Published February 05, 2015
Marco Andretti heads home to Pocono Raceway still smarting from an unprecedented call levied against him by IndyCar during the first race of the doubleheader weekend at Houston.
Andretti was racing ahead of leader Takuma Sato trying to stay on the lead lap when IndyCar issued a blue flag and ordered him out of Sato's way. The command, which Andretti initially disobeyed, would have forced him to willingly go one lap down from the leader.
Because he disobeyed the blue flag, he was shown the black flag, which is punished by a drive-thru penalty. A day after the Saturday incident, he was fined $2,500 by IndyCar.
At issue is whether IndyCar made the right call in issuing the blue flag to a car still on the lead lap. Series officials have intimated they believed Andretti was intentionally blocking Sato to aid Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe, who was in second and closed the gap on Sato while Andretti was in front.
If IndyCar has evidence to support that theory, they've yet to make it public. Last week, after overturning a penalty against Sebastien Bourdais, IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker admitted the series lacks $5 million worth of technology he believes is necessary to properly police the teams.
Andretti and his father, team owner Michael Andretti, have both denied he was blocking for Hinchcliffe. Michael Andretti angrily called the accusation his son was following team orders "an absolute lie."
It's an issue that has resonated with the drivers, who questioned IndyCar about the blue flag in their meeting with race control a day after Andretti was penalized. It will likely still be discussed when the series shifts this week to Pocono for Sunday's race.
"I think it was the wrong call by IndyCar," said Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. "There's no way that early in the race Marco would be told to slow Sato up. ... He's got a right to be there. I've been in the position plenty of times where I've been the leader of the race and there's a lead lap car in front of me, getting ready to be lapped and IndyCar has never given me any help on that. I didn't expect it because that guy is fighting for every inch of the race track in order to stay on the lead lap."
Andretti, who started from the pole last year at Pocono before finishing 10th, is hoping the Pennsylvania track will be the site of his season turnaround. He heads into this weekend ranked sixth with two podium finishes.
"I'm really hoping to build on last year's Pocono performance this weekend, I think it's a track that we can do well at and Turn 1 there is one of my favorite corners in motorsports," he said. "With all of the hometown support, I'm hoping to put on a good show for the fans and grab a win."
ONE MORE SPOT: Denny Hamlin returns to Daytona International Speedway looking for the one podium position that eluded him in February.
He had one of the most successful Speedweeks in recent memory when he opened the season with a win in the exhibition Sprint Unlimited and added another victory in the Budweiser Duel qualifying race. But when it counted, in the Daytona 500, Hamlin fell one spot short and finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hamlin did, however, earn his first career points-paying restrictor plate race in May at Talladega Superspeedway.
But he wants that Daytona victory, especially after Saturday night's disappointment at Kentucky when a blown front tire on the 27th lap led to a last-place finish.
"We have obviously had a lot of success in the restrictor plate races this year," he said. "I think I have learned a lot about that style of racing over the years. I was always the guy that tried to start a new line and make something happen, and it didn't always work out for me.
"I think this year I have been a little more patient and let the race come to me a bit more. In the Daytona 500, we were just a little too far back on the last lap and made it up to second. I knew at Talladega that I wanted to be the one out front holding people off. I think that has been the preferred position in the last few plate races."
CUTTING BACK: Kyle Larson was the busiest man in racing a year ago, when he traveled coast to coast to race in anything he could.
A promotion to the Sprint Cup Series for Chip Ganassi Racing meant he had to cut back his schedule, which hasn't been as devastating as Larson had feared.
"It's not been bad at all," he said. "I was surprised, being such a die-hard sprint car racer, I thought not racing a lot of dirt track stuff this year would be bad, that I'd be bored. But I'm not."
Instead, Larson has found that his NASCAR commitments have him so busy there's very little time to race sprint cars. He's a rookie in the Sprint Cup Series, where he's vying for his first win of the season and trying for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and pulls double duty on companion weekends with the Nationwide Series. He also owns a sprint car team.
For now, the focus for Larson is making the Chase. He heads into Saturday night's race at Daytona ranked 12th in the standings with nine races to go to set the Chase field.
"We're pretty confident," he said. "I think if we do get in the Chase, we're capable enough to make it on each round to the final round at Homestead. If we do get there, I'd be super confident that we'd pull it off, so I am hoping we can get into the Chase, for sure. I think we have got a good shot."
FORMULA E: Mike Conway will drive for Dragon Racing in the upcoming FIA Formula E Championship. Conway, who currently drives for Ed Carpenter Racing in IndyCar, won at Long Beach this season and is also driving for Toyota for its LMP1 WEC program.
"I have always been impressed by his talents, smarts, and performance in the IndyCar Series, and we feel that the combination of his experience, tenacity, and driving skills will be a force this year in the FIA Formula E Championship," said Jay Penske, owner of Dragon Racing.
Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport will use Scott Speed and Gil de Ferran in this week's Formula E test at UK's Donington Park.
Speed, who is Andretti's full-time Rallycross driver, will complete the two-day test alongside Andretti Formula E's Franck Montagny. De Ferran will lend his expertise in completing some laps for the team.