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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