca Filippi at Sonoma. Karam’s future is also unsettled and he’ll look to maximize a result on home soil, just 20 minutes outside Nazareth, while avoiding the controversy. Carpenter – his Iowa sparring partner – looks for one mega result in what’s been a tough year driving wise, at a track he should be in win or podium contention.

Race sponsor ABC Supply is more likely to see Takuma Sato in contention than his teammate Jack Hawksworth; in Hawksworth’s case, merely starting this year would be an improvement over 2014, when a practice crash sidelined him for the weekend.

The top sleepers in the field are Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti, respectively. Munoz has starred at Pocono with an Indy Lights win and a third place finish in the last two years; Andretti was desperately unlucky not to win two years ago at the race that also serves as his home race. Teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud have had less success at Pocono the last two years and look for a turnaround this weekend.

Others in the field – from Bourdais through the Dale Coyne teammates – have tended to struggle on the large ovals this year and are less likely to contend. Bourdais or Charlie Kimball could be drivers to watch depending on their qualifying. Another to keep an eye on is rookie leader Gabby Chaves, who won last year’s Indy Lights race at Pocono and has been quietly consistent for the single-car Bryan Herta Autosport all year.

The action begins with a one-hour practice for rookies Saturday morning before an all-skate, all-car 90-minute practice to follow immediately thereafter.

The drama will begin to build at that point as well, given the stakes of the championship chase entering its final two races.

Adam Enticknap paves the way for the ‘Other 19’

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Once the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season kicks off in Anaheim, Calif. on January 4, eyes inevitably will begin to focus on the front of the field.

One rider will win that race. Two will stand on either side of him on the podium. Nineteen others will ride quietly back to the garage and if they’re lucky, get a few minutes to tell the tale of their race to a few members of the media. On their way off the track, the other 19 will take a minute to wave to the fans in the stands.

Adam Enticknap will motion for them to follow him.

One of the most engaging riders in the sport, Enticknap not only recognizes his role as a dark horse on Supercross grid, he revels in it.

“Not everyone is going to win,” Enticknap said last week at the Supercross media sessions. “There’s only one winner on a weekend; that’s it. There can’t be more than one winner. And everyone else has got to go home and eat too.”

A recognized Hip Hop artist known for his video ‘My Bikes Too Lit’, Enticknap is bringing new fans to the track – and as a result, he is putting a spotlight on riders deeper in the field.

Last year Enticknap was coming off a broken femur that marred his SX season. He made only three Mains with a 20th in Indianapolis, 15th at Houston, and an 18th at Las Vegas. In October, he earned a career-best 14th in the Monster Energy Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. He got there by being consistent in the three heats, finishing 16-15-15.

But that’s not the point for Enticknap. Yes, he wants to win but it is just as important to be the ambassador for those riders who are known only to their fans.

“I’ve made a path for riders that are not going to win,” Enticknap said. “And that’s not saying that I don’t want to win, or that I’m not going to win, but I’ve made it so that the guy who’s finishing 20th and barely making the Mains can make a full career out of it. I’m probably the most famous, slowest guy on the track. It’s come from the way I’ve marketed myself and the way I’ve been with my fans and I’ve appreciated every second that I’ve been here.”

On a good weekend, Enticknap is one of the “other 19” in the Main Event.

“Without all of us, there really is no winner. Everybody’s got to show up and everybody’s got to compete during the weekend. In our sport, everyone is so hyper-focused on the guy who is winning all the time, but I hope that I’ve opened people’s eyes that sometimes it’s not just about the guy who wins the race as much as it is about the guy who is succeeding during the weekend.”

For Enticknap, success looks different than for last year’s champion Cooper Webb or Eli Tomac who won six of the 17 races in 2019. It’s about knowing that when it’s time to ride back to the hauler – whether that is at the end of the Main or after a Last Chance Qualifier – that nothing was left on the track.

“My best finish was a 14th at the Monster Energy Cup – ever in my career,” Enticknap emphasized. “Making my way from the bottom is huge. I made my way from not even making the top 40 to finishing 14th in A-Main Event. That’s huge.”

And that’s progress.

In his second season with H.E.P. Motorsports, Enticknap predicts he will make 10 Mains this year.

Even if he advances to only half of the Features, it will be his best season in eight years at this level. Enticknap qualified for seven Mains in 2017 with a best of 18th at Vegas. He was in five Mains in 2018 with a best of 16th at San Diego before signing with his current team – and getting injured without rightly being able to show what he could do with them.

“I want to break into the top 10 – that’s my goal for the year – but as of right now I’m succeeding in all the little goals that I’ve set and I want to keep succeeding,” Enticknap said.

It’s not enough to want to finish well, however; riders have to visualize a path to success. For Enticknap, that will come with because of how he approaches stadium races. Towering over the field, Enticknap is not a small man by anyone’s measure so it’s ironic that he makes a comparison between Supercross and ballet. The indoor season is about precision, technical mastery, and finesse. And that is where Enticknap believes he shines.

“Supercross is more of a ballet. It’s more perfection. It’s something that takes so much talent – and you can see it in real life. When you watch an outdoor race, you’re like ‘that guy’s a beast’; he’s manhandling it; he’s hammering the throttle. And when you see a Supercross race it’s just so rhythmic and flowing and light. So much finesse on everything. Just such a fluent, technical race.”

Enticknap credits his background in BMX racing as one of the reasons why he is so fluid on a tight track.

“Supercross fits my riding style a lot,” Enticknap said. “I don’t like to just hang it out and get all sideways and just swap, swap, swap. I like to be very precise in all my movement. I’m a perfectionist. It helps in Supercross because everything is just timed by the millisecond.”

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