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DiZinno: Pocono thoughts, musings, observations

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Despite the relative lack of on-track activity besides the Verizon IndyCar Series at Pocono Raceway – there were some vintage IndyCars and kids in quarter midgets – there still seemed to be enough going on from the ABC Supply 500 weekend.

A few thoughts from the weekend, below:

  • Poor weather, but positive Pocono staff spirits: This was my first time to Pocono in my career and it’s always good to check another track off the box. I found the staff to be particularly pleasant, cheery and optimistic – not that other tracks don’t have staff quite like that, but I would have understood them being grumpy given the rain on Sunday and the logistical mess that followed. Track president Brandon Igdalsky deserves a round of applause for both his and his staff’s positivity in the face of a third challenging weekend in as many major events as they had this year.
  • Dodging a bullet. Helio Castroneves was gracious and candid in the wake of nearly getting hit by Alexander Rossi’s car on top of him, when Rossi’s car catapulted onto the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet in pit lane. “All of a sudden there was a car on top of me. It was a little strange to be honest. Inside the car, I was actually more protected than what it looked like. Sometime people don’t realize the Verizon IndyCar series are so much about safety and today is the proof of that. Very glad that nobody got hurt,” said the popular Brazilian driver. Rossi was thankful no one was hurt. Charlie Kimball was frustrated as he was trying to enter his pit and got hit by Rossi’s car. The accident very nearly produced a disastrous outcome, but ended up in a good way.
  • Four big names started towards the back. Three of them made it to the top 10. In the “What to Watch For” post I noted that Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay would be starting 14th, 15th, 19th and 22nd, and their progress would be important to monitor on race day. Montoya, Dixon and RHR ended eighth, sixth and third, all of whom tweaked on their cars to be dynamic on race day. Pagenaud? He picked a bad day to have a bad day. The otherwise faultless Frenchman made his first major mistake of the year when losing it in Turn 1. He can only hope this is a mere bump in the road as he pursues his first title and not the beginning of the end of it slipping away.
  • On Ryan Hunter-Reay’s drive that was simply amazeballs. Rare is the day you get a car as hooked up as Ryan Hunter-Reay’s was on Monday. Rarer still is the day you get that out of a backup car because your 2014 Indianapolis 500-winning primary car got tubbed in your practice accident on Saturday. Hunter-Reay’s aggression this year has been nothing short of mesmerizing to watch, and the American was at it again Monday from his start on the opening lap, to his methodical picking off of the rest of the field as the day went on. And then, there was that charge back in the final 25 laps after getting back on the lead lap to unleash the beast – nearly getting back to the front but instead settling for a hard-luck third. It’s going to be one of those drives, if you’re an IndyCar fan at all, where you’ll think back to where you were when it happened and think “Damn, what a performance.” Hunter-Reay’s stats are misleading because even though he ranks 11th in points this year, he’s been one of the top two or three drivers in the field.
  • Power’s good “Case of the Mondays.” “I must say every time we race on Monday, I win, seems to be. If you go back and look at the last six years, I’ll bet you I’ve won every Monday race. I can think of today, Brazil, St. Pete, all run on Mondays and I won them. So I don’t mind Mondays,” said Will Power, who added Pocono to that list of rain-delayed victories in his career. A funky fact, but an interesting one. He’s come on so strongly but he’s also grown into a much more complete, methodical driver rather than the old “win from the front, drive away” Power in his earlier years at Team Penske.
  • Aleshin and Schmidt Peterson on a roll. Fifth in Iowa, sixth in Toronto, a would-be first win at Mid-Ohio and now pole and second in Pocono – Mikhail Aleshin and the SMP Racing team with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are clicking. Consider too that teammate James Hinchcliffe has reeled off a ninth, third, fifth and 10th in the same time frame and you’ve got the results of the best performing Honda team in the field.
  • Honda’s dominated the two big ovals, but misses an important win. The interesting stat of the day: Hondas in the two 500-mile races have led 251 of 400 laps, for 62.75 percent. In the remaining 11 races completed thus far, they’ve been out front just 108 of 1277 laps, or 8.45 percent. With Honda missing its best win opportunity since the Indianapolis 500, there’s a concerning and realistic possibility they could win Indy, and go 0-for-the-rest-of-the-season otherwise.
  • Other nuggets/thoughts. Glad to see both Dale Coyne Racing drivers Conor Daly and Pippa Mann bring their cars (neither one particularly quick or well-handling) home to the finish in 16th and 17th, more than could be said for others. Mann joins Carlos Munoz and Scott Dixon in finishing the last three 500-miler races (tweet via Trackside Online), and Mann has finished her last six overall dating to 2014. … Josef Newgarden’s fourth place finish after starting second follows finishes of third (Indianapolis 500) and winning (Iowa) after also starting second. … Graham Rahal can’t seem to catch a break and started/finished 11th owing a lack of top-end speed. … Like at the Indianapolis 500, Max Chilton and Jack Hawksworth posted needed clean finishes in 13th and 14th (15th and 16th at Indy) and on the lead lap.

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.