IndyCar returns to scene of Justin Wilson’s fatal injury

A man and his daughter are pictured at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. (Mel Evans/AP)

Summer vacation is over for IndyCar drivers. After three weeks without competition, teams reconvene at Pocono Raceway for 500 miles of action at the track known as the “Tricky Triangle.” And while it’s the final oval race of the year and the championship fight looks to be between overall leader Simon Pagenaud, who is 58 points ahead of his Penske teammate Will Power, these are not the top stories.

Up until the race begins Sunday afternoon the story that everyone will focus on is the emotional return to the track where Justin Wilson suffered the injuries that took his life one year ago.

During last year’s event Wilson was struck in the head by debris from another car involved in a crash and never regained consciousness. A year later we still miss the tall Brit with the warm, genuine smile, who rarely raised his voice but had the competitive fire needed to be successful. He was grateful for all that enriched his life and I still think of him talking about the challenges of finding a good curry in America.

Also this weekend at Pocono, tribute will be paid to racer Bryan Clauson, who died from injuries suffered in a crash earlier this month. Clauson raced this past May for Dale Coyne at the Indianapolis 500 and Coyne driver Conor Daly will campaign his car with No. 88 in a tribute to Clauson.

When the racing action does take centre stage, Team Penske will be in the spotlight because of the championship battle between Pagenaud and Power, and also driver Juan Pablo Montoya.

As he did a year ago, Montoya won the season opener at St. Pete in March but his 2016 campaign has been filled with struggles since then. Montoya has cracked the top five finishers only three times since St. Pete, and also finished last at the Indianapolis 500 after winning the year before. He’s obviously looking for a change in fortune and with a win and a podium finish the last two years at Pocono, this could be where it happens.

Helio Castroneves sits third in the championship chase but is more than 100 points back of Pagenaud. He and others behind him are mathematically alive but have no real shot at the title; they need to be achieving the best possible results to improve their lot in the standings and perhaps their work options for next year.

With only a month remaining in the season, the discussion of contracts and speculation regarding which drivers will be changing teams begins to get a bit louder.

Josef Newgarden is only signed with Ed Carpenter racing until the end of this season and he is one of those most sought after for 2017. Only weeks after a horrific crash in Texas, Newgarden dominated to win at the Iowa oval. The talented 25-year-old also finished third this year at the Indy 500. He’ll have a decision to make soon.

Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who is under contract with Schmidt Peterson next year, is also worth keeping an eye on this weekend. Hinchcliffe has shown well on ovals this year in his Honda-powered car scoring the pole at the Indy 500. Hinchcliffe is also technically still the leader at the suspended Texas oval race that will be concluded Aug. 27.

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