The question surrounding players in the Firestone Fantasy Challenge looking ahead to the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway is simple – will the action at the 2.5-mile triangular layout play similar to what occurred this past May in the 101st Indianapolis 500? If it does, it may become a final opportunity for the Honda-powered teams to snatch a win away from the juggernaut known as Chevrolet and its key disciple: Team Penske.
Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing led the assault in qualifications and despite multiple Honda runners being eliminated in the race by either engine trouble or accidents, Takuma Sato outpaced Penske’s Helio Castroneves to take the win. If this is the scenario of choice, Honda should make up most of the four-driver roster this weekend. However, the Japanese aggressor might not be the best option.
Of course, if Pocono plays in step with the Texas 600 – a race marred by high attrition, Chevrolet may be able to level the playing field. There’s also the champinonship battle to watch, as Pennsylvania’s big oval may provide Sato and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon their best shot to cut into the lead currently held by Josef Newgarden.
While I have included the Kiwi in my quartet for this Sunday’s action, let the buyer beware. Dixon took the checkered flag in the 2013 event and had top-ten placements in the following three races at the venue. Unfortunately, the Iceman failed to finish at both the Indianapolis 500 and the Texas 600 in 2017.
Based on the eye test, I had to include Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay this week. In my opinion, there has not been a consistently faster driver on the big ovals than the 36-year-old American. His only issue recently has been bad luck. RHR won at Pocono in 2015 and finished third here a season ago. However, he was removed from contention at the 2016 Indy 500 by a pit road incident, and in May, the engine concerns forced an early retirement. If the good vibes are in gear on Sunday, the No. 28 DHL Honda should be the rabbit in race trim.
Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi failed to finish last year in Pennsylvania; however, his win at Indy in 2016 and a strong run to seventh in May merit his inclusion.
As for the GM entries, there is one inclusion. The Brickyard showed that Ed Carpenter Racing was able to overcome a deficiency in top end grunt. Of course, taking a driver from that camp is not advised on road courses, but that view is squashed at Pocono. Usually, I would take the team owner Ed Carpenter in a heartbeat; but with the boss struggling to salvage results, I think it is time to get behind J.R. Hildebrand one more time. While the 2011 Indy 500 runner-up has never turned a wheel at the “Tricky Triangle,” his ability to make the checkered flag at 16th and Georgetown backs his selection.
After being fulfilled grandly in the first two high-speed oval rounds in 2017, the final course should be equally grand if not a bit better with championship considerations included.
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