After a three-week break, the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Pocono Raceway this weekend. Since 1971, the 2.5-mile track has helped shape IndyCar’s superspeedway heritage.
This week’s IndyCar Flashback remembers the 1989 Pocono 500. In this race, one driver’s comeback victory would also mark the end of an era for the series.
Sullivan’s Late Charge Extends Penske’s Dominance
The Penske chassis dominated for much of the 1989 CART season.
Interestingly enough, it would Emerson Fittipaldi, who ran the Penske chassis with Patrick Racing, winning the most.
The two-time Formula 1 Champion had four victories in the first ten races and led Rick Mears by 34 points with five races left in the year.
That domination would continue in the final leg of the year’s “Triple Crown”, at Pocono Raceway.
Fittipaldi, who won the first of three 500-mile races at Indianapolis, earned the pole with a track record speed of 211.715 MPH.
Mears qualified alongside Fittipaldi on the front row. The polesitter led the field for 63 of the first 67 laps.
Soon after, Fittipaldi suffered a flat tire. With the team suspecting a suspension issue to be the culprit, he made his way to pit road.
Mears would take advantage of Fittipaldi’s misfortunes and inherit the lead. The three-time Pocono winner would remain up front for much of the day.
After Arie Luyendyk’s prerace spin, the majority of the race was run under green. Two wrecks involving Luyendyk and Raul Boesel were the only non-debris yellow flags in the race.
On Lap 152, Michael Andretti took the lead for the second time in the race.
The second-generation star looked for a win in his home state to follow up a triumph two weeks earlier at Michigan International Speedway.
After pitting with 13 to go, Andretti’s hopes of victory were dashed.
Mears’ teammate Danny Sullivan, who was still nursing a broken arm suffered at Indianapolis in May, took the lead.
After taking over the top spot, he never looked back. Sullivan won by 4.226 seconds over Mears, with Andretti joining them on the podium.
It was Sullivan’s second victory in five years at Pocono and his first win since earning the 1988 Championship.
The race ran at a blistering pace, setting a new race record of 170.720 MPH.
Despite finishing 33 laps down in 19th, Fittipaldi still maintained an 18-point lead over Mears.
The 1989 IndyCar event at Pocono Raceway became a defining one for the series and some of its legendary participants. Here’s a further look at that impact.
Three weeks after his Pocono triumph, Sullivan earned another victory three weeks later at Road America. Sullivan would move on to Patrick Racing in 1991 and Galles Kraco for 1992-93.
Following a brief 1994 retirement, the 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner joined PacWest Racing for the 1995 season.
His season and career would be cut short due to injuries in a crash at Michigan that year.
One of the most prolific oval-track drivers in series history, Mears earned two more 500-mile race wins in 1991, including a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500. After battling food injuries in 1992, Mears retired. He remains an integral part of Team Penske, including as a spotter.
Fittipaldi held on to the points lead and bested Mears by 10 points for the championship. A year later, he joined Mears and Sullivan at Penske. In 1993, he earned a second Indianapolis 500 victory.
For 1996, Fittipaldi would pilot the Penske-Hogan team’s car. A crash in the July race at Michigan severely injured his legs and ended Fittipaldi’s driving career.
The 1989 event at Pocono Raceway would ultimately be the last held at the Long Pond venue. Disputes between the track and CART over its safety led to Pocono being removed from the schedule.
Following a change in track management, the aptly-named “Tricky Triangle” would host IndyCar again in 2013.
The following year, the race distance increased to 500 miles, marking the first 500-mile “Triple Crown” since 1989.
Header Image courtesy of INDYCAR