Castroneves Leads Penske Top-Three Sweep in Pocono Qualifying

LONG POND, Pa. (Aug. 22, 2015) – Team Penske swept the top three positions in qualifications for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, but its fourth entry driven by Verizon IndyCar Series championship front-runner Juan Pablo Montoya will be in a decidedly more difficult position at the outset of the 200-lap race Aug. 23.

Helio Castroneves earned his fourth Verizon P1 Award of the season with a two-lap average speed of 220.530 mph (1 minute, 21.6217 seconds) on the 2.5-mile triangular oval in the No. 3 Shell V-Power Team Penske Chevrolet.

Castroneves bumped Simon Pagenaud (220.485 mph) in the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet from the provisional pole. Earlier in the session, Will Power recorded a two-lap average speed of 220.398 mph in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and will start third.

“I was able to collect some information from (Power and Pagenaud) and at the end of the day we’re strong, we’re solid and I can’t wait for the race,” said Castroneves, who secured his 45th career pole in his 310th Indy car start.

Montoya, who has won four of his 10 Indy car 500-mile race starts including the 2014 race at Pocono Raceway and the 2015 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race from the 15th starting position, will start 19th in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet after posting a two-lap average speed of 217.194 mph.

“You can’t really know what’s going to happen. We’ve done a really good job all year, like everybody else, had ups and downs, and we’ll see what it brings,” said Montoya, who set the track two-lap qualifying record of 223.871 mph in July 2014.

Montoya enters the race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a nine-point lead over Graham Rahal in the championship standings. Scott Dixon is in third place, followed by Castroneves and Power, the reigning series champion. Rahal qualified fifth (220.118 mph) in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dixon qualified 11th (218.969) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Ten drivers are mathematically eligible for the title, which will be decided Aug. 30 in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on the Sonoma Raceway road course. With the season finale carrying double points, a driver must leave Pocono within 104 points of the lead to remain eligible. It will mark the 10th consecutive season in which the title is decided in the finale.

The Pocono qualifying session was delayed 48 minutes for repairs to the catch fencing in Turn 3 after the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet driven by Charlie Kimball made contact with the SAFER Barrier and catch fencing on his first qualifying lap. Kimball was checked at the infield care center and cleared to drive. The backup car was being prepared to start from the last row in the race. Kimball had turned the fastest lap in the 90-minute morning practice.

Also, the No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet driven by rookie Stefano Coletti that made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier in the morning practice did not make a qualifying attempt and will start on the last row.

Karam Takes Meeting with Media to the Dogs

Sage Karam has made headlines on and off the track in his Verizon IndyCar Series rookie season.

His aggressive driving has impressed many and drawn the ire of some. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammates have welcomed him the way most veterans do, with pranks and prodding, including extensive “ribbing” for a recent photo Karam posted on social media of him with his dog, Max.

So the 20-year-old from nearby Nazareth one-upped them when he met with Pocono Raceway media today by bringing Max, a 7-yard-old Goldendoodle, along.

“My teammates ribbed me for (the photo with Max) because they said it looked a little inappropriate,” Karam said. “He got pretty famous off the photo, so he’s a little more famous than me in the INDYCAR paddock right now. I figured I’d bring him out (from home). He’s a cool dog. He’s having fun.”

Karam also said he had no problem being viewed by some as “a villain” for his aggressive driving.

“People have opinions and that’s fine,” he said. “I just go out there every weekend and I drive my hardest. I do whatever I can to win. Whether the other guys like it or not, I don’t know, that’s up to them. But for me, that’s just how I drive, aggressive and wanting to win.

Karam is having fun as well at his home race, but know he needs to keep things in perspective with many friends and family in attendance.

“It’s just another race, that’s how you’ve got to look at it,” he said. “It’s the same thing with the Indy 500. It’s a very big race, yes, but once you get in the car, get going, it’s just another race. I’ll try to do everything the same this weekend I’d do if this wasn’t Pocono.”

Montoya Shows Eagles Lineman How to Make the Donuts

Juan Pablo Montoya brought an ear-to-ear grin to an exceptionally large NFL player’s face during a visit Friday to the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice complex.

All it took was a few deftly performed donuts and drifting around a few light poles in an empty parking lot of the Eagles’ complex. Montoya, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship points leader, was driving the Pocono Raceway pace car and 6-4, 298-pound defensive end Fletcher Cox was the passenger.

“I gave him a fun ride,” said Montoya. Cox, an Indy car fan from Mississippi State University, appreciated the effort and presented the Team Penske driver with an Eagles jersey.

“That many donuts with a professional driver was amazing,” Cox said. “At first I was like, ‘Wow!’ Just being in the car with him, just watching him and how focused he was on what he was doing in the car is so amazing.”

