The Verizon IndyCar Series’ version of the Triple Crown has always been quite difficult. It will be a little bit harder come Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
The race will be longer than last year – an extra 100 miles have been added – and that means a tougher path to victory in the Pocono IndyCar 500.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the first leg with his win in the Indianapolis 500, understands that heading into qualifying that starts at 5 p.m. today.
“It does, absolutely,” Hunter-Reay said. “I mean, coming off the heels of the Indy 500, I’m pretty confident in our oval panel, especially on the bigger ovals. Hopefully we can make a big run for it.
“We had a good test (at Pocono). It’s something I’m looking forward to. Obviously the Triple Crown would be a huge honor to be a part of. One step at a time. One stint at a time. We’ll see how Pocono goes. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a hard-fought race.”
The Triple Crown was revived last season after a 24-year hiatus. The last ran from 1971-1989. Only one driver – Al Unser in 1978 – won all three races. Back then, the tracks were Indianapolis, Pocono and Ontario Speedway in California, which closed in 1980. Michigan Speedway took its spot in 1981.
Tony Kanaan was an example of just how difficult winning even two legs of the Triple Crown could be. He won the 2013 Indy 500 and started fifth in last year’s Pocono IndyCar 400, but finished 13th. He was third in the final leg, the season-ending race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
So while getting a victory Sunday is Hunter-Reay’s ultimate goal, he also knows that the double-points race could help cut the deficit between him and points leader Will Power. Hunter-Reay is in third, 41 points behind Power.
“It’s absolutely critical,” Hunter-Reay said. “Even the double points races, even the doubleheaders, we came off a double points race at Houston. It was two races, but still double points.
“Here we have one race with double points at Pocono. We go to Toronto, and that’s another race with down-the-line points. We go to Fontana with double points. … There’s a lot riding on every weekend. You can have huge swings in your championship fight because of it.”
Hunter-Reay, who drives for Andretti Autosport, left Indianapolis as the points leader. He then struggled in a doubleheader at Detroit and at Texas before making rebounding in last weekend’s doubleheader at Houston.
“We came out of Indy with a pretty strong points lead. Left Texas looking like we were a little too far out of first,” Hunter-Reay said. “But we’ve done a good job at Houston to close that gap a little bit. Certainly closed up on (second-place) Helio (Castroneves). We’re now two points out of second place.
“As I mentioned before, we’ve got a string of races here coming that could really play a huge part in the championship fight.”
The Pocono weekend last year started well for Hunter-Reay. He qualified second and was running in the top five before being clipped by Takuma Sato while entering pit road on lap 61. Following repairs, he finished 20th.
“Well, they don’t call it the Tricky Triangle for nothing,” Hunter-Reay said. “It is a very tough track, especially in an IndyCar in turn three. It’s low grip. When you get into traffic, it’s not as easy to follow as it would be at Indianapolis, say.”