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What to Watch For: IndyCar at Pocono (Noon ET, NBCSN)

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LONG POND, Pa. – The Verizon IndyCar Series has the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on tap today. It’s the second and last 500-mile race of the season and it’s at the second and last 2.5-mile oval of the season, although calling Pocono an oval is a bit of a misnomer since its nickname is “The Tricky Triangle.”

There’s still a number of items to look for in today’s race, now delayed to Monday due to rain, after a busy day of track activity on Saturday, with two practice sessions and qualifying.

PREVIEW
QUALIFYING REPORT

Here’s what to watch for in the 200-lap race:

FUEL CONSERVATION

Leading will inevitably burn more fuel, which means you don’t want to lead, which means the field is going to be working to save fuel if you’re not in the lead. And fuel saving leads to a fuel mileage race if the cautions and pit windows fall a certain way, and potentially you get a surprise winner.

Here’s NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter Jon Beekhuis’, “Professor B’s,” pit windows:

ALESHIN’S AWESOMENESS

Mikhail Aleshin and ovals have got along well – save for Fontana, 2014 – and the Russian simply loves driving on them. But more than that, he and the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda team are really clicking on all cylinders at the moment.

It’s odd to say that a Russian is an American fan favorite, but Aleshin has carved enough of a cult following among the IndyCar community that if he were to bag his first career win from pole, there’d be a lot of happy folks for him.

HONDA’S HIGH HOPES

With five of the top seven positions on the grid, and eight of the top 13, Honda is in a unique and perhaps welcome situation this year. The Hondas were expected to be more competitive at Pocono and frankly nothing less than a win will do for them on Sunday. They’ve won only once all year.

Aleshin would be a first-time winner while Takuma Sato has looked impressive and starts third, Carlos Munoz looks really good and could easily win from fifth, James Hinchcliffe seeks his first oval win in three years from sixth, Alexander Rossi goes for a 500-mile race sweep from seventh, then any of Graham Rahal, Jack Hawksworth or Marco Andretti could spring a mile surprise from 11th, 12th and 13th. Of the Honda teams, really only Dale Coyne Racing has had a tough go of it this weekend.

DIVERSITY AT THE TOP OF THE GRID

There’s a lot of diversity and variety at the top of the grid. The top six features drivers from six different nationalities (Russia, USA, Japan, Brazil, Colombia and Canada) and the top five are from five different teams (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Ed Carpenter Racing, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport). Consider you’ve got three Hondas and two Chevrolets and that’s a testament to how diverse and deep IndyCar is, right there.

Also consider that on Saturday of the three accidents in practice, we had one apiece from Andretti (Ryan Hunter-Reay), Chip Ganassi Racing (Charlie Kimball) and Penske (Juan Pablo Montoya), which almost never happens.

THAT RARE MOMENT WHEN YOU LOOK FROM P14 ON BACK AND SEE THESE NAMES:

The starting grid for the ABC Supply 500 features these names in positions you don’t ordinarily see them:

14. Simon Pagenaud
15. Juan Pablo Montoya
19. Scott Dixon
22. Ryan Hunter-Reay

Three series champions and Indianapolis 500 winners, and the current 2016 points leader (Simon Pagenaud) starting P14 on back.

Yes it’s a 500-mile race, and yes, you don’t need to start up front to win. But it’s still a ways to go for these four.

Don’t rule them out, of course, and note that Dixon and Montoya were a respectable fifth and sixth in final practice.

Pagenaud has a 58-point lead over Will Power and will look to maintain a similar gap if not lose too many points coming out of the weekend.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.