Feature: The pros and cons of racing at Pocono
Following the ABC Supply Co 500 last weekend at the Pocono Raceway, the IndyCar world has been up in arms over whether or not the series should return in 2020 to the SuperSpeedway.
Pocono has had a reputation for producing some of IndyCar's fastest speeds next to Indianapolis, as well as producing up to nine-wide racing down it's incredibly wide front stretch. However, Pocono is also known for some horrible accidents in both the NTT IndyCar Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, some of which have proven fatal.
This piece will serve as a Pros and Cons examination of the Speedway, and examine the hot question in the paddock "Should the IndyCar Series race at Pocono".
Pocono has been the site of some incredible racing over the years in both series. With three corners based off of Indy, Trenton and Milwaukee, it gives a unique shaped facility to an otherwise very cookie cutter oval scene in American motorsports. In 1971 the USAC National Championship made its debut at the track as part of a triple crown with Indy and Fontana. Mark Donahue would claim victory beating out NASCAR regulars Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison.
The race was an immense success, with nearly 33 cars showing up for each race. When the USAC/CART split occurred Pocono went over to CART series, settling a lawsuit between the owners and USAC. This proved to showcase the track once again, with packed grandstands and incredible racing. The race was canceled in 1990 but brought back in 2013 to serve as one of the season's super speedway races, The first two events contained high octane racing with nearly end to end caution-free action.
New IndyCar DW12 bodies were able to bring the iconic 7,8,9 wide action to the Pocono Raceway. The 2016 and 2017 races also produced the same fantastic action leading to some drivers to love the challenge of running the high speeds.
On the NASCAR side Pocono has seen plenty of action including then unknown rookie Denny Hamlin sweeping the events in 2006. The race is also the site of Ryan Blaney's first cup win 2017 for the Wood Brothers and Chris Buescher's first win with Front Row Motorsports.
Pocono has seen over 20 different winners in its nearly 30-year history. With it being NASCAR's only two stops in the Keystone State, fans travel a long way to these races. With the grandstands consistently packed, it would be hard to justify removing a commercially successful track. Pocono has been a spectacle
However where there is pros there are cons.
The main draw of Pocono raceway has been the spectacular crashes in the Cup and Indycar Series. Here is a brief overview of some of Pocono's most dangerous accidents.
- 1979: Eldon Rasmussen was knocked unconscious after colliding head on with the wall, he also suffered broken bones and a concussion
- 1988: Due to poor track conditions it lead to 11 cautions. Drivers wrecked included Arie Luyendyk, Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford.
- 1989: This saw a moment where Scott Pruett's team pulled nails and hunks of metal from their tires. They had seven punctures during practice.
- 2015: After Sage Karam crashed, his nosecone bounced down the track striking Justin Wilson in the head. Wilson would late pass away from his injuries a few days later.
- 2018: Last year nearly saw another fatal accident when Robert Wickens was launched into the catchfence. The Canadian became a paraplegic following the crash and was very vocal on social media about canceling the race.
- 2019: Takuma Sato ended up upside down and Felix Rosenqvist was transported to a local hospital following a scary first lap crash.
- 1982: Dale Earnhardt suffered a neck injury after flipping over Tim Richmond
- 1988: Bobby Allison's career was ended following injuries sustained from a t-bone crash.
- 1992: This race was married by a horrifying accident when Davey Allison flipped, his car coming apart on the side stretch. Allison was uninjured.
- 2002: Steve Park flipped after crashing with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Park was unhurt.
- 2003: Ken Schrader flipped after crashing in turn one. His car burst into flames upon landing, the driver of the No.49 was unhurt.
- 2010: Elliott Sadler is involved in NASCAR's hardest recorded crash. He spins to avoid a wreck, before slamming into an exposed barrier. The hit left Sadler winded and ripped the engine out of the car.
- 2010: Kasey Kahne was launched airborne after being spun across the track and making contact with Greg Biffle and Mark Martin
- 2018: Darrell Wallace Jr's brakes failed going into turn one. The No.43 impacted hard into the wall and caught fire in a nearly identical wreck to Jimmie Johnson's in 2017.
Some of the cons have been contributed to the track being too fast and too wide. With a lot of drivers impacting the walls at high speeds, it prompted track officials to install SAFER barriers and take better precautions to avoid driver injuries. Unfortunately, with speeds going up and cars getting lighter, could Pocono become a hot button topic around the Motorsports water cooler?
How to Fix it?
Now certainly dropping the race from the calender is NOT the way to go. Racetracks evolve with the times, Daytona got restrictor plates, the Charlotte roval added the bigger backstretch chicane and on the IndyCar circuit Toronto was almost redesigned in one year.
Pocono needs a redesign and a road course could be the perfect solution. CEO Brandon Igdalsky had mentioned the potential of a road course being added as the second date for Pocono on the NASCAR circuit. The addition of the of the road course could mean IndyCar could remain at the Pocono raceway but essentially have their own "roval" race so to speak.
With the potential to bring down speeds and also create more breaking zones that would lead to lower potential for violent airbourne crashes. This has worked before as prior to the Indy 500, the Series has run on the Formula 1 layout of IMS. That being said not all speedway races are bad, with the hypothetical move to the road course it would only leave two super speedways for the IndyCar Series, Indy and Texas.
With both these races having earned fame and notoriety it could lead to the series rolling with just the two for the time being. A lot of the crashes could happen anywhere, but Pocono has had the misfortune of lumping nearly 20-30 terrible accidents on its surface in the last 30 years. It will be up to the IndyCar promoters to ultimately decide Pocono's 2020 fate.