Mario Andretti fuming at IndyCar over Pocono axe

Mario disgusted with how IndyCar handled Pocono
Mario disgusted with how IndyCar handled Pocono

Angry. Disappointed.

That’s how Mario Andretti feels about the NTT IndyCar Series not returning to Pocono Raceway writes Scott Walsh of the Citizens Voice.

The racing legend from Nazareth believes the series made a terrible mistake when it released its schedule for the 2020 season Sunday and the 2.5-mile triangular track in Long Pond was not on it. Instead, Richmond Raceway was added.

“Pocono’s a great venue, it’s another superspeedway and IndyCar needs more ovals, not less," Andretti said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “To walk away from Pocono is a huge, huge mistake for the series. I’ll stand by that.

“It’s fine to add Richmond. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t lose Pocono at the expense of Richmond."

Andretti said he was actively involved in trying to convince the series to return to Pocono.

He said his son Michael, who owns the four-car Andretti Autosports team, was all in for a return to Pocono. Team owner Chip Ganassi was with him as well and Ganassi had talked to team owner Roger Penske and he, too, was all in.

Yet Andretti believes IndyCar had already made up its mind not to come back to Pocono. In that regard, he believes the series negotiated in bad faith and that’s what upsets him the most.

“There’s two sides to every story," Andretti said. “But the way I understand it, they came to an agreement on the business side of the race, sanctioning fee and all that. Then the last second — and this is the part that disturbs me because it shows they had already made up their mind and had no intention of coming back — they said now we need to have Pocono basically spend $1 million in improvements before next year. Obviously, they could not absorb that for just a one-year contract.

“That’s the part to me that shows they negotiated in bad faith. They should have even told me, ‘You know what Mario, we’re not going back at least for next year,’ instead of dragging it along and making us believe there still was a chance."

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One of the reasons cited for IndyCar not returning to Pocono was low attendance. But Andretti said the crowd was up for this year’s ABC Supply 500 and feels strongly there is interest in IndyCar in the area.

“It’s taken a while to get the fan base here to wake up that Pocono was happening," Andretti said. “A lot more work could have been done for next year. I offered my services pro bono to promote. I believe so much that we do have a fan base here. Even though NASCAR has taken over, IndyCar is still alive. To maintain continuity would have been a good plan."

With Pocono hosting only a NASCAR doubleheader weekend next June, Andretti felt more time and energy could have been devoted to the IndyCar race.

Another factor for IndyCar not coming back to Pocono was safety.

Three serious incidents occurred at the track. In 2015, Justin Wilson died from injuries suffered after he was struck in the helmet by debris from another car that crashed.

Last year, Robert Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury when his car sailed into the catch fence after making contact with another car.

And on the opening lap of this year’s race, there was a five-car crash that sent rookie Felix Rosenqvist to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries after his car sailed into the fence and another car landed upside-down atop another car.

“The crashes happened because of the drivers’ mistakes, not the track," Andretti said. “You’ve got to drive the track accordingly. Even the guys involved said it’s not the track’s fault, it’s our fault."

Does Andretti think IndyCar could one day return again to Pocono? He said you can never say never.

“I saw the (press) release from Pocono and they were very kind. I don’t think the bridge was burned," Andretti said. “But looking at the series overall, I think the series needs Pocono a lot more than Pocono needs the series. That’s all I can say."

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