By: Spencer Neff
August 15, 2019 | 8:51 AM
Welcome to the latest edition of IndyCar Flashback. This weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series returns to the famed Pocono Raceway. In 1971, IndyCar racing debuted at the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track.
For the next 18 years, the track became synonymous with open-wheel racing. In 2013, the track’s 23-year absence from the schedule ended.
On Sunday, Pocono will host its 27th event and 26th 500-mile race. Ahead of the ABC Supply 500, we will take a look back at the 1985 race at Pocono – the Dominos Pizza 500. With several drivers battling injuries, one in particular completed a triumphant comeback with a victory.
Mears uses late charge for second Pocono win
Heading into the ninth round of the CART season, much of the focus was on the points championship. With six races to go, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser were separated by just a single point.
Unfortunately, Mario and several other drivers were managing injuries suffered throughout the season.
In fact, his son Michael was involved in a small helicopter crash the morning of the race. Thankfully, no one was injured as Andretti and teammate Kevin Cogan were both able to race.
On pole, Rick Mears continued his part-time effort with Penske Racing with a track record speed of 203.532 mph.
From the start, Michael showed no ill effects from the pre-race issues. After starting fourth, the Kraco Enterprises driver powered into the lead and held the top spot for the first 18 laps. During his first stop, the right-front wheel fell off his March-Cosworth entry.
Following his dominant opening stint, the lead switched between Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, and Al Jr., as well as Johnny Rutherford and defending race winner Danny Sullivan.
Between Laps 18 and 64, no driver led for more than nine consecutive laps. On Lap 65, Rahal equaled Andretti’s race-opening run with 18 laps led. By Lap 83, Unser Jr. returned to the lead.
With a broken ankle sustained two weeks earlier at Road America still lingering, along with radio issues, the Unser Jr. forged on and led 47 of the next 50 laps. In all, he led a race-high 58 laps despite a Lap 63 stop-and-go penalty for running over equipment.
Despite a 123-lap green flag run, a few cautions followed during the latter portion of the race. A lap after the restart for the initial 8-lap debris caution, 1974 winner Johnny Rutherford took the lead.
Following Rutherford’s fourth and final turn at the front, Bobby Rahal took over on Lap 135. That same lap, the caution flew again as Rutherford crashed in Turn 1. It would be the only caution for an accident on the day.
While still under caution, Mears would officially lead for the first time in the race on Lap 146.
Following an eight-lap yellow flag due to a fire on Michael Andretti’s car on Lap 152, only two debris cautions for a combined 7 laps slowed the pace during the final 41 circuits.
On the final restart, Mears took the lead from teammate Al Unser with five laps remaining. From there, the 1982 race winner never looked back and won by 2.18 seconds over Unser Jr. In third, Unser retook the points lead.
The win at Pocono came less than a year after Mears’ devastating crash at Sanair. Following the accident, Mears’ career was in serious jeopardy and his feet were at risk of amputation.
After taking the points lead, Unser won the penultimate race at Phoenix and then won the championship by a single point over his son. In 1986, Mario Andretti took the win at Pocono.
A year after, Mears joined A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win three or more IndyCar races at Pocono. With a win on Sunday, current Team Penske driver Will Power could join that group.
Foyt leads all drivers with four wins at “The Tricky Triangle.”
Note: Thank you as always to everyone who participated in our poll on Twitter to select this week’s IndyCar Flashback.
There will continue to be a poll on our Twitter page (@Open_Wheels) to determine the race profiled for IndyCar Flashback prior to each race weekend. Keep an eye out each race week for the poll to cast your vote.
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