Pocono runner-up Mikhail Aleshin goes from oval apprehension to oval appreciation

(Photo by Chris Jones/IndyCar)

Coming into this season, there would need to be a hump Mikhail Aleshin would have to get over on ovals for his second full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

While he liked racing on them and was thrilling to watch his first year, he did have to recover both physically and mentally following a serious accident in practice for the 2014 season finale. He was seriously injured in a horrendous wreck at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, when his car launched over Charlie Kimball’s and into the catch-fencing, the car essentially shredding like a cheese grater.

Aleshin suffered a concussion, broken ribs, a broken shoulder and chest injuries in that wreck. His recovery took months.

As a result partially of that and more so owing to political upheaval for sponsor SMP Racing, he couldn’t get a full-time ride in 2015 and was able to make just one IndyCar start: the season finale at Sonoma, California (finished 10th).

But Aleshin’s oval apprehension has started to turn to oval appreciation – not to mention oval success.

Aleshin not only started on the pole in Monday’s weather-rescheduled ABC Supply 500 race at Pocono Raceway, he finished runner-up to race winner Will Power, tying Aleshin’s career best in the series (Houston 2014).

He led a career-high 87 laps (he previously had led just 37 total laps in his IndyCar career to date, with 33 of those coming in the race at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago).

Admittedly, he struggled results-wise earlier this season on ovals at Phoenix (finished 17th) and in the Indianapolis 500 (27th).

But including Monday and his fifth-place finish at Iowa, Aleshin seems to not only have conquered his apprehension of racing on ovals, he’s actually enjoying them quite a bit.

“That’s what I said at the beginning of this year,” he told NBCSN after Monday’s race about his previous dislike of ovals. “I didn’t know for sure at the end of my first year, especially after Fontana.

“But now I understand and definitely like ovals, and I like them even more than probably most of the road courses.”

His duel with Power in the closing laps on Pocono’s 2.5-mile tri-oval was yet another testament to his love for oval racing.

“It was just so awesome, so intense racing,” Aleshin said. “You’re always at the edge and you’re always at 220 mph, so you never know what’s going to happen.

“And today, we had so much wind coming in, but I’m just happy to bring the SMP Racing No. 7 into second place. Yes, we didn’t get the victory, but we were very close.”

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NTT re-signs as IndyCar title sponsor in multiyear deal starting with the 2024 season

James Black/Penske Entertainment

The IndyCar Series has re-signed NTT as its title sponsor in a multiyear agreement starting in 2024.

NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan, became the series’ title sponsor before the 2019 season after starting as a sponsor of the No. 10 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

NTT Data (a subsidiary of parent company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.) will remain the official technology partner of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Brickyard weekend.

With the extension, an IndyCar spokesman said NTT would become the second-longest title sponsor in series history. The longest title sponsor was PPG from 1980-97 (under the CART sanction of the Champ Car Series).

NTT replaced Verizon, which was IndyCar’s title sponsor from 2014-18 after IZOD from 2010-13.

“NTT is an excellent partner across our enterprise with strong expertise and a deep commitment to our sport,” Penske Corp. chairman and IndyCar owner Roger Penske said in a release. “From Smart Venue technology at the Racing Capital of the World to the reimagined Series mobile application, NTT is transforming the fan experience in new and innovative ways. We look forward to a bright future together.”

NTT has used artificial intelligence-enabled optical detection technology at IMS to provide information to the track’s operations and security teams, helping improve fan traffic flow and safety, the track said.

“IndyCar is a great partner for NTT Data because of our shared commitment to driving innovation, increasing sustainability and delivering amazing experiences,” NTT Data CEO Kaz Nishihata said in a release. “We also appreciate how IndyCar is so diverse, with drivers from 15 different countries, and races that range from short ovals and superspeedways to road and street courses. It’s both an incredible sport and a wonderful example for our world.”

NTT also has been instrumental in helping redesign the IndyCar app and providing more race and driver data for use in NBC Sports’ broadcasts by utilizing 140 data points from every car in the field.

“NTT is fully invested in the development and growth of our sport and has already established a terrific track record in our industry with problem-solving capabilities and access to top talent and tools,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said.

Said NTT Data Services CEO Bob Pryor: “We’re thrilled to continue our collaborations that enhance and expand the fan experience for motorsports and serve as proof points for data analytics, AI, and other innovative digital technologies. For more than a century, this racing series has pioneered innovations making driving safer for everyone, and by continuing this relationship, we will accelerate the pace of innovations and new technologies, particularly related to sustainability that ultimately can benefit organizations, communities and individuals around the world.”

Starting as a Japanese telephone company, NTT grew into a $100 billion-plus tech services giant with U.S. operations based in Plano, Texas.