More laps new twist to IndyCar series at Pocono

The start of last year's Pocono race

This year's Verizon IndyCar Series at Pocono Raceway is 500 miles — 100 more than last year's race.

That's 40 more laps around the 2.5-mile triangular track in Long Pond, which, according to driver Graham Rahal, is 40 more chances for something to happen — good, bad or otherwise.

"Five-hundred milers, they're fun for us," Rahal said. "It's a long day, a tiring day. But if something bad happens, you have some time to recover and get yourself back with a chance to win. So I think it will be good."

When the series made its return to Pocono last year for the first time since 1989, the distance was 400 miles simply because of network television. IndyCar wanted to make sure the race was completed within the live three-hour window that was provided.

Since this year's race will be televised on cable by the NBC Sports Network, that is not an issue. So the Pocono IndyCar 500 Fueled by Sunoco got added miles, and most drivers seem to like the move.

Ed Carpenter finished ninth in last year's race. Had it been 500 miles, though, he believes his finish might have been better.

"I know I needed the extra 100 miles last year to get to where we wanted to be," Carpenter said. "Long races, 500-mile races, are fun. There's an added element to those for the driver and the team. So I was excited to see there was an extra 100 miles."

Carpenter said there isn't much difference between racing 400 miles and 500 miles. Because the cars and the competition are so good, you have to go hard all the time. Gone are the days of drivers cruising around a 500-mile race and waiting until the end for something to happen.

"The biggest difference is that it allows for more time to improve your position, more time for other people to make mistakes, more time for alternate strategies to play out," Carpenter said. "I just think it makes it more intriguing to the teams to have the longer races."

Plus, there just is something about the number 500 in racing. It's a tradition, and even though Pocono was not on the schedule for 23 years, all of its previous IndyCar races were 500 miles.

Fuel mileage could again be a factor with a longer race. Last year, the Honda-powered cars of Chip Ganassi Racing were able to run longer on fuel, which led to a podium sweep with winner Scott Dixon, second-place Charlie Kimball and third-place Dario Franchitti.

Also, Pocono counts twice as much in the points. This year, IndyCar made its three 500-mile races — Pocono, Indianapolis and Fontana, California — double-point races. The outcome of the Pocono IndyCar 500 could shake up the standings.

"Adding 100 miles to Pocono and more points is going to be important," driver Helio Castroneves said. "So we're going to focus on having a good setup. It's going to be a long day, probably five to eight pit stops. Hopefully, it will be a clean race and we'll have a good performance."

Unlike last year, when the teams did not know what to expect from Pocono, they have some experience under their belts this time around. But there could be a new variable as IndyCar has a different right-side tire for this year's race.

Marco Andretti, who won the pole last year, led 88 laps, but finished 10th, said the teams will have to see how the tires performs to determine if the setups they used last year will work or if they can duplicate the exciting racing that was seen this year at Indianapolis.

"We need to know how we're going to come off turn 3, what kind of grip we're going to have," Andretti said. "If we can keep our foot in it, then yeah (it could be like Indianapolis). But if we lose too much behind the car, then it will be tough."

Practice sessions for the Pocono IndyCar 500 are scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. with qualifying set for 5 p.m. The Indy Lights Series race will be held at 3:45 p.m.

On July 6, the Pocono IndyCar 500 will get the green flag at 1 p.m. Times-Tribune

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