Montoya took in much of the practice on the sidelines with Eagles president Don Smolenski and met with head coach Chip Kelly.

Andretti Is Model of Consistency in 2015

Marco Andretti, of nearby Nazareth, Pa., enters his home race at Pocono as the only driver to complete every lap of every race this far in 2015. Andretti winces at the public acknowledgement for fear of being jinxed.

Through 14 races, Andretti has completed all 1,947 laps. By adding 285 laps over the final two races of the season, he would join former teammate Tony Kanaan as the only Indy car drivers to go through a season with such a distinction. Kanaan completed all 3,305 laps in 17 races on the way to winning the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Andretti said “it’s everything” – from the crew of the No. 27 Snapple Honda for Andretti Autosport to fortune and more – to be in this position.

“It takes me staying out of trouble. It’s definitely a credit to Honda as well for its reliability,” said Andretti, who is seventh in the standings and mathematically eligible for the title. “Even when we’ve been a lap down, we’ve still managed to come back to be on the lead lap.

“There have only been a few races where we’ve been out of the top 10. From that standpoint, I’m happy with my season. I wish the highs were a little bit higher. We’ve minimized how bad the lows are, but we need to capitalize when we have the cars to do it.”

Fans Can Choose Their Favorite Driver on Social Media

Verizon IndyCar Series fans can vote for their favorite driver on social media in the #INDYRIVALS Fan Favorite contest running now through the drop of the green flag to start the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 30.

To cast a ballot on Twitter, voters must use the hashtag #INDYRIVALS and tag their favorite driver in the tweet. Retweeting any driver’s tweet requesting votes also counts. In addition, fans may visit IndyRivals.com and click “Vote” under their favorite driver’s photo. That will automatically populate a tweet for voters to send from their own account, which will also count as a vote. There are no restrictions to how often or how many times someone may vote.

Of Note

NBCSN Verizon IndyCar Series lead announcer Leigh Diffey and analyst Steve Matchett face a busy day Sunday. The duo start the day at NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn., where they will call the action for NBSCN’s broadcast of the Belgian Grand Prix beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET. Then they’ll hop a short chartered flight to Pocono Raceway to call the ABC Supply 500 beginning at 2 p.m. with fellow analyst Paul Tracy. … The CFH Racing cars for Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden are both carrying “Bulldog Strong” decals to support sprint car driver Kevin Swindell, injured last week in a crash while competing in the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals.

ABC SUPPLY 500 POST-QUALIFYING QUOTES:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Shell V-Power Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon P1 Award winner): “It was a good day. It was a solid run, man. I could not believe it, especially with the delay. Good thing Charlie (Kimball) is OK. When you start building up anxiety with the wind picking up, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you’re like, ‘Oh, boy, let’s get going.’ Thankfully, everybody did an excellent job fixing the track and we were able to continue qualifying. With that, the car was unbelievable, flawless. Basically like I said, ‘Don’t lift, just keep going.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet, second fastest): “It was a good run. This morning we did a good job on the Penske Truck Rental car, understanding how it’s going to work in traffic and during the race. Quite challenging now is the rear bumper (of the car is now) filled up. It makes it very difficult in traffic. The car was great. It was an interesting run. We had a bit of a scrub in Turn 1, a bit of a lift. We missed the balance there a little bit, but then the car was really fast overall, just had too much (tire) degradation on the second lap to hold onto it. Super proud of the guys and Team Penske, 1-2-3 (in qualifying). Good job for the team on the car preparation.”

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “You can’t really know what’s going to happen. We’ve done a really good job all year, like everybody else, had ups and downs, and we’ll see what it brings.”

STEFANO COLETTI (No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): “Obviously, I am disappointed not to be able to qualify. We had a great car this morning in practice. It was well balanced and we were trimming it even more for qualifying. Then on my last run, my last outing, I crashed and we couldn’t get it repaired in time for the qualifying session. We will start from the back of the field tomorrow, but it is a 500-mile race so anything can happen.”

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda): “Qualifying today was a little so-so. We didn’t quite hit the balance. The first practice session flew by so quick and we never got our qual sim in, so just missed the balance a little bit in qualifying. I felt like we had the right amount of downforce on it and we had good speed. I just had to lift in Turn 1 because of the understeer. That kind of hurt us, but we were able to relay that feedback back to the No. 7 car (teammate James Jakes) and I think it helped them out. I think qualifying could’ve been better but the car felt reasonably strong and we had good speed, so hopefully that will translate into a good race.”

