PREVIEW: ABC Supply 500

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The beginning of the final quarter of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season starts this weekend at Pocono Raceway for the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Each of the next three races – which run in the next three weekends – are essentially wild card events for the championship.

A 500-mile race presents its own set of unique challenges and that’s what Pocono has to offer this weekend. Meanwhile the resumption of the Texas race next Saturday will be weird with the race being picked-up mid-stream, and Watkins Glen is different given the new repaving and the fact it will be the first race there in six years.

For what’s ahead at Pocono this weekend, though, here’s a few talking points:

2016 ABC Supply 500 – Talking Points:

Team Penske’s 2016 big oval package

With only the Indianapolis 500 as a reference point, it’s worth noting Team Penske was not the dominant team throughout the month of May. They were good at Pocono last year, with Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power the top three on the grid, but none of those made it home in win contention.

At Indy, Power, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya made it to the grid in sixth, eighth, ninth and 17th – hardly Penske perfect. And in the race, Power delivered their only top-10 result in 10th.

You would firmly expect them to be better than that this weekend.

The infamous domed skids

One of the big talking points in the run up to the Indianapolis 500 were the domed skids on the underside of the car, but while they certainly made driving more difficult for the drivers they also accomplished their goal from a safety perspective. Most of the grid tested here a couple weeks ago to attempt to get a handle on the cars in the second and last 2.5-mile oval race of the season, and there were no reported issues.

Honda’s next best hope

Honda is staring down the barrel at an 11-1 deficit in wins this year with four races to go, and even if they win out, that will only make for a best-case scenario of five wins. Put simply, they need a win on top of being competitive this weekend throughout all its entries.

Too many or too few cautions?

The last two years have offered quite a contrast in race styles. See below:

  • 2014: 1 caution, 6 laps, 202.402 mph average speed
  • 2015: 12 cautions, 74 laps, 146.245 mph average speed

That 12-caution race last year was a crazy one, and an outlier in some respects. Each of the other two 500-mile races in 2015 had six cautions apiece at Indianapolis in Fontana. This year’s Indianapolis 500 had a season-high six cautions for 46 laps.

If I had to guess, this year’s Pocono race should be in the three to four caution range, unless desperation and aggressive moves set in.

Any points shakeup?

We forecast earlier this week what could happen to the points standings. A lot of jostling figures to occur from third on back, but there won’t be movement at the top of the heap unless either or both of Pagenaud and Power hits trouble.

Heavy hearts, heavy minds

Two names no longer with us will be on the minds of many in the IndyCar paddock this weekend – Justin Wilson and Bryan Clauson.

The one-year mark of Wilson’s death occurs this weekend and his void in the paddock really hasn’t been filled since, in terms of a tall, genial, gentle giant who was fast as a cheetah behind the wheel.

It’s worth noting too in a roundabout way that Honda hasn’t had a development driver in the way Wilson was for them last year, either, and that may be a contributing factor to the manufacturer’s struggles this year.

For more on how the Wilson family is preparing for the anniversary, I’d recommend reading this Curt Cavin piece in the Indianapolis Star. Also, expect a good number of Wilson tribute socks from USWAGGEAR to be present this weekend (see below).

Clauson’s loss is more recent, and while the short track ace wasn’t a regular fixture in the IndyCar paddock, he made plenty of impact on those he did get the chance to meet and race against in his three Indianapolis 500s.

The 27-year-old particularly touched Dale Coyne Racing, his team for this year’s ‘500, and he’ll be honored by both team drivers this weekend.

Conor Daly takes on Clauson’s No. 88 and BC Forever on the sidepods of his Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Honda. Meanwhile Pippa Mann makes a comeback in the No. 19 car, and will have BC logos and signage on her car and helmet.

Coyne’s team is a likable underdog to begin with, and few if any would begrudge them having a strong weekend to “park it” for Clauson this weekend at Pocono.

The final word

From Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda, whose sponsor is the race title sponsor and who finished sixth last year: “I like Pocono Raceway a lot. It is such a unique oval. It’s called the ‘Tricky Triangle’ because it has three different type of corners which are such fun to drive. Plus, it gives us great overtaking opportunities and we always provide an exciting show there. For example, we had an incredible seven-car-wide restart last year. I always enjoy this great track and I’m so looking forward to going back and having a strong run again.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

Saturday, Aug. 20
9 – 10:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:30 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps),RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live); TV: NBCSN (Taped, Midnight, Aug. 21)
5-5:30 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series final practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Sunday, Aug. 21
11:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series systems check
2:27 p.m. – Driver Introductions
3:03 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
3:09 p.m. – ABC Supply 500 (200 laps/500 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Ryan Hunter-Reay
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Will Power
5. Carlos Munoz
6. Takuma Sato
7. Simon Pagenaud
8. Ryan Briscoe
9. Scott Dixon
10. James Jakes
16. Helio Castroneves (pole)