IndyCar returns to Pocono for 1st time since ‘89

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LONG POND, PA. (AP) - For the first time in 24 years, an Andretti was behind the wheel of an open-wheel car at Pocono.

Marco Andretti, a third-generation driver, slid into the cockpit of his No. 25 Chevrolet on Wednesday and sped off at over 200 mph on the smooth Pocono Raceway asphalt to officially end an open-wheel drought that stretched to 1989.

IndyCar was back on track at Pocono.

Mario Andretti, Marco’s grandfather and an open-wheel great, tinkered with the car on pit road and even picked bugs off the windshield. Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears watched from the garage before leaving for the spotter’s stand.

The throwback stars weren’t about to miss the IndyCar Series hit the triangle track Wednesday for a tire test in preparation for the race July 7. Marco Andretti, Will Power and four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti were among the current crop of drivers who hit speeds of 215 mph in open-wheel’s first action at the track _ now known for hosting two Sprint Cup races each season _ since the race won by Danny Sullivan on Aug. 20, 1989.

“A lot of things have changed,” Mears said. “But a lot of things haven’t. I think a good line then is a good line today.”

The return to Pocono is being celebrated as a nod to IndyCar’s history and tradition. Pocono’s three corners were designed in 1965 to model corners at Indianapolis, Milwaukee and now-defunct Trenton, and fans have always considered the track an important venue in open wheel racing.

“This place was built by IndyCar for IndyCar,” Pocono CEO Brandon Igdalsky said. “It’s part of who we are.”

Marco Andretti was not yet 3 years old when three Andrettis _ Michael, Mario and John _ all competed in the last Pocono race. Andretti, from nearby Nazareth, said he was excited to have the chance to drive in front of friends, family _ heck, probably the entire town will be on hand in July.

“I’m going to have a huge hometown crowd,” Andretti said. “I think I’ll have to renegotiate my contract with dad to get more tickets for this race, for sure. But the hometown support’s going to be huge. The convenience of it is huge. But obviously it’s going to be tough, just like the rest of `em.”

Having grandpa Mario, who a Pocono race in 1986, out to assist could give him an edge.

“He’ll definitely be valuable, especially on the race weekend,” Andretti said. “I’d be foolish to not listen to what he has to say, anywhere really, not just here.”

Franchitti was the only driver with experience at the track, competing in 2008 during his ill-fated NASCAR stint. The facility has since undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation that included significant safety upgrades, and the track was repaved in 2012 offering glass-smooth racing at 200 mph.

“That’s really allowed us as IndyCar as a group to come back here. It’s very much appreciated,” Franchitti said. “I said at the time, to run an IndyCar around here would be a blast, and it is.”

Franchitti struggled in the first two IndyCar races with consecutive 25th-place finishes and is off to the worst start of his career. He went to pit lane 41 laps into Sunday’s race at Barber Motorsports Park with an electrical issue after driving from the back of the field into the top-10.

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