JAMES JAKES (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Not a bad session for the No. 7 SPM Oculus Honda. It wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but I think it was better than this morning. I think we can have a good race and get back into the top 10. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow, 500 miles, so I’m looking forward to it and the weather’s good. We’ve got another practice session today at 5:30, so hopefully we can improve the balance some more.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Team Mistic E-Cigs-KVSH Chevrolet): “It was a good effort from the Mistic E-Cigs – KVSH Racing crew. We had a bit of trouble at the end of the practice this morning, so we didn’t really know what we had for qualifying. We had a very disconnected car, in practice, understeer, oversteer and in qualifying the car was very free, but pretty solid. I didn’t play too much with the adjustments, so no complaints. I am just happy to have managed two flat out laps, which I have never done at Pocono in qualifying until today. It is a 500-mile race, so you never know what can happen. Hopefully we can have a good race and stay in contention for a top-five finish in the championship.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “It was a very good run. We had a very good morning practice session and the car improved with every run. We were confident for qualifying. Obviously it is always a balance between downforce and drag. The car was sliding a bit, but I was able to control it and was satisfied with the lap. So good job to all the ABC Supply boys and engineers for making the car very fast. Hopefully we’ll have a good car in the race.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda): “That was a good qualifying session for sure. To get the Steak ‘n Shake Honda in the top-five feels really was good. I definitely think the aero efficiency of the Chevy has an advantage over us here, but my guys did a great job to get us a starting spot up front, particularly engineers Mike (Talbott) and (race engineer) Eddie (Jones) who chose a good downforce level (for qualifying). We didn’t shoot for it all. I told them ‘Let’s be conservative, let’s get some good laps and we’ll be alright.’ To be the top Honda feels good again but we’ve got a big day tomorrow, I’ve got to make up some points and I think we can do it. We have to chase down Juan (Montoya) in the points. Obviously qualifying didn’t go his way but Juan is one heck of a competitor and I know he will be there right on our heels tomorrow. This is a relief. Starting practice today we were so slow I was really concerned, but all of a sudden the car came to life.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet): “It’s hard when you get into these two-day shows and we’ve been behind since we got here. After our qualifying run, it is back to the drawing board. I have to do a better job, we all have to do a better job. Hopefully, I have a better practice later, but we certainly have a lot of work to do.”

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda): “Definitely looking forward to the race tomorrow. I’ve got to thank Andretti Autosport and Honda; the car is working really well here. I’m really pleased with it. Hopefully we can keep making a couple more tweaks and get even better for this evening’s practice, and do some race running. I think it will be a good race.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda): “I think I was expecting a little lower (speeds), I was expecting 218s. The car was really good, we changed some stuff on warm-up. I love this track. I’ve always been competitive here, so I’m OK with qualifying. I think we did the best with what we had and tomorrow is a 500-mile race, so we will see what can happen.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda): “(On the first lap) the car went down into (Turn) 1 and it just didn’t turn. It really caught me off guard — I almost hit the wall with the right front (tire). I just had to really pedal it and save it. To regather it and still have one more lap to go … it was a long run. I think we got a little greedy, but luckily it’s 500 miles of racing tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think that was a good run. We could have been a little bit better maybe, but you have to be careful. Especially considering what happened with Charlie (Kimball) there – you can overstep it here. It’s a fine line. Usually for 500-mile races it’s not a big deal for qualifying, you don’t put much emphasis on it, but here it’s very tough to pass sometimes. They don’t call it the Tricky Triangle for nothing.”

JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “It was a pretty solid run, the car felt pretty good. It was really nice through Turn 3, OK through Turn 2 and probably a little too much understeer in Turn 1. It seems like the wind picked up on my run because I had to change my gear strategy during the run. Once I did that, the second lap was a little bit better. It felt like we had a little too much downforce as well, but it should be a good race car for tomorrow.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet): “The No. 67 Chevrolet has been really good. We had a tough first session there, trying to get on top of all of the changes we needed to make and everything that was going on with the car. We didn’t roll off like we wanted to, but I feel bad now because we were really fast during our qualifying run. I think the car had another half-mile per hour, maybe a mile per hour, in it. We were shooting in the dark a little bit, we did the best we could. We have a great team, we always come back really strong when we don’t start that well. I am happy with that, I hope that keeps us up towards the top of the pecking order.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet): “I’m all right, just a little disappointed. Really disappointed. Went into (Turn) 1 and the car caught me out a little bit with the handling, so I made some adjustments and I don’t know if it was the wind or what caught me going into (Turn) 3. Maybe I was a little aggressive, but it’s qualifying. You have to go for it. I’m really disappointed for the whole Novo Nordisk team. I know a lot of guys from Novo Nordisk are coming up and the car was really fast this morning. That’s the good thing about having a crew like Chip Ganassi Racing behind you. I know that the car they pull out of the trailer will be just as good.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda): “So, all in all, considering where we were in practice, I’m happy with the changes to the Bowers & Wilkins Castrol EDGE car before qualifying. I think we’ve found a bit of direction of which way to take the setup and keep improving. We want to be higher up, but we’ll take this improvement and see what we can do for the race.”